Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Father in Honor

"God sets a father in honor over his children. . . Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.  My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not at all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins-- a house raised in justice to you." --[Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14].

This year, we lost the patriarch of the family,  on my husband's side. After too many decades struggling with serious illnesses, he finally passed on to the Lord, this past summer.

This dear man lived far away from all of his kids and grandkids. He was very firm that, as he became more and more frail, he did not want to move away from the home that had given him so much joy over the years. But I also believe that he did not want to burden any of us, by moving in with any of us.

I had seen what it is like to care for my elderly mother, after the sudden death of my father. I had had no idea how very frail that my mother had become. My father had cared for her with barely a word on her condition.

His life had shielded me from the realities of her aging. When I took her back in my life, it become readily apparent that I was not up to the task of caring for her alone. Her frail legs would buckle under her. Her breathing became erratic. In her last few months, she could no longer walk. I had to find a place for her in a nursing facility, because I did not have the expertise to keep her safe.

But, although she was "alone" there, I never left her alone. I would bring her to my home every day, or I would visit her daily. Often, as I moved around the hallways at the nursing facility, I would greet other residents who had no one to visit them, even on Christmas Day!

People who do not know American culture, think that I am lying about this! The fact is, if some Americans have the money, they can "make the problem of aging go away."  The adult children say, "Well, mother cannot do anything anymore, anyway." Or, "I have my own life." Or, "I left her with certified caregivers."

This cultural belief regarding our elders is in total defiance of what Scripture teaches! How have we come so far as to believe that it is okay to warehouse our elderly, as if they were some obsolete technology? -- when this Scripture so clearly says, "My son, take care of your father when he is old; even if his mind fail, be considerate of him."

In the case of our dear relative, all of his kids took turns traveling the distance, to his home in another region, to care for him. Each month, one of us would spend a week to ten days, living with him and tending to his needs. If a fellow traveler saw me at the airport with my husband and son, they would often ask, 'Oh, are you going on vacation for Spring Break?'

I would reply, 'No, we are going to take care of my dear relative.' The fellow traveler nearly always looked astonished. Often, what I would get was, " WHO DOES that anymore?"

Yes, it was hard work to care for my dear relative. We spent "vacations" barely sitting down-- refilling his water glass, fetching eyeglasses or a sweater, making meals, cleaning the place, doing wash, taking him to the doctor, dealing with medical equipment and prescriptions. We often arrived home more exhausted than when we started.

No, I am not a saint for doing this. Caring for our elderly relatives, as this passage makes clear, is an honor. It is also quite simply, required by the very status of my relative's "office" or station in life -- as my Mother. As the honored Patriarch.

In the case of my mother, I took her back EVEN though- Even though she was cruel and neglectful and harsh to me when I was a child. EVEN though she abandoned me at the worst possible time of my life, when I had almost died. Those EVEN-THOUGH's didn't work for me. They don't work for God, either. [Beware the folks who try to trap you with the "EVEN THOUGH'S". They kind of remind me of the Biblical Pharisees, who like to point out the rules, but forget all about Love.].

But what I --and my family-- gained, far outweighed the effort of caregiving. On our last visit before my dear relative died, he gave me one of the best gifts that I have ever received. He told me that he had always regarded me as another daughter. My eyes burst forth tears of Joy.

My cruel childhood family did not believe in even uttering the word "Love".  They would mock me for asking for their Love. These words from my dear relative were the healing balm that I most needed!

But even more, I learned a tremendous amount, in caring for this man, and watching how he bore the sufferings of his illnesses, with a Christ-like Grace. He never complained. If he were gasping for breath, I would ask, 'Are you okay?' He would reply, "I will be."

A close friend of his marveled that, "You could just tell that he didn't want to waste time being negative, debative, or judgmental, when he could have a nice, pleasant conversation with a friend. He showed so little bitterness, or resentment about his plight in life. That is a very selfless act in itself!"

On the day he died, our patriarch expressed that he did not want to pass on, because he did not want to disappoint all of us, his family. I see that poignancy in Jesus, too. Jesus became very sentimental with His apostles at the Last Supper. He said, " I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you, before I suffer." --[Luke 22:15].

How we break bread with our elders in their last days counts as much as this Last Supper of Jesus with His dear apostles. In seeing and serving the Christ in our fathers and mothers, we honor the Christ who died FOR us.

Burying the Christ in our older loved ones, buries the Love of Christ in our hearts. We are the ones who become deadened and lifeless.

Loving the Christ in our older loved ones, opens us up to the Love of Christ in ourselves and in others.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

No Room At the Inn

"The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, 'Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. . . '  But Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, for I have no relations with a man?'  And the angel said to her in reply, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. . . ; for nothing will be impossible for God.'  Mary said, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.' " --[ Luke 1:26-38].

For millions of Christians around the world today, this was the beginning of the First Christmas. For Mary, Joseph and Jesus, this was simply their life.

After Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, there were whispers in her community about her, no doubt. Joseph, "being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had 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.'. "- [Luke 1: 20].

Mary was likely about age 14, a peasant girl, illiterate.

Magi from the East had told King Herod that a child was being born who would be King.  Herod was so threatened by this new king, that he sent the magi to determine Jesus' whereabouts. This was no ordinary homage trip. In fact, King Herod wanted to kill Him.

When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn. Jesus was born in a stable.

After leaving the manger where Jesus was born, the magi traveled on, in a different route, to avoid Herod. In a rage, King Herod ordered a census, to find and systematically exterminate all baby boys age two and under.  Our First Christmas began with what was, essentially, terrorism.

The harsh qualities of Jesus' life went on from there. He was rejected and mocked when trying to preach in His own home town of Nazareth. People there said, "Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?" -[ The modern day equivalent of, 'Who does this guy think he is?]  Jesus said, "A prophet is only without honor in his hometown." His own family told Him that they believed he was deranged and had gone insane. [Mark 3:21].

Jesus went on to be publicly "tried",  humiliated and executed as a criminal.

I have spent a lot of time this Christmas, meditating on what would be the "perfect Christmas".  When I reflect upon that First Christmas, that Biblical story would certainly not be "it".

A few weeks ago, when I attended an Advent program of song and reflection with Dan Schutte, Mr. Schutte declared, "God messes up our plans." And YET, God has the perfect plan for our lives! We just don't always see it at the time. . . .

During this year, the dear patriarch of my extended family passed away. This is the first Christmas without him. We were "supposed" to be with the entire family on Christmas Day this year. But the trip to the Christmas dinner is a day's drive round trip. The house there will be full of relatives. We have been told, there is "no room at the inn", for us to stay.

I have railed against this! That is not fair, we have the "right" to be there with the rest of the family.

Well, the God's honest Truth is, Jesus never railed like that. "Christ Jesus who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, And being found in human form, He humbled Himself, and became obedient." -[Ephesians 2:6-8].

The Truth is, Mary did not assert her "rights" about how she was to conceive and how her baby was to be born-- not how, not where, not who He was to be. She simply said, "May it be done to me according to your Word."

In short, life is not all about how we want things to be! Life goes awry, we don't get to arrange the perfect tableau. It is not all about  "making Christmas happen".  Life is about letting Christmas happen TO us!

This Christmas, I pray that I may empty myself, may open myself to all of the strange and unexpected, and even unwelcome, twists and turns in my life, and may allow Jesus to come into my heart. My life may be far from perfect, but it is the life God gave me. And, He is guiding me by His plans for me.

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  - [Jeremiah 29:11].

[Related Posting: "Holy Family", December 29, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Comfort and Joy

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; for she has indeed received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way for the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country a broad valley. Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! . . . . Here is your God! . . . Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care." -- [ IS 40:1-5, 9-11.].

How I love all the Christmas Carols! But one of my most favorites is "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen".

The lyrics go, "God rest Ye Merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ Our Savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan's power, when we were gone astray; O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. O tidings of comfort and joy!."

It is not a modern theological concept to think of comfort on Christmas. If we think of comfort at all these days, it is in the earthly trappings of Christmas:

Oh, the hot cocoa!
The cookies!
The Christmas ham!
The warm Yule fire!
The roasted chestnuts!
The glittering ornaments!
The cashmere sweaters and sofa shawls!
The champagne and mulled wine!
The gourmet chocolates!

But this reading from Isaiah and from this Christmas Carol, speak of comfort from God. Christmas is supposed to be the most lavish, comfortable and joyous day in the Christian calendar. How much more comfort could we ask for?

I am beginning to see that all the creature comforts in the world will warm my heart only temporarily.   Long after all the goodies are gone, the decorations are stored away in the dusty attic again, and I face Christmas bills that I dread to pay -- will my heart be empty again?

In Exodus 3, Moses meets God for the first time. Moses is so afraid that he hides his face. God tells him, " I have observed the misery of my people [who are slaves] in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land, to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey."

God leads Moses and his people out of a land of misery and bondage, to a land where "the rugged land shall be made a plain." God fills in the valleys and lays low the mountains for us.

In Jeremiah 30: 22, God tells His people: "So you will be my people and I will be your God."

God loves us as our Father. He wants us to lay our troubles at His feet. He wants us to cry out to him for comfort, but for far more than food and water and shelter. He wants us to really lean on Him.

He wants us to lift up our children to Him, and ask that they lead purposeful and loving lives. He wants us to ask Him for strength, when we feel that we cannot go on. He wants us to plead for Peace in our world.

It is such a tender image, that God is "like a shepherd [who] feeds his flock; in His arms he gathers the lambs. . . leading the ewes with care."

God sends us His Son, as an extravagant gift of Love for us! Jesus tells us, "I will never leave you an orphan". - John 14: 18.

We are hard-wired, as humans, to be unable to resist the awe and magic and joy of a baby. Go out into the world: go to a school, to a market, to a doctor's office and chance upon a tiny baby. I will wager that you will stop in your tracks. I will bet that you will become motionless, absolutely still, holding your breath! Perhaps you will even cry out with Joy!

God is offering us an irresistible, heart-stoppping, mystical, eternal Gift.     His Son.

Will we become so enamored of the worldly trappings of Christmas, that we ignore the true Gift in our midst?

[Related Postings: "Christmas Joy!",  December 23, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

One Day

"Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does  to delay his promise, as some regard "delay", but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Since, everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. . . But according to His promise, we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." - [ 2 Peter 3: 8-14.]

During this Advent season, I love to watch Christmas movies. Some of the movies that I love the most are not at all current. One of my favorites is "Christmas In Connecticut."

I watch the film credits and I see that the heroine is played by someone named Barbara Stanwyck.  For years, I have said, 'Who in the world is Barbara Stanwyck?'  I suppose back then, when movies were black and white, film-goers would eagerly flock to see her latest film. Today, few have ever even heard of her.

Only a few brilliant actors, actresses, musicians and bands can end up in the top echelon, famous in their time, and for all time. We remember The Beatles, obviously. But do we remember The Avons, or The Cleftones?

This notion of Time makes me think of my own life. All of the daily decisions and dramas loom large in my life right now. Broccoli for the dinner meal's vegetable, or green beans? Traveling to a relative's house for a holiday celebration, or staying home?

Then, I read this Scripture that, "With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day." That is, in the eons of time, we are but one blip in the whole trajectory of Time. We think we are so important, but we are each only one person, perhaps forgettable or even unknown to future centuries.

It is like that with the early Christian, John the Baptist. You have to take up your Bible and read about him, to realize that in his day, thousands followed him to hear his message of baptism. John the Baptist was one who was a great paradigm shifter in his time. But he was not "The One".  John the Baptist was only, "A voice of one crying out in the desert." He merely prepared the way.

As popular as John the Baptist was, he was eclipsed by One, of whom John the Baptist says, "I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals." [Mark 1:1-8].

In John 1: 19-22, "Priests and Levites [were sent] to ask John the Baptist who he was. . . They asked him, 'Are you Elijah? . . Are you the Prophet? . Then who are you?' "

I must say that all this talk of the trajectory of Time makes me feel insignificant. Will I live but 70 or 80 years, and in the end, have not one iota of effect on this world?

More and more, what I get from the story of John the Baptist is that he knew his place in God's plan. John the Baptist was humble, and he understood his role.  He was not Jesus, he made sure others understood that, he insisted upon it.

But, John the Baptist knew exactly what he had to do to prepare the way. He did not seem to mind that he was "not worthy", that he was even "a voice of one in the desert."

He was not looking for his 15 minutes of fame. He was not counting "hits" on his website.  He simply spoke the Truth, because someone had to.

Even at that time,  John the Baptist would have appeared a bit crazy, wearing camel's hair and a leather belt, his hair long and wild. He did not care how he looked. He was going to proclaim the Truth anyway.

If this all does not make you think about your place in this world, for the little time you have on earth, compared to the eons that this earth has existed -- maybe it should.

I don't want to ever give up on how little I can accomplish in my short life, in my tiny corner of the globe. The vast trajectory of Time needn't limit us in what we can do. Because, God does not limit us!

If we are called, like John the Baptist, and Moses, then God can fill in all of our gaps:

God: "Moses! Moses!"
Moses: "Here I am."
Moses hid his face.
Moses: "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?"
God: "I will be with you."
Moses: "What is your name?"
God: "I am Who I am."
Moses: "What if the Israelites do not believe me?"
God: giving him a staff that transforms into a snake, to use as a sign.
Moses: "But, I am slow of speech and tongue."
God: "I will teach you what to say."
Moses: " O Lord, please send someone else to do it."
God: "Your brother Aaron will speak to the people, and it will be as if he were your mouth, and as if you were God to him."

WE are like Moses and John the Baptist! It matters not if we look different, if we are slow of speech, if we are afraid, if we feel insignificant, if we are only one voice in a dry desert, or if  One greater than us is yet to come.

This Advent, let God use you! Speak for the Lord!

[Related Postings: "Nativity of John the Baptist", June 23, 2012; "Prepare The Way", December 12, 2012; "How God Bends Time", January 20, 2014.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent In Song

"Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." -- Daniel L. Schutte and New Dawn Music.

It is Advent, once again.

I used to believe, in my innocent childhood, that Advent comes at the end of the Christian calendar. Advent DOES come at the end of the secular calendar. But it marks the beginning of a new year in the Christian calendar.

All during Advent, as a little girl, I would mark the season, by sitting at my grandmother's piano and picking out the tunes to old-fashioned Christmas hymns. I could not get these songs out of my head!

On the walk to school each December morning, I would sing one song, maybe, "The First Noel." Riding in the car around town, with my mother at the wheel, I would urge her to sing another song with me, often "Silent Night".

I always believed that all Christian hymns were written hundreds of years ago. Not so. Take a look through your hymnal the next time you are in church. Many, many hymns were written by a man named Daniel Schutte.

I recently had the privilege of attending "An Evening of Music and Reflection" hosted by Daniel Schutte. And it was a magical evening, as darkness fell upon a late fall night.

Mr. Schutte began by reflecting on Advent as a new beginning. The word "advent" is defined in the dictionary as "the arrival of something extremely important."

Despite this being the coldest and darkest time of the year, Advent is a time of new beginning and hope. This sense of waiting, Mr. Schutte emphasized, came from the Jewish peoples' sense of a Promised Land, which was God's promise to His beloved people. And so, we owe our Jewish friends and ancestors a huge debt of gratitude for that sense of hopeful expectation of God in our lives.

Mr. Schutte's point was, that God made us to long for Him in hopeful anticipation. I think this must be why the whole season of Advent, with its shivering anticipation of the mysticism of Christmas, is worth far more to me than the one day of Christmas itself.  Advent is about the hope, the excitement, the anticipation, the prospect of God's only Son, coming for us!

Mr. Schutte said, Advent is about "the wonder of God who loved us literally to death." He referred to the "love story between us and God." And he reminded us that we don't have to wait until Advent to seek the presence of God.

Interspersed with Mr. Schutte's commentary, he sang many of his songs, and invited us to sing along. The whole church resounded as one big, heavenly choir! At this point in the program, we sang, "Sing A New Song". I saw with new eyes the absolute joy of Christ's coming-- "Shout for gladness! Dance for joy! O come before the Lord!" [1972.]

Mr. Schutte spoke of the moments of happiness that we have in this life, as "but glimpses of Heaven".      If those moments of pure joy are so beautiful, imagine how amazing Heaven must be! But to experience God's presence, we need to be open to Him all around us, during Advent and all year. Mr. Schutte asked a provocative question: "Are you afraid of God's unconditional Love?"

Sometimes, God's Love seems too huge to imagine, as big as the entire Universe. Mr. Schutte sang with us "Beyond The Moon and Stars" --  "Beyond the moon and stars, as deep as night, so great our hunger, Lord, to see your light." [1970].  This song reminds me of the story of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order, who one night climbed up on the roof. And when he saw the billions of stars, he wept. It is probably no accident that Mr. Schutte was a Jesuit seminarian; the Jesuits emphasize the continued discernment of God in your life.

 The next hymn we sang was "Though The Mountains May Fall" --"Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, yet the love of the Lord will stand as a shelter for who will call on His name." [1975]. He wrote this hymn to remind us of the great love story between us and God, His Love that is truly a covenant of His care and shepherding of us.

Mr. Schutte told us that "Though The Mountains May Fall" is based on Isaiah 54;6-10 and 40:31-32. I have to say, that I have sung his hymns for decades, and never noticed the Biblical references at the bottom of the page, next to the copyright. These hymns are borne of Scripture, and they capture the emotion and the "God-sense" of his meditation on The Word.

Towards the end of the evening, Mr. Schutte quietly mused that, "God's Love is greater than any heartache, pain or broken trust. Even the darkness is holy because God's presence, His Grace are there." He spoke of what Mary must have felt, a young peasant girl; and how suddenly, this angel came to her, and changed her life forever. Mr. Schutte said, " God messes up our plans, all the time. He comes in unexpected ways. He doesn't just show Himself through Jesus, but through us!" We then sang, "Holy Darkness" -"Holy darkness, blessed night, heaven's answer hidden from sight, As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night."

We ended the evening by singing Mr. Schutte's most well-known work, "Here I am, Lord." As always, tears came to my eyes as I sang this beautiful ode to our own commitment to our Lord.

I pray that, in this Advent season, you hold in your heart, all of God's silence, His Hope, His promise,  His call and His eternal Love.

[Related Posting: "Advent Rituals", Dec. 1, 2011; "Advent Defies Death", Dec. 6, 2012.]

[For more information about Dan Schutte's worldwide tour of music and reflection, go to]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 24, 2014

My Grateful Life

"Jesus said to His disciples, 'When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit upon His glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before Him. The the King will say, to the sheep on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then, the righteous will answer Him and say, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the brothers of mine, you did for me. . . . Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' "-- [Matthew 25: 31-46.]

I have read and re-read this Scripture, and I have thought, 'Thanksgiving is coming. Why would the Scripture readings for the Sunday before Thanksgiving be about what seems to be "tit-for-tat"? '
Where is the Gratitude in this Reading?

As I reflect on Gratitude, I realize that it is NOT all about giving at the same level of generosity, as another gives to us.

I took my mother back, after my father's death, even though she did not possess any soft maternal instincts; even though she was manipulative and controlling one moment, and cold and abandoning the next; even though, at times, she could be downright cruel.

My father had died suddenly one morning, before my mother could even complete her 9-11 call, and give the dispatcher the address. He slipped away, before the ambulance could even arrive.

I thought I owed her that, taking her back. After all, she was my mother. I refused to even contemplate abandoning her, the way that she had abandoned me. But then, an endless round of generosity ensued. I balanced her checkbook, she cleaned my oven. I took her to the doctor, she dusted my living room. I picked up grocery items that she needed, she paid for them. AND, she gave me a few dollars each week, for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she ate at my house!

We could not do enough for each other. It was sweet, in a way. We were reversing a lifetime of her lashing out at me -- and my disappearing physically, emotionally, psychically, in order to protect myself.

But, Generosity is not a contest of wills. It is not a power struggle. It is not an act intended to create a debt, owed to the giver. Generosity is not a never-ending game of one-upmanship.

When we are generous to another, we are being generous to Jesus Himself! That ought to make one ashamed of any power struggle, when it comes to generosity!

Even if we are not so secure with the relationship, as Christians, we give anyway. We give to the Jesus who is in every person we meet. . . .

Which leads me back to Gratitude.

I was hungry as a child, and I was not fed, even though we had food. My father would say, "Do not feed her!" I took my mother back and fed her home cooked meals. I fed the sacred in her.

Today, I am grateful that I have food to eat. Today, my mother is gone, passed on. But I purposefully give food to the town food pantry.

I was cold as a child. My mother would say, "Stop acting up. You are not cold." I took my mother back into my life, and I made sure that her new apartment was warm. I warmed the sacred in her.

Today, I am grateful that I have plenty of sweaters and coats to keep me warm. I knit hats and scarves for the local homeless shelter.

I was ill as a child, with asthma. After age 14, my mother no longer took me to a doctor for this. She would say, "You outgrew your asthma"-- when it never truly goes away. I took my mother back, and I tended to her medical care until she died. I comforted the suffering Jesus in her.

Today, I am grateful that I have caring doctors to treat me. I knit Prayer Shawls to comfort the sick. I donate to Medic Alert Foundation.

I was cornered as a child, shut down in my own, self-imposed prison, because of the cruelty and rejection in that home. I took my mother back and I set her free from her cold, lonely house without my father. I set free the sacred in her.

Today, I am grateful to have been set free, as a Christian. I advocate against the death penalty, which places prisoners in the worst prison conditions of all.

As a young woman, I was the victim of a violent crime, when I was away at school. My mother abandoned me in that far away city. I was a stranger in a strange city, and I had to turn to strangers to help me. I took my mother back when she was alone and had no one to care for her. I welcomed the sacred stranger.

Today, I am grateful that I am no longer alone. I am helping a friend who comes from a far away Continent, and who cannot find anyone in the world to help him.

I believe that, if we are Generous, then that arises from Gratitude. We may think that we are paying back the person who did something good for us. We may believe that we are paying back Jesus, and in reality, we are.

But what starts out as reciprocating favors, becomes Love, directed to any and all who are in need. Gratitude becomes Generosity to others. In acting out of Gratitude, we are truly unleashing our Love into the Universe.

Unleash the Gratitude. Give freely.

Happy Thanksgiving.

[Related Postings: "Gratitude", November 16, 2011; "Happy Thanksgiving", November 26, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Talents From God

" Jesus told His disciples this parable: 'A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one -- to each according to his ability. Then, he went away. Immediately, the one who received five talents went, and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in he ground and buried his master's money.

After a long time, the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. Then, the one who had received two talents came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.' His master said to them, ' Well done, my good and faithful servants. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.' Then, the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, and so out of fear, I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.' His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked and lazy servant! Should you not then have put my money in the bank sot hat I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.' " -- [Matthew 25: 14-30].

In this parable, Jesus is talking about "talents". At that time, "talents" were denarii, or money.  It is perhaps not such a coincidence that today, we recognize talents for the gifts and aptitudes that we are blessed with.

During the 2014 mid-term elections in the U.S., former First Lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously said, "Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs."

With all due respect to the former First Lady and Secretary of State, despite all of her protests, she has it all wrong, too!

When I was growing up, I thought that what I was good at -- my gifts and talents -- came from my mother. If I did something she disagreed with, like wearing my hair shoulder length or wearing a color that she did not like, she would say, "I did not raise you this way!"

If I did something that my mother DID like, she would tell me, "You get that from me." Or, "You get that from your father."

My parents stopped taking me to church when I was 14, about a year after my Confirmation. But, I had been in Sunday school long enough to recognize that everything I have comes from God.

As I got older and was trying to figure out who I was, there ensued a bit of a power struggle. This is pretty typical of teens anyway, right? I mean, teens want to think that whatever they choose, it is all their own idea as it is.

But I would also say that, I knew from a young age, that being super talented at what my mother told me to be good at, was simply not going to work. I began to see that I had a set of bad choices:

I could try to be the person that my mother wanted me to be. Or, I could be myself, and be totally unacceptable to her.

And so, I became Nothing. I became a ghost, shutting down. If I could not be my mother and I could not be myself, then WHO could I be?!!

Which leads me right back to Hillary Clinton-- The Christian answer is that our gifts and talents come from God. Corporations can list employment opportunities all they want, but if there is no one with that particular talent available, the employment listing will never become a job.

I wasted a lot of years blaming myself for not being more like my mother, and who she wanted me to be.

In the job she pushed me to accept, with the training in college and graduate school that she required that I obtain, wearing the suit that she bought me, wearing my hair the way she wanted me to --I hated my life!

Every Sunday night, as the day turned to sunset, I would cry because I knew that I would have to go back to the job that I hated.

As I read this parable, I can see that our talents come from God- not from some other human being molding us in their way, and playing God with us!

To some are given more talents and responsibilities, according to ability. But we ALL have talents-- and they come from no human born on this earth.

As a corollary, we are not supposed to bury our God-given talents. If we shut down, and become hollow shells, dormant and useless, then we deny our talents.

Many have been taken-aback by how angry the Master gets when the servant buries his talent. The way I see this, if God gives you a precious gift, why would you not open it and use it? Wouldn't YOU be angry if YOU gave someone a precious gift --- and they buried it?

I also see that, with the talents received from God, we are supposed to serve God! Economic "trickle-down" theory has nothing to do with it.

Sometimes, my son balks at doing his homework.  I tell him, 'How are you going to discover your talents, and utilize them for the glory of God, if you refuse to even do your school work?'

I have spent most of my adult life trying to be less intimidated about my talents. Because I buried my talents, these gifts became a BIG THING that I had to face.

It is truly scary and even spooky to confront our God-given talents. We must open and unmask ourselves. It feels like jumping off a cliff and hoping that a gentle breeze will land you safely where you are meant to be. It feels like staring right in the face of God.

But, just as I begin to pray for a gentle wind to take me where God wants me to go, I can feel His guiding presence. We are never alone when we pray and ask God-- 'Lord, what are my talents?And how do you desire me to use them?'

[Related Posting: "Burying My Talents",  November 13, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Threat of ISIS

" As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me. . . Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and they will be hated by all because of my name." --[Mark 13:13].

Every Christian knows, or should know, the account of the persecution of Christians. The persecution of Christians essentially began with the Crucifixion of Jesus.

In c. 64 A.D. , the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, a deacon in the Early Church, was stoned to death for blasphemy, for following Christ.

During the time of the Roman Emperor, Nero, beginning around 64 A.D.,  there was a Great Fire in Rome that destroyed a large part of the city. Without any clear evidence, Nero blamed the Christians for the conflagration. Thus, systematic persecution began. Historical reports state that the Roman Emperor ran out of crosses, and so, Christians were nailed to the walls of Rome.

The Catholic Transcript, September, 2014, contained an Editorial titled, "Nero Redux". This strongly worded piece states: "All through history, Christianity has been the target of intense hatred and violence by those who claim superiority and lordship. Of the Emperor Nero's reign, historian Henri Daniel-Rops wrote, 'It is not enough merely to torture, behead or crucify the victims in Nero's Circus . . ' but, . . 'Christians were sewn into animal skins and then torn to pieces by the emperor's mastiffs.' And along the avenues, where Nero was promenading, 'torches coated with pitch ands resin' were raised aloft, the 'torches' being living human beings.' " This description rivals oral histories of the Nazis fashioning lampshades out of the skins of murdered Jews.

If this does not bring you to tears, it should. . .

Pope Emeritus has called Christians, "the most persecuted people in the modern world. We are everywhere lost and foreign." -[Rome, Feb. 9, 2013.]

Persecution of Christians continues today, in many countries. In North Korea recently, a family was found to be hoarding a Bible in a tree outside their home. Pursuant to statute, four generations of the family were executed.

Look around the world, and you will see the threat of violent overthrow of Christians, and violent imposition of radical Islamists in many countries.

The United States military entered Iraq in 2003, for the second time in modern times, to overthrow Saddam Hussein. We found NO weapons of mass destruction. But what we did find was shocking -- an extensive secret police, torture chambers.

The U.S. exited in 2011, tired of the war and the casualties. Only the most hardened of men from Al Qaeda survived, some 50 men.

I recently attended a talk by Dexter Filkins, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and former correspondent for the The York Times. He was in Afghanistan for much of the military operations there. This year, he was in Iraq three times.

According to Mr. Filkins, what is left of Al Qaeda, some fifty men, became 30,000 men strong--- as ISIS. The Al Qaeda men fled into Syria. Al Qaeda became ISIS.  Mr. Filkins calls ISIS "a franchise, like McDonalds".

And ISIS is spreading. Filkins calls it a "cancer". ISIS now controls swathes of territory on the East of Syria, and on the West of  Iraq. They call this territory "The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS). Everyone knows the reports of Christian children being beheaded in front of  their parents, by ISIS.

ISIS is reportedly entering India. And is in Turkey, where the ISIS "franchise" is called Jabhat-al-Nusra and aurar al-Sham.

How are these instances of brutal persecution any different from the violent kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram, who have forcibly married these girls off to Muslims, and converted these girls to Islam?

How is it any different than what has been happening in Sudan? In 1883, the British were colonizers in Sudan, bringing Christianity to its people. But, in 1881, Muhammad Ahmad proclaimed that he was the Mahdi, the "messianic redeemer of Islam"; and he sought to violently impose Shari'a -- radical Islamic beliefs. In 1883, the British were in Khartoum, North Sudan trying to exit Sudan, and evacuate foreigners, when they were attacked by the Mahdi's. In 1884, British General Gordon was beheaded, and his head displayed in a tree for people to mock and throw stones at.

For many years, al Qaeda has been in Sudan! Osama bin Laden, (recognized as the founder of Al Qaeda), was born in Saudi Arabi, and was banished from that country in 1992. He set up his first base in Sudan, in that year, before moving to Afghanistan in 1996!

Almost everyone knows the story of how the National Islamic Front, allied with the Sudanese tribe of Maram, have persecuted and killed Christians, particularly in South Sudan. (See the compelling post on the story of "The Lost Boys of Sudan", Nov. 13, 2013.)

The "Lost Boys", whom I profiled and met for that story, are still fighting to help the village that they left behind. There has been a drought in the area, and food is in short supply. Water is contaminated. There is no school for the children. Basic medical supplies are lacking. There is a very real cost to Christianity in these countries, which lack the sanitation, the infrastructure, the education that we take for granted in the West.

Where is the will and the resolve to help Christians in all these countries? President Obama has authorized aerial bombings of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But without ground forces to conduct intelligence and point out verified ISIS targets, how effective will that effort be?

In the last day or so, Obama has authorized 1,500 U.S. ground troops to return to Iraq, in order to train forces to deal with ISIS. That is a start, but it seems that our strategy is to merely contain ISIS. And even that is not going very effectively, as ISIS spreads to other countries.

We need to, first, pray for our fellow Christians all over the world who are persecuted.

We also need to become more aware of the modern-day persecution of Christians. We need to educate ourselves! By our Christian Baptism, we are all one family. By our communion as one family, when one of us is hurt, we all suffer.

The Catholic Transcript, September 2014, reports that, in an urgent letter to the United Nations, "Pope Francis has pleaded on behalf of all Christians and Yazidis (religious of the Iraqi Kurds), as well as Shia Muslims, who have been violently driven out of their homes in Northern Iraq. Their fate awakens the soul of all men and women of good will to concrete acts of solidarity."

What can you or your parish do? My parish has donated a well to these Lost Boys' village. The children who were dying because of unclean water, can now live! More donations of over- the- counter medicines, and school supplies and curriculum, are being donated to that village.

Pope Francis says, "Extremists around the world are perverting religion to justify violence." -(Sept.21, 2014).

"We must all be alert, prepared and courageous. Our struggle, after all, is not with the powers of this world, but with the principalities and dominions of eternal darkness." - The Catholic Transcript, Sept. 2014.

[Related Postings: "The Lost Boys",  November 13, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Real Monuments Men

"I shall grant you peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword shall not pass through your country." -- [Leviticus 26: 6.]

Veterans Day is November 11, 2014.

On Veterans Day, in America, we honor all U.S. veterans of the military, from all wars.

War really is the most terrifying instance of Hell on earth. Not only are military wounded and killed, there are also civilian casualties.

Inarguably, the deadliest war was World War II. Wikipedia calls it, "the deadliest military conflict in history". According to the website at , an estimated $85 million people, both military and civilian died during WWII! That may be underestimated, since some historians believe that as many as 50 billion died in China, alone.

It is only in recent years that America has begun to take true stock of the brutality of World War II. In the summer of 2014, the movie "The Monuments Men", starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, was released in theaters. This film is a fascinating look at the desperate attempts, by American art historians, to save the cultural icons and art of Europe, from the ravages of war.

Recently, I had the honor to hear a talk by Professor Dorothy Keller, about a "real" Monuments Man, her late father-in-law, Captain Deane Keller.

The first, and most important point that Professor Keller made was to never, ever, ever forget the many millions who died in this deadliest of wars. The slide that she showed, of the endless tombstones stretching out to the horizon, in a military cemetery, was devastating. In many ways, Professor Keller stated, The Monuments Men film was a "sanitized version", because it in no way captured the brutal loss of human life.

Her second point was equally compelling: Art belongs to the world! Art is not of one time or place or era. Art is for everyone, for all time.

She argued this point forcefully, since Adolf Hitler did not just steal art in order to numb and terrify the people. Hitler stole the art for his personal museum, in order to celebrate his own power. In fact, she argued, ironically Hitler and Goring, leader of the Nazi Party, spent so much time stealing and transporting art, that they lost sight of the war itself --and this is how they lost to the Allies!

 Adolf Hitler maintained an official list of "degenerate art". He announced in July, 1937 that all art that "did not comply with Nazi ideology would be labelled 'degenerate'. "  [www.germanhistorydocs.ghi.]  Hitler's list included just about any modern art, including Picasso or Paul Klee. This was the art that Hitler kept for his private museum, that was not fit for public display.

Yes, the Monuments Men saved irreplaceable secular art, such as the statue of David, by Michelangelo. This priceless statue, carved out of one solid piece of Carrera marble, is 18' tall, and could not be moved. The Monuments Men wrapped it first with rags, then poured sand in all the crevices, then built a huge egg-shaped crate around it, constructed entirely of mortared brick.

 It is my impression that the Hollywood film underestimated the amount of sacred art at stake.  For example, the fresco of the Last Supper was in a bombed building and was almost lost!

Captain Deane Keller was instrumental in saving many sites, and works, of sacred art. One of his chief achievements was his valiant work to save the frescoes at the walled cemetery of Camposanto in Pisa, Italy. During the WWII bombings, the frescoes literally melted off the walls. Capt. Keller had the military construct a replacement roof over the bombed- out building, to prevent further damage. Then, he had workers pick up the millions of fresco fragments from the floor, for reconstruction. This work of reconstruction continues today.

The Monuments Men were attached to military units, for safety, but they had to scrounge for materials, and arrange to hitch-hike for transit. They located old mines or rail stations or private castles, where art could be safeguarded. They lived by their wits.

We owe The Monuments Men a great debt of gratitude. Too many men and women all over the world died in this war. But The Monuments Men saved our culture and civilization. When the precious artwork came rumbling in trucks back into Florence, Italy, after the war, the townspeople came out to cheer. Some wept. The horrors of the war were over.

[Related Posting: "Healing Gifts", May 23, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Communion of Saints

" The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us utter destruction. But they are in peace. For, if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings, He took them to Himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will be their King forever. Those who trust in Him shall understand the Truth, and the faithful shall abide with Him in Love: because grace and mercy are with His holy ones, and His care is with His elect." -- [Wisdom 3: 1-9].

All Saints' Day occurs each year on November 1. It is a Feast that commemorates all Saints, who have reached a place in Heaven with God.

Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, believe in the "Church Militant", that is, those in the Church who are among the living; and the "Church Triumphant", that is, those in Heaven.

But the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are NOT two wholly separate realms. In fact, we Christians believe in something called "The Communion of Saints".

The word "Communion" means fellowship or sharing. The central way in which Christians "share" in the Kingdom of God, where our departed rest, is through the Eucharist.

As infants, we gain the Grace of the Holy Spirit by Baptism. But to maintain that Grace, that comes from God and His only Son, we must continually renew those relationships through the Eucharist.

There are four other ways that we participate in the Communion of Saints: through our Faith, handed down from the Apostles; through our Charisms-- i.e., our extraordinary powers given by the Holy Spirit for the good of all the Church; through the Communion of Common Goods, that is, that everything we have comes from God and is for the benefit of all; and the Communion  of Charity, that is, that when one in the community suffers, we all suffer.

This Communion of Saints unites us for all time, with all Christians past, present, and future. We are literally -- by Faith, by Sacraments, by Charism, by Common Goods, and by Charity, all ONE family in God's name.

This All Saints' Day, I have been reflecting on my own mother's death several years ago. And sometimes, I wonder where she is now?

My mother was a beautiful but complex woman. One moment, she was gentle and caring. The next, her cutting remarks could cut into my very soul. There were times in which I wondered if she truly saw me, a young girl who had desperate and very heartfelt needs? There were times that she rejected me and abandoned me, at crucial and painful moments in my life. Did she do this because she was cold and unloving? Or, did she think that her tough Love would make me stronger?

I often wonder how God is judging her? There is a Catholic notion, that very few of us make it to Heaven on the first try. Most of us go to what is called "Purgatory".  I used to fear that Purgatory was a synonym for Hell. It is not. It is an interim place, where God shapes us and perfects us, before we are "worthy of Himself".  Reading this verse in Wisdom comforts me. We are given in this Reading, a beautiful picture of God taking us to Himself, for purification, as sparks though stubble.

Clearly, we Christians, when we lose a loved one, look heavenward often, and "talk" to our loved ones as if they were still here. We even pray to them! My dear relative, who died this summer, was one of the strongest men I have ever known. When I need strength, I pray to him! This is the Communion of Saints, the deceased who are still with us, but in a different form and place.

I remember when I took my mother back into my life, to care for her when she was terminally ill.  Despite all the cruel things she had done to me, the rejection, the abandonment, the sharp verbal assaults, I took her back.

One day, she said to me, "I used to take YOU to the doctor and make you meals. Now, you are doing this for me." Then, she scolded me for not getting enough rest. I said to her, "Ma! you don't have to tell me this, I am no longer a child!" She said, "I may be very old, but I am STILL your mother!"

I always thought of her as a non-believer. But at my father's wake, I whispered to her, "Do you believe that you will see dad again after you also die?" And she whispered back, "Yes!"

I am reminded of this, as I think of the extraordinary thing that happened last week. My son went to school, and told one of his teachers, that my husband and I were celebrating a significant anniversary. As the conversation between my son and his teacher spun out, the Truth became known.

My mother and the teacher's mother had gone to the same high school! They had gone to the same college. They were close friends for much of their lives. Even their mothers were close friends. The teacher and I had grown up in the same town. We had gone to the same high school.

An unbeliever would call this a coincidence. BUT, believers call this the Communion of Saints!! My mother could not do enough for me when I was caring for her at the end. She wanted to repay the unexpected Grace of my Love. She could not do much physically, in her last days and months, but what she did, she did with great Love.

Now I see, that even from the next life, my mother is still taking care of me!-- sending her best friend's daughter to teach my son in school. She is STILL my mother!

Is this possible? Can my mother really know the Truth of how my son, a typical teen, has a love-hate relationship with school? Can she really help me, from beyond the earthly realm?

In Wisdom, it says that only the foolish believe that our loved ones are really dead. In fact, our relationships with our deceased loved ones are continuous and seamless, and on-going. According to an article written by Fr. Eamon Tobin, "From very early on in the Church's history, Christians have believed that our love and help for one another could extend beyond death. Those who have died are still part of the Christian family, loving and being loved, only temporarily hidden from the sight of those here below."

I have received a great gift this All Saints' Day. I took care of my mother in her last days, out of a sense of obligation. Now I know that, wherever my mother is, she is still loving me and offering me tangible aid. I have a great sense of relief that, as much as she struggled as a mother, she DID -- and DOES-- love me.

Now, I forgive HER more than ever!

[Related Postings: " Recipe For a Saint", November 13, 2013;  "My Favorite Saint", November 5, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Another Election Day

Election Day 2014 in America is Tuesday, November 4, 2014.

Dear Readers:

You may remember that I first published a piece about Election Day in October, 2011. This piece contained the list of my son's concerns, as Election Day approached.

This year, my son is no longer a boy, he is now a young man in his mid-teens. I sat down with him recently, and asked him, What is on his mind this election season?

I asked him, what worries him the most?  His No. 1 concern is Ebola. I remember the day when he came home from school, and he announced, "Bad news. Ebola came to America." He was glum and irritable, and he would not discuss it further at that moment. But later, as he was getting ready for bed, he asked me, "Mommy? Am I going to get Ebola?"

I asked him about other concerns. He said, "That black boy in Missouri, who got shot by the police, when it seems like he did nothing wrong." He went on, "It seems like we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to treating black people right -- even after Martin Luther King."

I asked him about Pope Francis. He said, "He is the Christian for us all."

About a year ago, I sat knee to knee with my son, and told him what abortion is. I thought that he was old enough to start hearing about some of the most difficult subjects in life. He said, "Is this really legal?" Then, he began to cry. I asked him this year, "What about abortion?" He said, "It is awful, just awful."

We talked about violence. I know that he watches the news with me in the morning, while we eat breakfast. He sees the grainy footage from security cameras, showing crime victims being grabbed and taken away. He tells me that, when he and I shop in a "big box store",  he carries a small Swiss Army knife in his pocket, "just in case."

We have talked about seeing scantily- clad celebrities on TV, women who wear tiny, sexy outfits. He has witnessed this during Super Bowl half-time, for example. He says, "That is SO wrong! Now I can never un-see what I just saw!"

Another major concern of his is ISIS. He told me, "This is just like Hitler, only Hitler killed the Jews and ISIS is killing Christians!"  I asked him, "What should we do about this?" He said, "The first thing we do is, we get all the Christians out of there. Then, America can go in and really destroy ISIS and not harm the others."

I asked what he thought about a woman President of the United States. He said, "I don't think I am ready for that, yet."

I asked him what he thought of President Obama? He said, "I don't really pay attention to what the President is doing. But maybe I should start to pay more attention, since I will be able to vote in only a few more years."

I learned a lot from this conversation. What astounds me, first of all, is how aware my son is. A century or two ago, children were expected to be seen and not heard. Children were assumed to have no feelings, and to be blissfully unaware of what was going on around them.

I am not sure how much our assumptions about children have really changed? I often hear parents talking AT their kids as if they were family pets, "Sit down! Eat! Stay next to me! Be quiet!" How often do we sit at their level and really listen to what they have to say?

This Election Day, I challenge you to take time to talk WITH your kids, not AT them. Be the one to ask the questions, and then listen. Our children are a lot more aware than we think they are.

And what they say may just astound you!

[Related Posting, "Election Day", October 24, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Question of Love

"A scholar of the law tested Jesus by asking Him, ' Teacher, which commandment in the law is greatest? ' He said to him, ' You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You will love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.' " --[ Matthew 22: 34-40].

This command to love others is central to being a Christian, because God IS Love. For, as John 4:20 says, "If anyone says, 'I love God', and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love God, whom he has not."

Many may ask, 'Well -- how much shall I love?" What quantity of Love will count in God's eyes? This is not a theoretical question, such as the apocryphal question debated in the Middle Ages: "How many angels can fit on the head of a needle?"

The question of Love is one of those questions that is real--- and we hate to ask it, because we will probably not like the answer! Consider what Jack Jezreel, M.Div., founder of JustFaith Ministries says about Love: "If you love conditionally, then you do not love."

All of this Scripture about Love has been very much on my mind as the 2014-2015 Vatican Synod  has debated family matters, as they relate to Scripture and the Church.

Pope Francis has been quoted as saying, "Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities?" [Author John Thavis has called the initial 20014-2015 Synod document,  "an earthquake" in the Church.]

It seems to me that this debate about the role in the church, for the gay community, for single parents, for divorced and remarried Catholics,  goes straight to the heart of the question : How much do we love?

And yet, by the very question, "How much do we love?', we implicitly regard Love as conditional! We are trying to measure out and conserve our Love, rather than giving away our Love extravagantly, the way God does.

As Pope Francis and the Vatican debate this question of Love, which still today, remains central to the mission of the Church, I have this image that I cannot get out of my mind:

A long line of Jesus' Followers surround the Vatican, holding hands. After the line stretches all around the Vatican, the line continues through St. Peter's Square and down the block.

Holding hands outside the Synod are:

The Man with the Unclean Spirit: Mark 1: 21; Luke 4: 31-37;
The Many Healed at Simon's House, including his mother-in-law: Mark 1: 29-34; Mt. 8:5-13;
The Leper Healed By Jesus: Mark 1: 40-45; Matthew 8: 1-4; Luke 5: 12-16;
The Paralytic Healed by Jesus: Mark 2: 1-12; Matthew 9: 2-8; Luke 5:17-26;
Levi the Tax Collector, who leaves the tax booth to follow Jesus: Mark 2:13-17;
The Man with the Withered Hand: Mark: 3:1-6; Matthew 12: 9-14; Luke 6:6-11;
The Multitude at the Seaside: Mark 3:7-12; Matthew 15: 29-31; Luke 6:17-19;
The Gerasene Demoniac; Mark 5: 1-20; Matthew 8: 28-33; Luke 8:26-39;
The Girl Restored to Life: Mark 5: 21-24; Matthew 9: 18-26; Luke 8:40-56;
The Woman Healed From Hemorrhages: Mark 5: 24b-34;
The Sick from Gennesaret: Mark 6:53-56; Matthew 14: 34-36;
The Syrophoenician's Daughter: Mark 7: 24-30;
The Deaf Man whom Jesus cures: Mark 7:31-37;
The Blind Man at Bethsaida: Mark 8: 22-26;
The Boy with an Unspeakable Spirit: Mark 9: 14; Matthew 9: 32-34; Luke 9: 37-43;
The Disciples who Argue Who is Greatest: Mark 9:33-37;Matthew 18: 1-4;
The Little Children who Disrupt Jesus: Mark 10:13; Matthew 19: 13-15; Luke 18:15-17;
The Healing of Bartimaeus: Mark 10: 46-52;
The Centurion's Servant Healed: Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7: 1-10;
The Two Blind Men Healed: Matthew 9: 27-31; Matthew 20: 29-34;
The Canaanite Woman: Matthew 15: 21-28;
The Lost Sheep: Matthew 18: 10-14; Luke 15: 1-7;
The Widow's Son Raised by Jesus: Luke 7:11-17;
The Sinful Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Luke 7:36-49;
The Crippled Woman Healed by Jesus: Luke 13: 10-17;
The Man With Dropsy Healed By Jesus: 14: 1-6;
A Blind Beggar: Luke 18: 35-43;
Zacchaeus: Luke 19: 1-10;
The Poor Widow: Luke 21: 1-4;
Peter, Who Denies Jesus Three Times: Luke 22: 54-62;
The Women Who Are Not Considered Disciples: Luke 8: 1-3.

And a long line of sinners, a multitude too many to enumerate, clasping hands and stretching into the distance. (Do you dare to place yourself, a sinner, in that long line of petitioners, desperately hoping to find a place at the banquet of the Church?)

All of these petitioners are waiting, silently, desperately, for the chance to enter the doors of the Church.

They sing the hymn, "All Are Welcome", with a solemn look, all the while hedging their bets whether today's Church will open her doors to them.

The scribes and the Pharisees complained, "Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors [the despised]." [Mark 2; 16]. Is that how, today, WE regard the petitioners around the Vatican?

How much do YOU Love?

Or do you respond, "That depends?"

[Related Postings: "Love Thy Neighbor", October 23, 2011; "The ABC's of Love", April 27, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

God Vs. Caesar

" The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might trap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians, saying, 'Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the Truth. . . . Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?' Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ' Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.' Then, they handed Him the Roman coin. He said to them, 'Whose image is this and whose inscription?'  They replied, 'Caesar's.' At that, He said to them, 'Then, repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.' " -- [Matthew 22: 15-21].

[In this Scripture verse, the Pharisees were Old Testament scholars of the Law, who were deeply suspicious of Jesus' radical new way of knowing God. The Herodians were followers of Herod, the Roman Emperor of Judea, who would have been threatened by Jesus' claiming to herald the Kingdom of Heaven].

Most of us Christians-- especially Catholics-- have been in situations where someone has tried to trap us verbally. This situation that Jesus is in, where people are trying to trap him with trick questions, happens just as often, today!

One man, who is Catholic,  reports that a boss at work confronted him, saying, " C'mon! You are too smart to be Catholic." The questioner actually waited for a response. . . .

Consider those who argue FOR abortion, confronting others by asking, 'How many kids have YOU adopted?"

Or, consider those who confront Catholics saying, 'How can you be Catholic, when all the priests do is to abuse children and then lie about it?' As if, literally, "all priests" are child abusers!!

How I wish that I could come up with the perfect snappy response, to silence the religious critics. In this verse, and in many others in the Gospels, Jesus does just that!

The question posed by the Pharisees and the Herodians may be a "trick question". But Jesus' answer contains a crafty side, as well. For what does belong to God, except everything we have and everything we do? We owe everything to God! What else is left to pay to Caesar! Very little . . . .

Some commentators on this Scripture have said, that this argument of God vs. Caesar is an artificial conflict, arguing,  'Well, if we are true Christians, there is no conflict between Caesar and God, because as Christians, everything we do is out of Love and so must be, by definition, legal!

Now there, I disagree. As Christians, everything we have belongs and comes from God. But sometimes, "Caesar" requires from us something ungodly. In fact, as Christians, we face daily challenges in navigating the conflict between God and Caesar.

I am thinking now of my dear son, when he goes to school. When he was age three, and I sent him to school for the first time, he was eager and energetic and excited. I gave him this advice: "Use your gifts and energy for the good. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Help others.  Love others."

I thought that this was simple advice for a basically caring world, right?

But, in elementary school, my son's classes included some students with emotional and learning disabilities. Taking my advice, my son befriended these children. He called them "friend". At the end of first grade, one of his fellow students commented, "He plays with students that no one else will play with."

The next year, my son began to get into a bit of trouble at recess. I asked him what was going on? He told me, some other students were tripping the special education students  -- his friends.

 My son would see another student trying to trip his friends, and he would push the other student away. He was trying to save his friends. But my son was the one getting in trouble. I warned him,  "They only ever see the second punch."

But here is the Truth about this situation:  We are ALWAYS Christians. You cannot cut yourself into two, and be secular sometimes and religious at others. You cannot be Christian on Sundays in church, and also expect to be secular in the playground.

Pope Francis has said, " We cannot be part-time Christians! We should seek to live our faith at every moment of every day."

Yes, my son disobeyed "Caesar's law" in his school: No Pushing.

But he obeyed the law of Love in God's Kingdom. He loved and saved his friends, without regard to how popular or "perfect" they were. He was even willing to risk getting into trouble at school, for his Love.

My son was a Christian everywhere, and in all circumstances. At that moment, with his friends getting hurt, he disregarded Caesar's law and followed God's command.

And, I am so very proud of my son!

[Related Posting: "Give To God What Is God's", October 15, 2100].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Banquet

" Jesus again spoke to the chief priests and the elders of the people in parables, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He despatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time, he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: 'Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.' Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, one to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.  The king was enraged and sent his troops, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then, he said to his servants, 'The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.' The servants went into the streets and gathered all they found, good and bad alike, and the hall was filled with guests." -[Matthew 22: 1-14.]

There are many who argue forcefully that the Bible has no relevance today, for how we live or for how we think.

In this parable, Jesus draws a very definite line regarding how we are to see the kingdom of heaven.
In the kingdom of heaven, all are welcome, all are invited to partake.

Imagine this banquet parable, happening today:

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a lavish banquet for a wedding. The Host sends out engraved invitations to His guests, inviting them to the wedding reception for His son.

Many do come to the banquet.

But many others turn down the invitation. They are going away on business. They are working nights and weekends at their place of employment. The Host wonders, "I have prepared a bounteous table. Why are my guests too busy for me?"

The Host looks around and sees many empty seats at His banquet. He tells the banquet hall employees to go out and gather in some guests, any they can find. This feast is too laden with fine wines and gourmet foods, to waste.

An employee brings in a homeless man, who is weighted down with coats, scarves and capes. The guests look upon him with disdain. Some even move away from him, he is so filthy and poorly dressed. The Host says, "The shepherds who came to pay homage to the baby Jesus were nomadic and poor, and homeless like this guest. Why do you reject this man?"

Another employee brings in a man who has AIDS. The guests mutter that this man must have contracted AIDS, from something he had done wrong. Surely, this man was unclean. No one wanted to come near him, for fear of contagion. The Host says, "Jesus came near to the leper and touched him, and he was healed. Why does no one want to come near to this man?"

Then, an employee brings in an old man in a wheelchair. Everyone in the banquet hall looks away, as if embarrassed. The Host says, "Jesus cured the paralytic, without judging him or turning him away. Why do my guests judge this man?"

Next, an employee brings in an Asian man. This man is short of stature, beautifully dressed; and, as per the custom in the East, he brings gifts for the tables. The guests are critical that a stranger, from far way, would bring gifts, when the Host has already provided so much. What was this foreigner doing here? Was this Asian man superstitious, or something? The Host says, " The Magi came from the East to pay homage to the baby Jesus. Why do you denigrate this man's humble attempt to honor me?"

Finally, an employee brings in a poor, single mother. The guests react with horror, crying, 'Why do you bring THAT kind in here?' The Host says to them, " Mary was a poor, illiterate young girl. And yet I chose her to be filled with the Holy Spirit and bear a Son. How can you not love her?"

The Host turns out of the banquet hall all those who could not accept His other guests. The Host says, "Many are invited but few are chosen."

+   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +  

My modern-day parable, here, brings together many of the stories in the Bible about how Jesus accepts and embraces the poor, the women, the lame, the leper, and those from far away lands.

How do we respond to the invitation to the banquet at our church at each Sunday service? Are we too busy with business? Do we ignore the call?

How do WE react, when we look around at the banquet of the Eucharist in our church?  Perhaps we see-- a man who is paralyzed; a poor or even homeless man;  a single mother ; or a person with a serious illness?

Are the unconventional guests at this banquet hard to accept? Are we squeamish or uncomfortable? Do we see someone to judge, ignore, avoid, disparage, or look down upon?

Or do we see all of God's guests, invited to His loving and bounteous banquet?

"Gather the people! Enter the feast! All are invited, the greatest and least. The banquet is ready, now to be shared. Join in the heavenly feast that God has prepared." -- Daniel Schutte, (c) 2005. All Rights Reserved.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Guard Your Hearts

" Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayers and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." -- [Philippians 4: 6-9].

A medical professional, whom I know well,  reports that her practice is seeing an unprecedented number of young people who are anxious, depressed and on anti-anxiety medications.

My heart breaks over this.

WHY are our young people suffering so?

I am not a medical professional. I am not an economist, a statistician, or a sociologist, or a social worker.

Ask an economist why kids are so anxious and he may say that the competition to get into college is keen, and even when our kids graduate, (with a mountain of debt), there are no jobs.

Ask a sociologist, and she may say that in this time of incurable diseases such as Ebola, and this time of nuclear weapons and terrorism, there is in our young people a deep despair and even primal fear.

As a religious person, I have a different answer-- as parents, we ensure that our kids eat the best quality food that we can afford. We insist that they get an hour of physical activity each day. We fret if they get sick with even a cold. We lecture our kids about proper hygiene and sufficient sleep. We challenge our kids to work hard in school. We even urge them to engage in community service. We are all over our kids' mental, physical and academic overall health.

But, how many of us totally neglect our kids' spiritual side? Or even admit that our children HAVE a spiritual side?

I was taught to pray by my grandmother, who was babysitting one evening, when my parents had gone out. Her demeanor was like, 'Hurry up, kids, and memorize the 'Our Father'  -- and get up off your knees before your mother gets home!'  In praying that way, I felt as if I had done something wrong.

The world is not going to become more peaceful and less scary for us, just because we want it to.

Getting an education, staying healthy and working hard are survival skills in an uncertain world.

But, you have given your children a weak set of survival skills, if you have not taught them to pray.

My son learned to pray at an early age. And yet--- I would say that you can teach your children to pray, but they have to experience the power of prayer themselves, in order to believe it!

One summer, when our son was in grade school, we took a summer trip. Part of our trip included a ride on a ferry. Our son was excited to explore the stern, where jets of water gushed out in a huge wake. We watched a movie, we ate lunch, we dozed in our seats, we gazed out the windows looking for dolphins and whales.

After we docked, we retrieved our car. It was a rainy afternoon. Not too long after we had gotten underway again on the road, my son discovered that his beloved Beanie Baby was missing! He let out a loud cry. He and this little toy had been inseparable for so may years. I was near tears, as well.

We tore the car apart, even trying to lug out removable seats in a downpour.  We did not find our son's  favorite friend. We were not even sure where he had left the toy. We had been on the ferry, in a restaurant, at a gas station.

We had a hard time convincing our son to get back in the car and continue on.

Finally, we returned home, minus our son's Beanie Baby.

As I tried to calm him down before bed, that first night home, I told him that we needed to pray. I promised him that I would call the ferry company the next morning. Our son wailed, Bu-ut, he's my best friend!! My life will never be the same without him!" I told him, "Pray! and pray hard!"

 I reached the ferry company the next day; they promised to look in the lost and found. About 24 hours later, a man from the ferry company called to say that our son's "best friend" had been found!

I thought that my son would rejoice and breathe a sigh of relief, when I told him the good news. But then came the fretting about his "friend" arriving safely in the mail.

Finally, several days later, the package had not yet arrived, and I had trouble getting my son calm enough to go to bed. I told him that he needed to believe, and perhaps to ask for a sign from God.

Suddenly, I saw something flitting about his table lamp in his bedroom.. It was a ladybug. (And, ladybugs are named after Our Lady.)  I pointed out the ladybug and told him, excitedly, 'I bet your package will come tomorrow!'

The very next day, I could not believe my eyes, when the postman brought a small cardboard box, sent by the ferry company. When my son came home from school, we tore the box open. Inside was his "best friend".  We shrieked together. We high-fived. We cried tears of joy. We hugged and jumped up and down.

I said firmly to my son, ' NOW do you believe?!! '

My son is a teen now. He prays all the time. He prays over a small wound on his body, and 24 hours later, the wound is gone! He prays to see his beloved grandfather again in heaven one day.

The power of prayer banishes anxiety. The power of prayer talks to God, and taps into His strength. The power of prayer is REAL. It is a force to be reckoned with.

Teach your kids the power of prayer, and it will guard their hearts.

[Related postings: "Not To Worry", March 3, 2014].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What is This Joy ?

" If then, there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." -- [Philippians 2:1-5].

The other day, a Christian woman I know was talking about "the pursuit of happiness".

 In American culture, there is a strong emphasis on being happy, as the ultimate measure of success. Every American schoolchild knows that our country's Declaration of Independence guarantees each citizen, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Many Americans would assume that the Declaration of Independence actually guarantees us Happiness. We are a people known by our popular songs about Happiness: Judy Garland's "Get Happy"; Bobby McFerrin's " Don't Worry, Be Happy"; Pharrell Williams'  "Happy Song."

Okay, but re-read this carefully . .  We are, guaranteed only "the pursuit" of happiness. No one is guaranteeing us a continual state of true Happiness, from cradle to grave.

I wonder, will all this emphasis on continual happiness actually produce more unhappy people?  How many people out there are worried and unhappy, because they find themselves unable to tap into that elusive state of continual Happiness?

I am beginning to think that continual happiness is really a myth. Maybe as Christians, we are not supposed to be happy? (Dare I say that?)

When you take a look at what St. Paul says in Philippians 2 above, what you see are, "consolation, Love, sharing, sympathy, joy, humility." Nowhere do I see Happiness mentioned, not in the sense that Americans would think about it, as eating, drinking, carousing, dancing wildly, showing off your new dancing shoes, etc.

Mother Teresa said essentially the same thing. As excerpted in her book, " Where There is Love, There is God", Mother Teresa said, "Joy is one of the most essential things in our Missionaries of  Charity Society. . . By this Joy, I do not mean boisterous laughter and screaming. No, that is deceitful, it can be there to hide something. I mean that inner depth of joy in you, in your eyes, look, face, movements, actions, swiftness, and so on.  . . What is this joy of Jesus? This joy is the fruit of union with God, doing the will of the Father. Living in the presence of God fills us with joy. God IS joy."

I have spoken many times before in this space about my cruel and harsh childhood. I had no happiness, no carefree childhood days. I was too busy raising myself-- finding food, putting myself down for naps, keeping myself safe from harm at the hands of family members. No, I did not have the luxury of Happiness, nor of anger, or curiosity or any other emotion. I was too bent on survival. I gradually I shut down, not feeling emotions, not eating, then not speaking or sleeping.

A relative this summer at our family reunion asked me if I was happy these days? I looked at him with shock. "Nooo", I said.

How can I be truly happy when I live everyday with the physical and psychic and emotional effects of my harsh childhood? How can I be happy with terrorists beheading children, just for refusing to renounce Jesus?

Happiness, I think, is not really in the regular realm of most Christians, not in the sense of raucous delight in all that goes on in the world-- the war, the hate, the violence, the despotism. We Christian are "in the world but not of this world."

And yet, another Christian woman I know says that, despite my desperate childhood, she sees real Joy in me! She wonders, How can that be?

Well, gradually I have been transformed from a solitary walking "ghost" to a living, breathing, faith-filled woman. I credit this to converting, and accepting God and Jesus in my life.

What I have is an unbreakable bond with God. I am not riotously happy. Actually, I feel rather sober and purpose-driven most of the time. But from my acceptance of my Faith and my time spent in the presence of God, I am coming to know who I am.

And so, instead of Happiness, I have a certain "knowing". I have an inner peaceful that comes from self-knowledge. I know who I am "in Christ". I know that, even if I belong to no other human being,  I belong to Him.

Jesus is "in me." I feel His Love, radiating out to all.

Jesus is "with me". I can feel His steady presence.

Jesus works through me. I can now feel connected to others through His Love, working in me. This is what Paul means when he says, " consolation from Love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy, being in full accord and of the same mind, having the same Love, acting in humility" -- "make my joy complete."

Being a Christian cannot become a full experience when you are always alone,living out your dye in isolation. Being Christian means being in community, loving others, caring for others.

Recently, I wrote a letter to a life-long friend. She asked if I was happy. I said, 'No! But I do feel wonder, awe, gratitude at my blessings from the grace of God,  and contentment. I know who I am now.'

She wrote back, "Surely you deserve all of that---wonder, awe, contentment, gratitude. That is more than acceptable! That is awesome!!"

"I have come that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." --John 15:11.

[Related Postings: "Where is Your Joy?", March 30, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Vineyard

" Jesus told His disciples this parable: 'The kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o'clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, 'You go, too, into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.'  . . . And he went out again around noon and around three o'clock and did likewise. Going out about five o'clock, the landowner found others standing around and said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?. . . You, too, go into my vineyard.'  When it was evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.' When those who had started about five o'clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, . . . each of them also got the usual wage. . . They grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day's burden and the heat.'

He said to one of them in reply, 'My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or, am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous? Thus, the last shall be first and the first will be last.' " --[Matthew 20:1-16].

It is difficult to read this parable as a secular person and not get angry. How, we ask, can a landowner and a foreman run a business this way? If everyone were paid the same, regardless of their production and output, that is totally unfair!

Some have read this parable as a call to fair wages and fair treatment of workers. But to read this parable in this way is to totally miss the point.

This is NOT a story about our secular business world. In fact, this is a story about the opposite. This is a story about how God's Kingdom works.

In God's Kingdom, God is so very generous that, regardless of whether we show up in His vineyard early or late, He rewards us equally -- with a place in His abundant harvest.

I have grappled with this concept for many, if not most, of the years in my life.

I endured, as a tiny girl, bruises, hunger, verbal abuse, neglect and abandonment. I watched this happening to me, as if I were watching myself from afar. I have wondered, 'Is this really my life? What kind of parents did I get?'

I never did really blame my parents. These were the people who gave me life. . . .

Several years ago, my father died suddenly of a massive heart attack. After his shocking passing, more memories surfaced of the cruelty and the traumas of my childhood.

I began to actively worry about where my dad WAS? Could God have been generous enough to welcome my father into His Kingdom, even IF my father had come to God only at the very last moments of his life? At times, I have even prayed to God, 'God, if You are a merciful God, please judge generously.'

I remember, in the year or two after my dad's death, I went almost compulsively to Confession, to confess my father's sins. Finally, the priest let me in on a simple precept of Reconciliation and forgiveness. He said, 'You cannot confess your father's sins.'

NOW where did that leave me?! Sometimes, I delve into my earthly self. I say, 'Whatever dark place my father is in, after what he did ---- he deserves God's wrath.'

But then, I wonder, if I am wishing that bad place upon my dad, how much have I really forgiven him? God's generosity, then, is about far more that what each of us "gets".  It is also about what we give.  It is about granting others the freedom to create their own relationship with God, without interference from us.

I am beginning to see that, I cannot hold onto those feelings of hate and resentment and retribution.  Those feelings are a downward path to bitterness. And bitterness will never yield a fruitful harvest for me.

I can never know if my dad reconciled with God in his last moments. I have wondered about this, and my heart has ached over it. After literally years of worrying about this, I have finally had to say that this is too big for me figure out.

God is the vineyard owner, He can handle this. What another vineyard worker has done or not done, is not merely "not my business".  It is something I cannot fathom or judge myself. I will drown in hypotheses, and never prosper myself, if I continue along this path.

But the greatest moment of consolation came at my father's wake. As my mother and I knelt before the casket, I whispered to her, 'Ma. Do you believe that you will see dad again in the next life?' And she whispered, back,"Yes!" I was so happy, I choked back tears.

No matter how my mother had expressed her serious misgivings to me about God and Christ, all my life, I could tell that her heart had softened. Maybe she AND my dad would come to God's vineyard after all. Maybe I will see them again in the next life?

 Because, for God, it is never too late.

[Related Postings: "The Last Shall Be First", September 17, 2011; "Putting The Last First", August 25, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

"Jesus said to Nicodemus: 'No one has gone up to Heaven except the One who has come down from Heaven, the Son of Man. And . . . so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.'  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." --[John 3: 13-17].

If anyone is seeking THE central belief of Christianity, this passage is probably it: "No one has gone up to Heaven except the One who has come down from Heaven, the Son of Man; . . . so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life."

 Christians believe that  Jesus blazed the path to Heaven for us, centuries ago, in order that we too might gain Eternal Life.

The Feast of the Exaltation of The Holy Cross celebrates the Holy Cross.

I have always wondered, HOW in the world could we Christians celebrate the instrument of Jesus' death?

Donald Senior, author of "Jesus: A Gospel Portrait" tells us, "Crucifixion was the basest form of Roman criminal punishment, reserved for slaves and non-citizens, particularly for crimes of sedition. . . Jesus was executed as a political insurgent --- a truly ironic ending when we recall Jesus' refusal to take up violence against the enemy."

The Cross, as an instrument of Death, is as traumatic and violent as a guillotine. Certainly, we do not see anyone going around today, wearing a guillotine charm on a necklace chain. And yet, we wear the Cross as a universal symbol, representing Jesus' violent and bloody death.

 At the same time, the Cross symbolizes Jesus' Glorious Resurrection.  The Cross' mystery has its roots in this simultaneous contradiction of destruction and renewal.

One of the most precious objects that I have is a Cross fashioned out of a bullet casing. The bullet casing came from the genocide in Sierra Leone.  Artists from that country cleared fields of
spent- bullets, and from them, crafted powerful symbols of resurrection, out of the pain of so many deaths.

Sometimes, I meditate on this object, and I try to separate the pain from the resurrection. But I cannot separate them from each other.

This simultaneous pain and glory are what I encountered when a dear relative passed away last spring.

I watched this dear man, like a father to me, endure such extreme pain, and ebb away; but with so much Grace. I could not stand to witness his pain and struggle.

At the same time, when this dear man finally gave his last breath, I was deeply relieved. I felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted away. I felt light. I felt at peace.

After his death, my family and I went to his home, to help clear out some of his possessions. As we traveled, I wore my cross necklace, to protect me. The Cross had for a moment ceased to be a symbol of pain and death. The Cross had become a symbol of Christ's strength, a strength I needed so badly.

One night, we went for a meal in a local restaurant. I was feeling like a stranger in a strange place. My dear relative's death was weighing on me. How could I enjoy this meal?

The waitress came to our table and asked what we would like? I was so exhausted and bereft, I barely looked up at her.

Finally, I raised my eyes from the menu. I suddenly noticed the cross necklace that she wore. She noticed my cross necklace. Our eyes locked.

All at once, I was no longer alone. Not only was I with my husband and son, I had connected with a fellow Christian, in a world of Christian brothers and sisters.

This meal became a shared experience-- a mystical breaking of the bread, in the way that the Eucharist is a shared experience.

I still felt that searing pain of loss and grief, but it was filtered through a new Hope.

The Son of Man, in dying for us, has created a vast community, in the Family of Man.  As Jesus said in Mark 1: 3:31-34, when He looked at a large crowd gathered around Him, "Who are my mother and brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and  mother."

And, so, I could at last feel deep inside me, that my dear relative was not gone! There was Hope that he has risen up to Heaven, like Jesus did before us.

I have hope in The Cross that, beyond the pain of his death, I will see my dear relative again.

[Related Posting: "Holy Cross",  September 15, 2011.]