Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Desert

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God: 'This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.' " - [Mark 1: 12-15.]

It always strikes me as strange and yet somehow, fitting, that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. The Spirit's involvement means to me that it was God's plan all along that Jesus would retreat to a dark place, and face down His demons.

I have lived long enough to realize that most of us have spent considerable time of our own in the Desert. Examples around me abound--

A Lost Boy of Sudan walked for three years to escape the bulldozing destruction of the Muslim Brotherhood. His parents were shot, his sister was dragged away. Finally, seemingly safe in a refugee camp, the brotherhood hunted down the Lost Boys and bombed the camp. The Lost Boy survived, but came to America alone, without any family.

An aunt, in an extended family, went swimming in the surf one moonlit night. She never returned. To this day, it is not clear if it was an accident. The prospect of suicide keeps rearing its ugly head. Few mention her name any longer, above a whisper.

A beautiful young woman left behind the abusive family of her childhood. She married, and her husband doted on her, as the treasure she clearly was. After bearing him two beautiful children, she was diagnosed with cancer. She died before age 50, leaving him to raise the kids alone.

A beautiful young lady grew up in a wealthy family. She was the first woman in the family to go to college. She was pretty enough to do some modeling, smart enough to have a career before marriage. But her family left her all too often to be raised by the housekeeper and the cook. Anxious and depressed, she believed when she found her beloved, that she had married well. But her husband was a drinker, so it was as if there was a mistress in the marriage -- the bottle. And the alcohol led her husband to lie in another's arms.

A Christian woman received a tragic call one day. Her son and daughter-in-law had been killed in a hit and run accident. Their only child, in the car with them, was alive but permanently brain damaged. The woman's granddaughter is being raised by the "other grandparents", in another country.

A Christian woman faces daily, the demons of childhood abuse at the hands of her brother. He went away to war and did not come home alive. She was the only one at the funeral who did not cry. Her family thought she was heartless.

These are all true stories or composites of true stories.

I used to think that my own story was far worse than anyone's on the planet. People have told me that-- as if that would make me feel any better. People say, "Yours is the worst story I have ever heard." After awhile, I realized that this is a distinction that I do not want!

I think that I have meandered in My Desert for a very long time. People have said to me, 'You have GOT to get out of this Desert of yours.'

I agree that we can spend a lifetime wallowing in it. Look-- Jesus did His time in the Desert, then He got out.

But I also think that The Desert is an organic time. You never know how long you will be there, when you enter it. Just as you believe that your dark time may be done, more ugly demons rear up. Demons that you need to face and even talk back to, the way Jesus did.

As I am emerging from my Desert, I am beginning to become acutely aware of others' Deserts. It takes losing everything, coming back and recognizing that God is all we really have-- before we can develop deep compassion for others. It is sadly true that our own pain can be sometimes so blinding and intense that we miss the obvious suffering of those all around us.

There is a very significant sentence in this Scripture about the timing of Jesus' exit from the Desert. This verse says, "After John  had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God." This is what my first year Biblical School teacher would have called "a pregnant sentence." Tossed off as a seemingly casual phrase, it is suffused with significance.

Jesus spent His prescribed time in the Desert, wrestling with Satan. When Jesus emerged, John was arrested--- and beheaded. I think about this and realize, it took Jesus' time wrestling in the Desert, for Him to be fully ready to take up where John left off; yet become even greater than John. God knew this, He planned on it!

This Lent, we are called into The Desert. It is a dark time, it is a troubling time. But The Desert can be a distinctly rich and fruitful time. As we emerge, we recognize with utmost clarity, where God is in our lives. And where Satan is . . . .

We are never alone in The Desert. We always have God.

I pray that as Christians, we are FOR one another, not against. The pain of my Desert can mean nothing at all, if I cannot go forth with love and gentleness, speaking God's Word and healing others.

[Related Posting: "Lenten Meditations", Feb. 27, 2013; "The Color of Lent"; Feb. 27, 2012].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Love Seeker

" Brothers and sisters, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." -[ 1 Corinthians 10: 31- 11:1].

As many of you know, I am a student in Biblical School. Our instructor last year was a tiny, feisty nun, Sister J. She gave learned theological lectures. She also peppered her talks with advice and  humorous asides. She used to say, "A life without Love is deadly."

That comment resonated with me. I grew up in a childhood home without Love. No one ever said, 'I love you' to me. No one ever hugged me.

I have heard skeptics say, "Well, back in those days, our parents were not all 'lovey-dovey'. But, we knew that we were loved."

I did NOT know that I was loved. My family did not speak Love. They did not show Love. I sometimes went to school with black eyes. A sibling used to hit me and call me ugly every day. My parents told me that I was "too sensitive" for complaining about it.

There is more than a feeling to this notion that a lack of Love is deadly. In laboratory experiments, mice separated from their mother at birth and not given any physical stroking are more anxious and aggressive for the rest of their lives.

It is a medical fact that one can die of a broken heart. It is also a medical fact that living a life of hate and anger can be deadly. I once had a Math teacher who was viciously mean. He believed that Math performance on the part of his students improved if he yelled at us. He taught by fear. Our grades plummeted. Before he reached middle age, he died of a massive heart attack.

Some will say that we are born selfish. I do not believe that this statements is true! First, just because a baby cries in the middle of the night when you are trying to sleep, or cries in the middle of Mass, or cries in the middle of your very important conversation does not make her selfish. A baby who cries wherever, whenever, is hungry or tired or hot or wet or needs to be comforted. The baby is not doing this crying TO you. This crying is not selfishness, it is a Will to survive.

As a Christian, I also do not believe that we cannot know how to love, if we were never loved as children. The first sentence of the Catechism says, "The desire for God is written upon the human heart." We have God's Love inside us from birth!

But, as we grow up, we do have to leave our childish ways aside. We move from being survivors to thrivers. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 13:11-- "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things."

Our childish sense of Love moves from always being about what we need, to being about what others might need from us. Jesus tells us this when He says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - [Mark 12:13].

As a child, I had to figure things out for myself. I had this child-like notion that all these negative "slings and arrows" were coming at me - hunger, physical attack, verbal abuse, medical neglect, abandonment, jealousy, rage. I imagined that if I sent Love back at those who were cruel, maybe the negative arrows would at least be neutralized. This is what a mature Christian would call "Spiritual Warfare."

Today, I have survived! I still practice Spiritual Warfare every day. A cousin tells me, 'Wow! Everything you do is either to enhance your strength and knowledge; or is in service and love for others.'

So, she has noticed my Spiritual Warfare! I do try to take care of myself, eating well, sleeping enough, staying active. If I am not well and strong, how can I fight for Love?

I also try to learn as much as I can about the Word and about God. My religious education stopped when I was 14. I have a lot of catching up to do. If I am not informed, how can I know about God's Love?

I do pray that God makes me strong and gives me the wisdom and the words by which to love others. If I don't have that intuition about what others need, how can I love?

Every day, I try to do something kind for someone else. This may be for a family member or a neighbor. Sometimes, this kindness is towards a stranger.

For, if we do not counter Hate with Love, are we not multiplying the problem of Evil? Jesus said to His disciples, "By this, people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - [John 13:35].

I live by 1 Peter 1:22 -- : "Love one another deeply, from the heart." Love heals all wounds, yours AND mine. Love heals!

[Related Posting: "New Year, New World", January 1, 2015.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2105. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


"Job spoke, saying, 'Is not man's life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages. So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, 'When shall I rise?', then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.' " - [Job 7: 1-4, 6-7].

The Book of Job begins, "There was a man, . . . whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. "  He had a family of seven sons and three daughters; and thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and many servants -- a sure sign of prosperity.

And yet, in one day, groups of marauding attackers kill Job's servants, burn up his sheep, and carry off his camels. Later that same day, a great wind knocks the house down, and all of Job's sons and daughters are killed.

Another day, horrible sores plague Job and his health deteriorates, as he suffers in pain. Then, his friends show up to "console him" but for an entire week, they do  to peak to him. Then, they blame Job for his troubles. They say, 'You must be a sinner and so, God is punishing you.' Or, 'Your children must have sinned.' -[Job 8:3-5].

Poor Job has lost everything. Even his wife says to him, "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die," -[Job 2: 9].

Oftentimes, I myself describe my life as "Job-like".

When I was coming into this world, I almost died before I was even born. My mother almost died, too.

When I was three, there was a fire in my grandparents' house.  I was traumatized in the aftermath, to see the skeleton of my grandmother's charred easy- chair, and the scorched walls.

When I was four, I almost drowned in a neighbor's pool.

When I was six, I was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease. And, my mother chain-smoked my entire life. By the time I had reached young adulthood, it was as if I had been a chain- smoker my whole childhood.

In my abusive and cruel home, I got black eyes. I was called ugly every day. When I was eight, I shut down my emotions, hoping that would make me invisible enough for the abuse to stop.

But it didn't. When I was ten, I stopped speaking.

When I was fourteen, a member of my extended family committed suicide. That was also the year that my parents took church away. In my teen ignorance, I believed that God was in church and that my parents had the power to take God away. Oh where, oh where was God?

When I was eighteen, I stashed a packet, containing a toothbrush and a wash cloth, at a friend's house, in case I had to suddenly escape from what was going on in my own home.

In my early twenties, when I was thousands of miles away from home in graduate school, I was the victim of a major crime. I almost died that day, according to the police report. I was so shaken, I wanted to quit school for a semester, so I could recover. But my family told me that if I did that, I would be a failure.

I did-- triumphantly -- finish graduate school. But the night before graduation, my parents called me a failure anyway.

A few years after graduation, I met the wonderful man who would become my husband. But my parents' reaction was, 'Can't you marry someone else?' They refused to stand in the receiving line at my wedding -- all because I was marrying a Catholic.

Several years ago, I converted to Catholicism. This was a gut-wrenching process. I had to work my way through a lifetime of anti-Catholic blasphemy, repeated ad infinitem by my family. I had to willfully trust that, through all that fog of blasphemy, God was still there.

After my conversion, I lost a few long-time friends, who could not understand the "new me". Worse yet, a couple of weeks after my conversion, one of my best friends died. She and I had dreamed of growing old together.

Through all these years, I have to confess that I kept score of my wounds. I also plunged into the black hole of despair.

I took to proclaiming, like Job, "I would rather be strangled than to suffer like this. I hate my life." -[Job 5: 15-16]. There were times, like Job that I wished to sleep deeply, because it was only in sleep that I no longer felt the pain-- until the nightmares came.

A Wise Advisor started to tell me that I would never be happy. I began to fear that she was right.

Well-meaning friends would say to me, "Yours is the worst story I have ever heard." After their unintentional encouragement of my despair, I actually became irritated if someone else had a tragic life. Somehow, I felt that I owned that franchise!

And yet, after awhile I realized that, after so much suffering in my early life, wouldn't -- couldn't-- my life come to mean something?

Then, some other friends would say, "HOW did you possibly get through all that-- and as a child, mostly alone?" At first, I would blurt out, 'It must be God'. Gradually, that spontaneous response became, not just a concept, but a strong belief.

 Yes, for a time like Job, I did complain about my life, saying things like, "Don't I have the right to complain?", and "I hate my life".

But I never gave up on God. I never hated God. Or blamed Him for my troubles. Or declared that there IS no God.

In fact, my life is in many ways, proof that there IS a God! In so many ways, and for so may reasons,  I should be depressed, joyless, self-hating, self-abusing, defeatist, or, perhaps even deceased. But the dark days of my early life have given me new Hope for the future.

Pope Francis has said that, to be an authentic follower of Christ, we must not complain or "look like we just came from a funeral." We must exhibit that "authentic missionary spirituality, full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage and boundless love." -[Evangelii Gaudiium ch. 5- - 261].

In fact, he has said, "we don't have a mission; each of us IS a mission. It's for that mission, that each of us is alive." - [Fr. Roger Landry, Catholic Education Resource Center. ]

[Related Posting, "Hating This Life", March 25, 2012"].

(c) Spiritual Devotional, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Authentic Christian

"On the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.  In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, 'What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-- the Holy One of God!' Jesus rebuked him and said, 'Quiet! Come out of him!' The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, 'What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him.' " - [Mark 1: 21-28.]

Jesus is One "having authority"! We Christians take that for granted today.

But when Jesus started frequenting the Temple, listening to the rabbis teach, and then conducting the teaching Himself, He was challenged by others, because He was speaking on His own authority. .

In the religious community, Jesus was considered sacrilegious to speak on His own authority. When Jesus went around healing people and forgiving others their sins, "the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, 'Who IS this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?' " - Luke 5: 21.]

At the same time, political leaders were threatened to the core, misperceiving Jesus to have political aspirations-- especially since Jesus was called, "The King of the Jews". This is the very reason why King Herod was plotting conspiracies to hunt down Jesus and have Him killed, even before He was born.

Today, we understand that Jesus took His authority directly from God, His Father. When Jesus was baptized, "He went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice from Heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, whom I am well pleased.' " - [Matthew 3:13-17.]

Today, I believe that the Christian church suffers from a Crisis of Authority. We see this in many ways. I have heard young couples exclaim that they could never go to Christian marriage counseling because "what does an old, white, unmarried male priest know about marriage?"

Young people say much the same thing, "Why should I let an old, white, unmarried man tell me what to do?"

Even more disturbingly, many have begun to question the relevance of the Church, or even its future existence.

Ever since his election, Pope Francis has called for a "New Evangelization".  But, this "New Evangelization" is not new! From Jesus's early days, He "went through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom." Later, after He had selected the twelve apostles, Jesus instructed them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." -[Mark 16:15].

Recently, in  homilies and treatises, Pope Francis has called ALL of us Christians to do the same! He has said, "Evangelization is the task of the Church."

I have spent many hours of doubt worrying over what authority I possess, to even attempt to preach the Bible or to apply it to my life. When I was growing up, I was raised by a family of non-believers. I was forbidden after a certain age to go to church. I hid my cross necklace inside my shirt. I dared not speak God's name. I kept my Faith, but I had to reduce it to a tiny shred inside of me. After awhile, I took a vow of silence; because, after all, what could one possibly say to anyone so hostile to God?

My experiences in an environment hostile to God has changed me forever. This is why I believe that we must work, not only to speak the Word, but also to free anyone under the burden of persecution. In conditions of persecution, it is possible to keep the Faith, deep inside one's thoughts and heart.. It is even possible to dare to own a bible and to read it under dangerous circumstances. But how can one be fully Christian, if one cannot speak the Word without risking one's very survival?

Pope Francis has called all of us to become "authentic Christians". This of course means much more than simply attending church services. We are to live the Word.

But beyond living it, for we are also to speak it! In his recent "Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said, "In virtue of their baptism, all members of the people of God have become missionary disciples. All the baptized, whatever their position in the church or their level of instruction in the Faith are agents of Evangelization."

I have worried that I do not know enough to evangelize. But Poe Francis has said,  "Anyone who has truly experienced God's saving Love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that Love. What you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope, is what you also need to communicate with others."-- It is that "personal encounter with the saving Love of Jesus", that must be spoken!

I have worried that I have made so many mistakes in my life, that who AM I to speak about God and His Word? But Pope Francis has said, "We are not asked to be flawless." In fact, I am beginning to see that others have learned, even from my own mistakes!

In memory of, and in place of, all those who are not permitted to attend Mass, I faithfully attend Mass. In memory of, and in honor of, all those who are not permitted to speak God's name or to proclaim His Word, I speak for them!

[Related Postings: "The Seamless Christian", December 12, 2012, "My Visible Faith", February 22, 2102; " The Invisible Catholic", March 9, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.