Monday, June 30, 2014

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

 "Jesus asked His disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?'  They replied, 'Some say, John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'  He said to them, 'But who do you say I am?' Simon Peter said in reply, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus said to him in reply, 'I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.' " --[Matthew 16: 13-19].

The Feast of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the Apostles.

I look at the history of the Christian Church and I marvel at her billions of adherents. There are an estimated 2.18 billion Christians in the world today.  It is estimated that there will be 3 billion Christians by the middle of this century. [].

This did not happen overnight, and it did not happen without a struggle. First, the Romans believed that by killing Jesus, they would get rid of this "Messiah problem".

That strategy only fueled the fire of Jesus' followers. Emboldened by the Holy Spirit, and outraged by Jesus' Crucifixion, Jesus' followers only grew stronger and more numerous.

Only thirty years after Jesus' death, Christianity was solidifying over vast stretches of the Old World.

God could not do this alone, however; He needed human spreaders of the Faith.

We know that St. Peter and St. Paul, as two of the most seminal prophets and Saints. But in some ways, it was astonishing that God selected them.

Paul was one of the worst persecutors of Christians, before his Conversion. He was the leader of a large group of people who hunted down and assaulted Christians. In Acts 7: 57-59, Paul, (at that time known as Saul), "was consenting to the death" [of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death.]  "Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church [in Jerusalem]; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment." -- Acts 8: 1-3.

And Peter? Jesus predicted at The Last Supper that Peter would deny Jesus three times before the cock crowed the next morning. [Mt. 26;33-35; Mark: 14:29-31; Luke 22:33-34; and John 13:36-38.]  As predicted, Peter's denials came true.

Paul called himself "the least of the Apostles". And yet, Paul also became one of the greatest martyrs for the Faith. In 2 Corinthians 11: 23- 27, Paul says, "Are they servants of Christ? I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. " Paul talks about being shipwrecked, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, constantly on the move, in danger from rivers, from bandits, from fellow Jews, from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in the country and at sea, in danger from false believers, hungry and thirsty, cold and naked, and without sleep."

 As depicted in Acts 12:1-11,  King Herod had "James, brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. . . Peter [was] secured by double chains."

And yet, Peter became "the rock of the Church", the Apostle whose reign runs straight to the Pope we have today, in the Catholic Church.

All of this history gives me some perspective on the contemporary zeal for "The New Evangelization".

First, we do not need to be Perfect in order to be called to evangelize. Paul was not perfect. Peter was not perfect. This gives me hope.

Often, I ask myself, 'WHY would God choose ME?' I grew up in a family of virulent non-believers, even blasphemers. Sometimes I think, well, God must have a superb sense of Irony! Or the greatest sense of humor ever!

Sometimes I wonder, 'How did I ever make myself open enough to receive God?'  Reading the Bible helps. Or attending Church. Or leaning on Him in times of trouble. Or, simply trying to love and forgive or endure like Jesus.

Not all of us can be impassioned preachers. Or the greatest Gospel singer ever, selling millions of CD's or winning Grammys.

I think it takes simply showing our Love each day, in countless ways. Many critics of religion want to catch us in the act of doing something mean or petty, then they say, "And she calls herself a Christian!"

I want to be caught time and again, carrying out simple acts of kindness with Peace and Love in my heart. After all, we Catholics always cross ourselves at head, lips and heart at the reading of the Gospel.

With Head, Lips and Heart, we carry forth Jesus' example and God's Word. We are ALL Apostles!

[Related Postings: "Ready For God", November 8, 2011; " The Sensation of Evil",  December 16, 2012].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014.  All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Simple Summer

" As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." --  [1 Peter 4:10.]

It is Summer!

Finally, the days are longer and presumably, slower. As we used to say, "Ah, Summer! And the living is easy!"

Or, at least the summer days USED to be slower.

I remember the summers of my childhood. I think that I must have spent 24 hours a day trying to get cool.

My mother would freeze orange juice in little fluted metal Jello tins. We would take a small tablespoon from the kitchen drawer, to eat with. The smaller the spoon, the longer we could savor the sweet ice. And yes, she would shoo us outside, to enjoy our ices under a shade tree.

During the heat of the day, I would lie in the grass under our biggest tree, and imagine tiny worlds in the grass, where the ants busily built things, and the lady bugs perched precariously on the tips of the blades of grass. Or, I would swing as high as I could on the back yard swing, because I was cool, as long as the breeze whirled through my long hair. But as soon as I stopped swinging, the heat crept around me, with long fingers of shimmering haze.

At night, we would stay outside as long as possible after sunset. The air became cooler then.  We would shriek at the black bats that would swoop and dive above us.  We would grab empty mayonnaise jars, trying to catch fireflies in the jars, in an attempt to create makeshift lanterns.

Every summer, for a few nights, we would set up a canvas tent in the back yard, and sleep outside. It was cooler out there. We would fall asleep to the sound of the crickets, and the fading tones of the birds as they nested for the night.

If we slept indoors, we had screens in the windows to cool us. Each spring, my father would remove the heavy, clumsy storm windows from each window opening, and clip on the screen windows. This, and the switch from hot oatmeal to cold cereal for breakfast, signaled that summer was coming.

It was the invention of air-conditioning that kind of killed summer for me.

These days, practically every middle- class to upper- middle- class American home has air-conditioning.  We have become mere witnesses of summer, from the comfort of our perfectly cooled domestic interiors.

We no longer experience the tremendous relief of cooling down after working up a big sweat. Our fruit ices do not seem as cool to the tongue, in the air conditioning. There is no longer this urgent need to get outside, into the breezes.

I don't think that I have even seen a firefly in about twenty-five years.

On a hot summer day, the outdoors is eerily silent and inhumanly manicured -- as if we have all entered the surreally perfect world of a town like the one in Edward Scissor Hands.

On a hot summer afternoon, something is disturbingly missing. It is the sound of children laughing and playing outside. Everyone is hermetically sealed in their air conditioned homes. The streets are deserted.

Winter used to keep us indoors. Now, summer does too.

God gave us Nature. He gave us breezes to keep us cool. He gave us the ethereal flight of the butterfly. He gave us the glow of the fire-fly. He gave us the scent of the heat, when a sudden summer shower releases steam from a hot road. He gave us sweat and thirst, and our family dog panting in the heat. He gave us the caw of the bluejay, and the gritty feel of sand between our toes when we go to the beach.

If we want to be good stewards of all in Nature that God gave us, the least we could do is to get outside and notice it. Otherwise, all of God's natural gifts to us are just images passing by our windows.

[Related Postings: "Summer!", June 22, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Forever Bread

" Moses said to the people: 'Remember how for forty years now, the Lord, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep His Commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord."  [Deuteronomy 8:2-3].

In the news, recently, is the story about a new food product, touted as "your go-to-meal, so you don't have to think about anything else." --[The New York Times,  May 28, 2014].  It is called Soylent,  a liquid intended to substitute for meals, for those times when we are too busy to eat, or too inclined to binge on junk food.

Soylent is advertised as scientifically engineered to offer all the nutrients one needs for survival.

The reporter who wrote the New York Times article about Soylent, Farhod Manjoo, tried to live on Soylent alone for over a week. He called it, "punishingly boring, joyless, purposely bland, motel-beige carpet hued, gritty, inoffensive and dull, leaching the joy out of food."

The Soylent controversy reminds me of the controversy over manna in the Old Testament. It was described by the Israelites as flakes of frost that appeared each morning like the dew. The Israelites gathered the manna and baked it into 'plain-vanilla' cakes for every meal. And they complained against God for this dreary and boring sustenance.

The basic problem with the same old nutritionally- sound, but bland food, day after day, is the lack of depth, the lack of complexity or joy.

It was like that in my childhood. If I could not eat the four day old leftovers that I was given for dinner, or the mushy cereal day after day for breakfast, I subsisted on glasses of milk and on skipped meals.

The piece of bread with butter, that a girlfriend's grandmother gave me for a snack now and again, began tasting like the most amazing food ever.

I never took food for granted again. By the time I was five, I was figuring out which days I would likely not be fed edible breakfast, or dinner either. That meant that I would have to alleviate the hunger by going about my day, finding food for a good lunch. I also took to hoarding sweets in my room, in case I could not find food that day.

 I was not living by bread alone. I was merely surviving, for the lack of food. Neighbors, teachers were becoming alarmed at how thin I was. I look at old photos of myself, and I am all arms and legs and no substance.

I will never believe that God engineered my constant physical hunger, in order to prove a point, in order to drive me to Him in desperation.

But God DID give me the Grace to seek Him, over time, more and more. When you have nothing else, not enough food, no one to hug you and say, "I love you", only harsh words and neglect, what else DO you have --except God?

It has taken me a lot of time and reflection to realize that my hunger has always been about a lot more than physical famine. My hunger was for Love and understanding.

As I grew up and matured, I figured out that the only enduring source of nourishment is God. He does not cause our hunger, but He is the only One, through His Only Son, who can truly feed us -- heart and soul.

Jesus'  bread gives Life. Jesus'  bread is given so that, "whoever eats this bread will live forever." [John 6: 58]. Jesus' bread gives the Love that can never be taken away. Jesus' Corpus is the "Forever Bread"; always deep, complex, fully satisfying, rich in meaning, enduring, Infinite.

[Related Postings: "Corpus Christi", June 27, 2011; "Holy Body and Blood of Christ", June 7, 2012; "The Body and Blood", June 2, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Forgotten Father

Sunday, June 15, 2014 is Father's Day

I think back in time to the days when my mother told me about when she was hoping to get married. Her own mother had given her advice about the best kind of man to marry.

The future husband needed to be a good provider. In other words, he needed to earn a big salary; and to be healthy, so that he could provide for a family for many, many years.

When I graduated from school and was old enough to marry, my  mother gave me the same advice. I was supposed to marry someone who was healthy as a horse. I was supposed to marry someone with many accomplishments, an educated man who could earn a big salary.

I always thought that what my mother was telling me was that I was to marry a "Resume".  In other words, I was supposed to marry a man based on what he had done and what he could do. I was not supposed to marry a man based on who he WAS. And, God forbid that I wished to marry for Love!

These days, women are educated. They establish careers before marrying. They do not always need to marry a "Resume". Women can support themselves.

And so, what do women even need a man for?

Historically, they have always needed a man in order to produce children. But, with the advent of advanced reproduction, women do not even need to marry a man, in order to have children. A woman can simply sign up for in vitro fertilization. All that she needs is the DNA itself, and not the man.

On this Father's Day, then, how do we define Fatherhood? Or, have we forgotten what a Father is?

I remember that the 1950's were the "Father Knows Best" culture. No longer. Today, in sitcoms and on television commercials, the dad is portrayed as a hapless buffoon. Face it, if women were portrayed as so foolish and helpless in television advertising, women would be furious about this stereotyping. (And rightly so!)

Whipping up a frenzy of anti-male bigotry is no answer to centuries of mysogny.

So, what I am looking for is the model of a fully-realized father. We used to place every honor upon the father as wage-earner, to the detriment of his other human qualities. Then, we came full circle, and reduced fathers to mere DNA donors.

You know what? God made man to be fully human. Men are fathers, they are wage earners. -- yes. But they are also emotional creatures with gifts, integrity, a sense of fun, an intellect, frailties and faults, Faith and gentleness, strengths and quirks.

This Father's Day, get to really know your dad as the wonderfully human, complex, three dimensional creature that he is.

Knowing your father from the inside is a great gift, one that you will carry with you for all of your days.

[ Related Posting: " Father's Day", June 15, 2011;  "Celebrating Fatherhood", June 16, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

One Spirit

" Brothers and Sisters: No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

As a body is one, though it has many parts, and all parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit." -- [1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13.]

When I was a little girl growing up, I was not allowed to have my gifts. I did not even know I HAD gifts.

I used to draw on scrap paper. The drawings were pretty good for a child. An art teacher in school said that i had talent, and encouraged me to continue with art. My mother said, "Absolutely not!"

 I would sneak into the art class in school, the class that the other students were allowed to attend. I would sit in the back and observe. But if the art teacher said to me, "Are you in this class?," I would shrink into the corner. Or maybe I would leave the room.

If I did draw, I would leave the drawing at a friend's house. Or, I would hide the drawings in a bottom drawer of the desk where I did my homework.

In my childhood home, my parents told ME what gifts I was to have. I was to go to this certain school, I was to wear my hair a certain way, I was to wear only certain colors, I was to plan for a certain field of endeavor and not others.

Imagine my wonder when I first read this Scripture about Gifts! It was hard for me to comprehend  that this was all true!

Then, after I married my Catholic husband, I joined a Bible Study group. The Bible Study leader told us that we ALL have Gifts, and they come from God. I had a hard time trusting that she was telling me the Truth.

A few years go,  after both my parents died, I started to draw again. I would take out some heavy paper stock and a drawing pencil. I would light a candle and put on some soft music. Then, I would feel fear again. But I made myself put pencil to paper; and the more I drew, the easier it became. I found that my talent had never left me.

Later, when I was recounting this story to a fellow Christian, he was astonished that I would light a candle and play music. You see, I did not even know what I was doing, but I found out that lighting a candle summons the Holy Spirit.

I am beginning to see that we really do all have Gifts. The Gifts come from the Spirit. The Gifts are ours to keep. No one can take them away.

And about this One Body concept?

I am thinking of a family with four children. The baby in the family complains that he does not have the artistic talent of an older sister, or the design talent of an older brother.  He forgets his own considerable musical talent. The middle sister complains that she is "just the middle child" : not the oldest, not the youngest, not nearly as talented as the other siblings. She forgets that she is always the linchpin, the strong link that keeps the peace in the family and binds them all together.

It always bothers me when I see people, who think that their Gifts are not good enough. How could something that comes from God be "not good enough"?

From this, I am learning that the Gifts that God gives us are exactly what He meant us to have.  If He meant us to be like someone else, He would have made us differently.

And all of the Gifts in a family are essential, and part of the whole.

It is the same way in a church. We need the cantor, the organist, the head of the Finance Committee, the Lectors, etc. Maybe I cannot sing, but I can sure write the Parish blog.

No one Gift is superior to the others. After all, we need eyes to see, legs to walk, ears to hear. . . .

Rather than dividing us, our Gifts unite us into one beautiful whole. Whether  Jew or Greek, slave or free, we are one people, united in the Spirit: the one, shared Spirit which grants us our Gifts and grants us our place in the world.

[Related Posting: "Burying My Talents", November 13, 2011; "My Labor of Love", August 30, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Feast of the Ascension

" I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day He was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. He presented Himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. When [the apostles had gathered together, . . . Jesus said], ' It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'  When He had said his, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as He was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into Heaven." -- [Acts 1:1-11].

Yesterday, my dear elderly relative, who had suffered for so many years with serious ailments, lay in a hospital bed far away. We were receiving frequent updates about his condition.

I was outside on the patio, looking out at my gardens and at the woods beyond, when I saw a pale yellow butterfly, flitting by. And I knew that everything was going to be okay.

Shortly thereafter, the call came that my precious relative had passed on the God.

I was reminded of how, years before, I had raced to my mother's side, the day that my father had died abruptly, one early spring morning.  When the day came for me to go home to my family, my mother stood on the front porch and waved goodbye. She looked like a frightened child.  I could hardly bear the thought of leaving her behind.

As I was carrying my bags out of the house, I paused and looked up to Heaven, the way the apostles did. I said to my father, "How could you have left me with my mother, when she is so frail and tiny and needy? Where ARE you? And how am I going to take care of her without you?"

Suddenly, I saw that a brilliant Monarch butterfly had landed on the trunk of my father's car. Even more miraculously, the butterfly landed on my hand. I held my breath, as the butterfly stroked my hand with its front legs. Then, it took off in flight, in the direction where I had been gazing at the sky.

The apostles must have felt this way when Jesus died. They did not immediately understand that [Jesus] had to go back to the Father. Perhaps they felt abandoned. But Jesus promised, "I will not leave you an orphan. I will come to you" --[ John 14:15-21].

I have felt orphaned and alone my whole life. I raised myself. No one ever hugged me or said, "I love you." If things became too intense for me, I hid in the midst of a giant forsythia shrub in my family's front yard. If my family thought I was lost, I wanted it that way. I thought, 'No good can come from being visible.'

I gained a new perspective yesterday, though, when I remembered the Feast of the Ascension. My dear relative has gone on to Heaven. But I will always have that hope that I can see him again. Jesus first paved the way for us, to Heaven. As we follow Jesus in this life, we have the great hope to follow Him in the next.

Yesterday, my church held a Mass of Confirmation. Many, many young teens avowed their belief in the Apostle's Creed, and thereby, their belief in the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Then, this morning at Mass, the priest performed a Christening. And so, another new life begins upon the path of following Jesus.

When I sent a note to a fellow parishioner, about the loss of my dear relative, I said, "Please inform our church family of this news."

So, finally, I am beginning to see that we are never truly alone. Jesus is always with us, in a butterfly, in a sunset, in the Eucharist.

But, especially, I now see that in being Christian, we have a whole world of family, "to the ends of the earth".

It may be that I have no family. But if no one is my family, then everyone is my family. God bless you all, my brothers and sisters in Christ. May you never feel alone in Jesus' arms.

[Related Postings, " Ascension Day",  May 17, 2012; "Ascension of the Lord", June 1, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.