Monday, February 24, 2014

Eye For an Eye, Tooth For a Tooth

" You have heard it said, ' An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to see you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.  . . You have heard it said, ' You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."  [ Matthew 5: 38-44].

This law of  "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" goes back to The Old Testament:  " If any harm comes], then you shall give an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." [ Exodus 21: 24].

When I was about three or four, I used to live by that law. I would play in a neighbor's sand box. My brother, only a year older, would throw sand in my face. I would run home, tears streaming down my face, crying to our mother. Our mother would wash my eyes out with water and dry my face. My solution? To run back down the street to the same sand box and throw sand in my brother's eyes. Then he would be the one running home, tears streaming down his face, crying to our mother.

This amounted to the " Sandbox Wars". It got to the point that our mother kept the eye cup on the kitchen windowsill, knowing that each of us, in succession, would be running home with sand in our eyes.

We outgrew this, thank God.

My next strategy was ignoring my brother. We had several years of what amounted to a Cold War.   We built a wall between us. We did not speak.

This sort of violence is not new. Certainly, there is an overwhelming amount of violence in the Bible:

 Cain killing Abel, because God prefers Abel's divine offering to Cain's.

 God asking Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. Yes, there was human sacrifice in certain cultures at the time.

Isaac's son Esau hating his brother Jacob, because their father favored Jacob; to the point that Esau plotted to kill Jacob.

Jacob's son Joseph being thrown into a pit and left for dead.  Joseph's brothers then decided to sell him into slavery, because that seemed better than killing him.

Then, Jacob' daughter Dinah being raped at Shechem. To avenge Dinah's violent assault, her brothers kill all the males of Shechem.

And all of this occurs only in Genesis. What of the violence that occurs in the rest of the Old Testament?

Let alone the violence of Jesus' death?

It is hard to know how to respond to such violence in the Bible.

There is a dangerous attitude today that, if something happens in the Bible, it must be somehow sanctioned. We see horrific violence and we philosophize, " Well, Cain killed Abel. How are we any different today ?" Our complacency veers towards acceptance.

And today, with the constant streaming of media, violence is ubiquitous. What we would never
tolerate for our children to witness in real life, we cast as "entertainment". We not only accept villains as part of our landscape, we glorify them. Villains are more "complex". More interesting.  Heroes have become " boring".

It is clear that we cannot and must not ignore Evil. St.Paul says in Ephesians 5:11, " Have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness but rather, expose them."  Speaking about Evil is NOT gossip, if the Evil is a criminal offense. We cannot remain silent.

In fact, Martin Luther King said, " He who accepts evil, without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it."

Nor should we fight evil with evil.  Leviticus 19: 17-18 says, " You may have to reprove your fellow citizen, but do not incur sin because of him." With St. Paul, this admonition becomes: " Never repay Evil with Evil. be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody."  [Romans 12:17].

This does not mean that we should let Evil overcome us. Romans 12:21 says, "Be not overcome by Evil, but overcome Evil by good."

Nor should we give up and ignore the evildoer. Jesus says, " If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?" [Matthew 5: 47].

This is how Jesus' teaching on "an eye for an eye" is so radical. He counsels us not to take revenge by matching "an eye for an eye". No, He goes further. He urges us to love our enemies!

Is this even possible in this world?

I would say to you that it is. The late Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "To our most bitter opponents we say: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you."

I have always said that the Love in my heart is a constant. You cannot do anything to me, to make me hate. What would the world be like if there were only Love? How much Peace would there be if we vowed to love our enemies and prayed for our persecutors?

[Related Posting: "Love Your Enemies", February 22, 2011; " Fulfilling The Law", February 18, 2014].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fulfilling The Law

" Jesus said, ' Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them [ manifest them completely].  I tell you the truth, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ' Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But, I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother ,' Raca' [ worthless, empty-headed], is answerable to the Sanhedrin [ the Great Court]. But anyone who says,' You fool', will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you are offering a gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go, and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."   [ Matthew 5: 17-18, 21-24].

The Bible is replete with brothers who are filled with jealousy, and who even hate each other.

Who can forget the brothers, Cain and Abel in the Old Testament?  In a jealous fit, Cain kills Abel.     [ Genesis 4].  But God sees everything. He puts a mark on Cain, so that Cain always bears the mark of sin.

Further generations of brothers fought with each other. Abraham's son Isaac marries Rebekah. She bears twins, Jacob and Esau who tussle even in the womb.

Then, there is Joseph, one of Jacob's sons, whose brothers hate him for his favored status with their father. The brothers throw Joseph into a pit. When he does not die, they decide to fish him out and sell him into slavery in Egypt.

No wonder, in later generations, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments; and the first Commandment is, " Thou shalt not kill".

I read these stories and I think, ' But, these stories are SO Old Testament! Besides, I am no murderer!'  I think-- this kind of stuff just does not happen today!

Then I reflect back to the time of my childhood.  I think of how my own brother used to throw sand in my eyes in the sandbox. He would call me ugly everyday. He would hit me. He would lock me in my room. He once took my bicycle and said, from then on, it was his. ( My father found me in the driveway, crying.)

I thought he hated me. Maybe, I was right. All I knew was that my soul was slowly dying. I had to get away from him.

We each left home in our late teens, to go to university. We largely stopped speaking.

I would show up to holidays, say hello; eat dinner; throw gifts at him; then leave. I thought: all that was required was my politeness.

One morning, decades later, I was in my kitchen. The phone rang. I could see on the display that it was my brother. I thought, ' What is HE calling for?'

I answered the phone. Our father had been rushed to the hospital. About an hour later, my brother called again. Our dad had not made it.

Suddenly, all the years melted away. I packed some things and drove to my childhood home.

When I got there, I suddenly began to see how frail and small my mother seemed. I thought that my father's death was all about forgiving my mother for past hurts between US.

At this point, she could no longer take care of herself . Somehow,  I was going to have to forgive her, if I was going to care for her and not abandon her.

But along the way, it became clear that I was going to have to deal with my brother again. He was just as interested in our mother's care,  as I was. He was not going to go away.

At first, I was furious that I had to deal with him. It was hard enough to take my mother on.

I said, 'God, I just dug deep to take my mother back. Now you want me to take my brother back TOO?! Are You crazy?!'

 I began to see that God was upping the ante on me. I mean, I had NOT by any means murdered my brother.  No, I HAD followed God's Commandment-- to the letter. . .

But NOW what did God want? I was angry with God because it seemed that He only wanted more out of me.

Sometimes, Gods knows we are capable of more. He wants us to do more than to follow the bare bones of His Commandments.

He wants us to bring His Law to fruition. So, I had to ask myself, what further was required? Was I merely ignoring my brother? Or truly working on forgiving him?

Sometime after that, I became overwhelmed with caring for my mother and for my own family at the same time. My world seemed turned upside down. I knew that I would need God more than ever, or I would fail at this.

I started contemplating choosing a church and converting.

I would sit in chapel daily, and meditate and pray. Out of these sessions, I gained more perspective on life.

As it says in this Scripture in Matthew, I had to stop calling my only brother 'fool' or 'stupid', in my head. I had to see him for who he really was, my only brother.

I had to do that, before I could get closer to God. Or otherwise, all that ugly thinking in my head would get in the way of God's entering in.

It was only after I had begun to forgive my brother in my heart, that I could truly become a Christian again, and receive Communion at the altar.

In the end, the Eucharist is THE fulfillment of our souls as Christians. That holy moment of fulfillment in the Eucharist is beyond any Laws we can imagine. That transcending Love will never be truly available to us, if we shut out God; because, by shutting out our brothers, we do preclude the Love of God.

I have to say that family forgiveness was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But as my heart softens, I begin to receive an even greater gift: God Himself.

[Related Posting: "Hate =Murder", February 17, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day

" 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?'  Jesus replied, ' The greatest Commandment is to love The Lord, with all your heart, and with all your soul.' " [ Matthew 22].

On February 14, we celebrate Valentine's Day.

These days, the appellation, " St. Valentine's Day" has been in decline.

But there are various stories that Valentine was a real person and a real saint.

One story says that Valentine was a Roman priest who was charged with the crime of marrying Christians.

Another story says that Valentine was a bishop who cured a young girl's blindness, but who was never less martyred by Emperor Claudius for being a follower of Jesus.

A third story says that Valentine was a priest who violated the law by performing weddings for military men, to spare them from going to war.

There is so much historical confusion about who this Valentine was, that the Catholic liturgical calendar does not celebrate his feast day.

Now, a Catholic finding out that Valentine was not verifiably a saint, is like scientists telling us that Pluto is too small to be a planet!

There are men -- husbands, boyfriends, etc. -- who will be relieved to hear that there is a major dispute over the reality of St. Valentine.  Some men feel that there is far too much pressure over finding the perfect gift. Others argue that Valentine's Day is not a "real" holiday, but rather a Hallmark holiday designed to force men to buy silly greeting cards, or expensive chocolates.

Some women lament that Valentine's Day is pure emotional torture, because they do not have a husband or a boyfriend in their lives at the moment. Valentine's Day becomes a judgement on how desirable you are. ( Leave it to Americans to make it all about sex!)

What I see in all these stories about Valentine, as a person, however, is the embodiment of Love! 

Maybe, to resurrect the real meaning of Valentine's Day, we ought to be telling some new stories :

Consider the story of a young couple who were married on Valentine's Day.  Several years later, she became seriously ill. The husband cared for her tenderly.

OR consider the story of a young couple who could not have children.  After more than a dozen years, they were able to adopt a beautiful baby. But finalizing the adoption became a gut-wrenching legal battle that took a year. And yet, on Valentine's Day about a year after the baby's birth, a judge finalized the adoption! Now, the mother wears a heart charm or ring every day.

OR an older gentleman lost his wife of several decades. After his wife died, he became distraught. His health suffered. One afternoon, he met a lovely lady who fell in love with him. This lady was so alarmed at how ill he was, she insisted on taking him to the doctor. The gentleman was very frail, and the couple decided to get married, because they did not want to wait until a future time and have any regrets. After they married, the lady nursed the gentleman back to health.

Long after the Hallmark cards have been lost in a drawer, long after the chocolates have been eaten, long after the fancy dinner and wine have been consumed, the LOVE remains! 

Valentine's Day does not have to be a superficial day of hearts and jewelry and nights out on the town. 

Valentine's Day does not have to be about a painful exercise in who loves ME enough.

Valentine's Day is about the Love in our lives, day after day.

We have no certainty about who St. Valentine was, or even of he was an actual person.  But, the healing power of Love IS real! 

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights reserved. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Light In The Darkness

" Thus says The Lord:   'Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of The Lord shall be your rear guard. Then, you shall call and The Lord shall answer, you shall cry for help, and He will say: Here I am! If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then the light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.' " [Isaiah 58: 7-10].

 I grew up in a household at War.

My parents spoke to each other only superficially, saying, ' Oh, we are out of bread.'  Or, ' The price of gasoline has gone up.' Or, ' Is it too hot to garden today?'

They spoke endlessly about the process of living. But they never could plumb the depths of that beautiful quality of life that can come only from the heart.

It was a marriage devoid of emotion and soul.

Perhaps my mother felt as if she were in free fall. She kept lashing out, desperately trying to find the ceiling, floor and walls of her marriage. But she found only Nothing.

Her Rules became ever more onerous. She called butter "cholesterol". She would serve only green beans with chicken, and only peas with hamburg. The only colors I was allowed to wear were red and blue; these were her Power Colors.

Her desperate grab for the arms of Love devolved into a series of  unattainable dictates. She became a despot, bent on destroying us with her oppression.

Oppression slowly became false accusation. My brother began his search for Love, by trying to distinguish himself as more lovable. This he did by denigrating me, in order to elevate himself. Whenever he called me ugly, specifying all my physical faults in endless detail,  my mother would not tell him to stop.  She would tell me that  I was too sensitive. And so, it came to pass that my mother and my brother conspired to heap false accusations and malicious speech upon me.

Instead of defending me,  my mother would shoot back at me, " You think YOU are so perfect !"

I wilted in this hateful, oppressive environment.

My father, angry at his non-marriage, would work long hours; travel a lot for work; or come home and drink away his despair. OR he would take his anger and misplaced emotional needs out on me.

By the age of ten, I had stopped speaking. By the age of 13, I was saving every dollar I could from babysitting jobs, to get out of there.

In the meantime, how does one survive?

I did  not know God. My parents stopped taking me to church after my First Communion. Besides, they did not believe in all that " God stuff".

 I decided to fight back,  not with power--  because I had none--   but out of Love. Out of the Love that God bestows upon a Child's heart, I fought back.

My mother would dictate whether I was cold or not, and refused me the key to the house so I could fetch a sweater.  In response, I knitted her a wool vest. I knitted my brother a sweater.

My father would become irate when I ate, because I was so slow and peckish. He told my mother, when I stopped eating my meal, ' Do NOT feed her!'  The next day, I would busy myself baking cookies.

My brother would hit me and steal things from my room. I helped him with his homework.

I was getting black eyes. My mother would tell me, 'Stop getting black eyes'; without ever bothering to find out why I looked like that. I brought flowers into my room from my mother's garden - which I tended. I filled vases with God's beautiful, fragrant bouquets, to banish the ugliness in that house.

Make no mistake, I escaped that House of Pain, as soon as I could. But I never did turn my back on my own, even though, time and time again, they failed me.

No --- while there, I shone my Love out to the world, every chance I could. My vindication was that I was so very unlike the others in my family. Justice did not mean to me becoming as hateful as they were.

' [My] light broke forth quickly like the dawn. My wounds were quickly healed. The Lord was my rear guard.  [He had my back]. I removed from my midst, [ nullified, vanquished], oppression, false accusation and malicious speech. My light rose from the darkness and my gloom became as midday'. [ Isaiah 58].

But, unbelievably, when I I left home to move away, I found myself in a touch -and -go, life and death situation. I called upon God,  I cried for help. And The Lord saved me. He answered me, " Here I am!"

" Jesus said to His disciples: ' You are the Light of the world. A city on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a basket; it is set on a lamp-stand, where it gives light to the whole house.  Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify [ praise, honor] your Heavenly Father." [ Matthew 5: 13-16].

My response to the darkness was to shine my Light brightly. My response to hate was to bestow Love.

Pouring Hate upon Hate only escalates the matter, until all parties suffer a nuclear explosion. Sometimes, angry people boast of "going nuclear". But only those who love back, fiercely, possess a greater Strength.

Here is my vow:  All the darkness in the Universe cannot intimidate me into extinguishing my Light. I will only dare to shine a brighter and more brilliant Light. And then, my Light will vanquish the darkness.

That is the Way. That is the Truth.  That is the Life. That is the Light unto the world.

[ "Throw Off The Darkness", December 2, 2013; " The Light of the World", February 1, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights reserved.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Presentation of The Lord

" When the days were completed for their purification, according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present Him to The Lord, just as it is written in the law of The Lord, ' Every male shall be consecrated to The Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.' Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, . . . . and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of The Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to Him, he took Him in His arms and blessed God, saying: ' Now, Master, you may let Your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which You prepared in the sight of all the peoples : a light for revelation to the  Gentiles. . . . ' The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about Him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother, ' Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted -- and You yourself a sword will pierce -- so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed." [ Luke 2: 22-40]

This Scripture passage in Luke 2:22- 40 describes rites that date back to the Old Testament, and the laws given by God to Moses. In Leviticus 12, we are told, " The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ' If a woman conceives and bears a male child, . . . her time of blood purification shall be [seven plus] thirty- three days; she shall not touch any holy thing or come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are complete.' The Scripture goes on to say that the mother must bring to the priest a lamb in its first year, or if she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtle doves or two pigeons and the priest shall thereby pronounce her clean.

 Jesus was born of an ordinary, human mother. He was bound by the Old Testament law, like every other baby born of that time and place.

How very ordinary this family is. Yet how very extraordinary!!

In the temple, there is more than a priest. There is a sort of prophet, Simeon, who "came in the Spirit into the temple."  He calls the Christ child, " a salvation which You prepared in the sight of all the peoples";  "a light for revelation and glory for Your people."

Simeon KNOWS Jesus, he has pierced His ordinariness. But there is a dark side. There is a beautiful irony in this passage, the foreshadowing of Jesus' death, by the words, " and you yourself a sword will pierce."

Jesus, a sign of a New Covenant, a sign of the paramount quality of Love, even unto death -- is a sign to be contradicted by threatening earthly powers.

Simeon's eyes have seen Jesus as Salvation,  but the world did not. After Jesus, ordinary men and women could be purified by Baptism, not by the sacrifice of animals. After Jesus, the Son of  God did come to cleanse us of our sins, by His very human death on the cross.

But the most poignant aspect of this story is how Simeon comes, in the Spirit, and he KNOWS Jesus.

How many times have I come to church, burdened by tension, the struggles of life, the pain of my past days. But when I enter the sanctuary, the Holy Spirit is there, in the dark stillness of that sacred space.

Almost every time I enter the sanctuary, a huge burden is lifted off my shoulders. I do not need to pretend any longer. God recognizes me and he knows all of my pain, all my hurts.

My tears begin to flow when I enter the sanctuary. Is it that I feel the reality of the sword piercing Jesus?

Maybe that piercing is truly what it took, for " the thoughts of many hearts to be revealed."  We need to acknowledge the brokenness of our hearts, to become one with Jesus.

Hebrews 2: 14-18 says, " Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shares in them, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of  death, that is, the Devil, and free those who, through fear of death, had been subject to slavery all their life. . . . Because He Himself was tested through what He suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested."

There is an indescribable sense of total freedom in being recognized by God in His Holy Sanctuary. I long to be known, for who I really am. I desire this implicit understanding, without words, that only God and His Son can give.

We are all tested in life. We do not have to go through it alone. We do not have to fear that no one can possibly understand our pain.

Enter a church. Let down your guard. You will be surrounded by Love.  You will be free!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reservex.