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.