Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bread Is Not Money

" Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed Him. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised His eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to Him, He said to Philip. 'Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?' He said this to test Him, because He Himself knew what He was going to do. Philip answered Him, 'Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.'  One of His disciples, Andrew, said to Him, 'There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?' Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, He said to His disciples. 'Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted'. So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, that had been more than they could eat." - [John 6: 1-15].

Many a true-believing Christian thinks that this whole story of loaves and fishes is nothing more than a New Testament "pot luck dinner". That is, some modern interpretations refuse to give credence to the miracle. We simply explain that many in the crowd contributed much for a communal meal.

 But, the real essence of the story is that it prefigures the Eucharist. It is not accidental that this event occurs when "the Jewish feast of Passover was near." Nor is it coincidence that Jesus takes five humble loaves of barley bread and feeds thousands, with bread left over. Jesus' bread is more than sufficient.

At Passover, the Israelites were instructed to kill and roast a sacrificial lamb. The blood from the lamb was splashed over the lintels of the Israelites' homes, to ward off the Angel of Death.

Who remembers, today, that the blood of the sacrificial lamb on their doorframes, for the Israelites, was a principal protection against the specter of Death and Sin in their community?

We see this battle against the Dark Side, again, when Jesus enters the desert for forty days,
 to encounter Satan. [Matthew 4: 1-11]. We see that Jesus is tempted by the devil, when the devil says, "If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."  But Jesus says, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " -[Matthew 4: 4].

Every year, the Israelites had to sacrifice the lamb and splash the blood on their lintels, to keep away the Death that comes from Sin. But when Jesus came, His sacrifice was once, and for ALL.

This makes me wonder a couple of things:

Why is it that we modern Christians do not see Jesus' sacrifice, and our sharing of it in the Eucharist, as the protective armor that it is against Sin? In the Eucharist, we take and eat of the sacred strength of Jesus.

And why do we believe that learning about what the Bible says is a "waste of time" -- when Jesus says that "man shall live on every word that comes from the mouth of God?"

Do we understand what these things even mean today?

Put it this way-- I have been poor in the midst of plenty. I had parents who fed me four-day old left-overs, and who refused to give me any other morsel to eat from their full pantry. I had to find food elsewhere at age five. I learned that "plenty" was not to be trusted, because it could be cruelly out of reach.

I have been poor outright, eating rice and beans when  I was first married, and trying to convince myself and my husband that it was delicious -- It was sustenance, but not for long. All too quickly, we were hungry again.

I learned at a young age that material plenty could be made available to me at one moment, but become illusory or non-existent the next.  I could not "Worship the Almighty Dollar", the way my parents did, because often, their money was freely given one moment, cruelly taken away the next.

Everyone in the family had a way to keep cool on a warm night. I was told  "It is not hot".  If I complied with the family's wishes, things were magically paid for. If I did not comply, there would be nothing for me.

I began to view money as undependable, a temporary illusion. I could not put my stake on money. It could not make me feel confident, secure, more loved. Actually, money had an opposite effect on me. I felt anxious, fearful, controlled by others.

Eventually, I came to realize that I needed something to "feed me" that was more lasting, even eternal. The only Presence in the world, and in Heaven, that is constant, and is always more than sufficient, is God's Grace. And we come to know God's Grace, through His only Son.

Finally, the parable of the loaves and fishes becomes clear. Jesus can ALWAYS give us plenty, in times of uncertainty, in times of deprivation, in times of hunger.

His Bread feeds us, no matter what our circumstance, with bread left over.

No, bread is NOT money. Bread is the Bread of Life, that can come only from the eternal, infinite Being of Jesus, as God.

[Related Postings: "Loaves and Fishes", July 27, 2011; "Five Loaves and Two Fish", July 29, 2012; "Loaves For Many", July 27, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rest?! -- What is That?

"The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile." People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place." -- [Mark 6: 30-34].

This summer, Americans are taking the fewest vacation days ever recorded since modern labor laws were enacted -- 16 days off per year.

In this age of digital devices, which keep employees on an "electronic leash" for 24 hours per day, seven days a week, even time off is time devoted to work.

Once, in the "old days" before cell phones, I was traveling in a foreign country and I had a 1-800 number to call in for messages at work. When I found out that the 1-800 number did not work outside of the U.S., I actually pumped my fist in the air and shouted, "Yess!!" For once, I would have a real vacation.

The U.S. is arguably the most productive country in the world, but at a price. Increasingly, cashiers in stores are timed per transaction. If the cashier does not meet 90-95 % of the processing speed required by the company, they are labelled "non-performing". If the cashier cannot increase his or her time after re-training, the cashier is fired.

We all fully believe that we can multi-task effectively. The reality is, though, that already some electronic devices can process faster than our brains and than our fingers can keep up with. There IS a finite amount of brain power in our heads and if we try to do too many things at once, we end up doing too many things poorly.

Recently, critics have insinuated that Christians are anti-capitalism. I think that is an unfair accusation. What Christians are FOR is more balance in life. A realistic expectation of what a human can process in a day. More time with family. An amount of labor that does not land us in the hospital for stress-related injuries, heart attack or stroke.

Believe me, I struggle with achieving balance in my life, every day. I am born and raised American, after all. A good day to me is starting out with a to-do list of 12 things, but actually finding the time and energy to do 15 things. At the end of the day, I tell my husband, "It was a good day today. I met all my goals." -- Who am I kidding, I am a stay-at-home mom?! -- No ogre boss stands over me telling me to move faster,  no work rule insists that I call in my progress at regular intervals.

Then, at the end of the day, I complain to my husband that my knees hurt, my legs hurt, my feet hurt, my back aches, and I think I am getting carpal tunnel in my right arm. My husband says to me, "How much did you ever sit down today?" I look at him like he is insane. I know what he is saying, when he stares right back at me -- I am my own worst enemy.

I have actually taken time to reflect on why I do this. When I was 13, I was told that I almost died, as my mother was giving birth to me. I almost had no life at all. Ever since, I have been determined to fill every moment of every day, accomplishing something.

A wise woman asked me, though, 'Is that head-long rush the only way to make meaning out of your life?'

I am definitely a "Martha", the woman in the house who is so busy dusting, tidying, cleaning up, cooking, changing the linens, sweeping, pulling up weeds, that I miss the Jesus, the sacred treasure in my midst.

Slowly, I am trying to become more like Mary, who will sit and take in those precious moments that are here for only an ephemeral moment, before they are gone.

It is not a 'waste of time' to go away to a deserted place and rest awhile. If we have forgotten that, then we believe that we are machines. We have forgotten what it is to be human.

To be human is a messy affair-- we get tired, we get dark circles around our eyes, we work up a sweat and need to sit down  with a cool drink before we can go on, we have the need to get away from mind-numbing machine work and look into a human face, we laugh, we cry, we stare into space since we need the time to comprehend what just happened.

We cannot and should not blame ourselves for all this. If we do blame ourselves, then we are blaming our humanity, the very wonderful qualities that God gave us!

Go away. Rest. Sit and breathe. Gaze at the clouds. Smell the flowers and the scent of the rain. Watch a sunset. Wriggle your toes in the sand. Feel the warmth of the sun. Let the wind ripple through your hair. These are not a waste of time.

These are priceless gifts. From God.  If we sit down, and take some moments to rest and notice what God has given us, we are NOT lazy.  We are busy filling our souls.

[Related Posting: " Are You Martha or Mary?", July 21, 2013; "Come Away and Rest", July 22, 2012;  "Rest", July 5, 2011; "A Simple Summer", June 25, 2014].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Victim Soul

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as He chose us before Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him. In Love, He destined us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of His will.  . . . In all wisdom and insight, He has made known to us the mystery of His will in accord with His favor that He set forth in Him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. In Him, we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of His will, so that we might exist for the praise of His glory, who first hoped in Christ. In Him, you also have heard the word of Truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession. " --[Ephesians 1:3-14].

The Letter to Ephesians is attributed to St. Paul. To read St. Paul is to get lost in a long series of dependent clauses, reading on and on, wondering where the verb is? And yet, to parse his writing, we face the promise of remarkable fruit.

St. Paul was not among the original Apostles, a fact that both pained him, and set him apart as special. Yes, he did not know the Living Jesus, but this seeming "loss" gave him the amazing opportunity to encounter the Risen Christ.

St. Paul is well-known for his trials as an early Christian. He says, in 2 Corinthians 11:23- 27, "Are [others] ministers of Christ? -- I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once, I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day, I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked."

St. Paul almost seems to be boasting here! And yet, St. Paul says, "Who is weak, and I am not weak? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." -[2 Corinthians 29-30].

St. Paul's life reminds me somewhat of my own life: Coming into this world, my mother went into distress during labor. I was almost not born at all. My mother almost died. When I was two, I figured out that parental "help" was actually anger in disguise; so I taught myself how to use the potty. When I was three, there was a fire in my grandparents'  house. When I was four, I almost drowned in a neighbor's pool. By the time I was six, there were floods in the basement of my parents' home; I was told to get my galoshes on and help bail the dirty water into the sink. But the water kept flowing back inside, just as fast as I bailed. When I was seven, I was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease. I would spend weeks in bed.

My brother used to bully me, calling me ugly every day and booby-trapping my room. I was told that I was "too sensitive." By the time I was eight, I stopped showing emotion. By the time I was ten, I stopped speaking. At dinner time, if I could not stomach the food, my father would tell my mother, 'Do NOT feed her.' I learned to stop eating. In the summer of the year I turned ten, my beloved grandfather died. He was the only one who protected me. Many nights after that, my mother would find me, sleep-walking, all too close to the steep stairwell.

By the time I was eleven, I was staying up until after everyone was asleep. I would keep watch, until it was safe to drift off. At age 12 or 13, I was told, on the hottest, steamiest nights of the year, that it was "not hot". My parents had a big fan in their room, and my brother had an air conditioner. I sweated and tossed in my bed until the air cooled off around 3 a.m.  I was exhausted. When I was 13, my father tried to take me away from my mother. I thought, 'He is kidnapping me.'

As a young girl, I would go to school with black eyes. In those days, if  I told my mother that I was cold, she would say, "Stop acting up."  To keep the peace around the house, I would do all the sewing and mending, and weed my mother's garden.

When I went away to university, I was the victim of a violent crime; even though I almost died that day, my parents told me I would be a failure if I came home. I married a Catholic; my parents refused to stand in the receiving line at my wedding. I have had trees suddenly come down in my path, but somehow I have always miraculously escaped death.

Like St. Paul, I went hungry, I went cold, I was given black eyes, I toiled in the dirt, I faced death more times than I can count. I faced fire, flood, near drowning, violent assault. I have faced the death of both my parents -(love unfulfilled?)- the death of my in-laws, and the death of my best girlfriend.

And yet, I am more determined than ever to keep my Faith and to believe in God. Am I crazy? St. Paul Himself said that others thought him a fool. -[2 Cor. 11: 16-17].

 I was telling my story to a priest several years ago. I said, "Everyone has tough times in life." He said, "Yes. But you have had more than most."  He asked me, "Where is your anger?" I said, "I didn't deserve all of that, but I accept it. All of it just WAS. I absorbed all the Hate." [My husband said that if he had absorbed all of that Hate, he would be dead by now.] The priest said, "Maybe there is more going on with you than meets the eye."

A few months ago, in Bible Study, I was talking about accepting the trials of life. I said to the study group, that if I had to go through all that I did, I might as well do it for God.

Then, a couple of months ago, the deacon who taught my Biblical School class spoke of the "Victim Soul".  I have researched this and found -- "A victim soul is an individual who has been chosen by God to undergo physical and sometimes spiritual suffering beyond that of normal human experience. The victim soul willingly accepts this unique and difficult mission of offering up her pain for the salvation of others." - [Gerald Korson, Catholic journalist.]

I have often described myself as the "Human Battleground", in the war occurring in my family. The Victim Soul is often described as a battleground between good and evil.

I speak in this space of what has been heaped upon me in this life, not to condemn those who have hurt me, but to confess their weaknesses, and to attempt to save others from the same heavy errors. A victim soul suffers in this life, in order to convert souls to the arms of God. I teach that your path is clear: implode, explode, or find God.  In "Mystics of the Church' it is said, "The battle with the demons is not a hidden one but it is in fact open warfare. And this open battle is permitted by God to manifest to everyone the reality of both the devil and Hell, which unfortunately many today try to disclaim the existence of."

I have been told by others that, in knowing my story, that they find it easier to bear their own trials. That would make me a "Co-Redeemer with Christ."

But are we not all "Co-Redeemers with Christ"? Pope John Paul II said, "Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption is accomplished."

And so, the true meaning of Ephesians 1 is revealed: God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. He chose us in Him. In Love, He destined us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ. In all wisdom and insight, God has made known to us the mystery of His will, in accord with His favor.

We have all been called to live through, and with, and in Jesus Christ. We share in His redemption, and His Resurrection unto God in the heavens. But we also share in Jesus' suffering. And if we do suffer, we do it for God, we become ever more close to Jesus.

[Related Postings: "Blaming God", June 28, 2015; "Recipe For a Saint", Nov. 11, 2013]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Free To Believe

"The Lord said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.'  I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong." --[ 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10].

July 4, 2015 is Independence Day in the United States.

The Bill of Rights were written into the Constitution, to protect individual liberty.

The first Right reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."  Thus,  Freedom of Religion is our very first liberty!

There are those in the United States who claim that there is no religious persecution in this country, today. I do not tend to agree.  Persecution in the United States is a matter of degree.

No, we do not witness daily beheadings of Christians, nor Jews being led off to concentration camps these days, nor Irish Catholics being systematically denied employment. For that, I am deeply grateful.

But, some parents still refuse to stand for their children at weddings, if their son or daughter is marrying outside their denomination. Non-believing parents shush their believing children, if the son or daughter dares to speak God's name. These non-believers tell their children NOT to go to church. These parents mock their children, and react angrily if the children profess belief in God, or in the sanctity of life. America has become largely a secular society, and plenty of Americans pressure people of Faith to keep their beliefs and practices to themselves.

It gets worse:  African American churches are still being burned by arsonists, a practice that began during the Civil War. Time Magazine reported, July 1, 2015, that 8 black churches have burned in the American South in the last ten days. Racism? Religious Persecution? --- Or both?

Racism and religious persecution are truly abhorrent. But what is even more frightening is the sense of complacency in America over our religious freedoms.

For one of my last assignments for Biblical School this spring, we had to write about which city in Revelation most closely resembled our parish today? The majority of students chose Laodicea, a place that was warned about the false comfort of its prosperity. Laodicea is chastised: "For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.' You do not realize that you are [actually] wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.' " -[Revelation: 3: 17].

It is almost as if we believe, 'We have no physical wants. What could happen to us? Therefore, we do not need God.' We worship our own human achievements, and we praise our ability to build a wealthy society. We believe that from these individual achievements, that means we are strong. But how weak is our Soul?

In his book, "The Heavenly Man", Chinese preacher Brother Yun writes about his own vicious persecution, perpetrated by Chinese authorities -- all for owning a Bible, hosting home churches, preaching and speaking God's Word. He was imprisoned for many years, and suffered greatly.

He writes: "In China, I had been used to beatings, torture with electric batons, and all kinds of humiliation." When he finally escaped China, and entered the huge, elaborate cathedrals and churches in Western Europe, the churches were largely empty during worship services.

Brother Yun asked his translator about a nasty article that had been written about him in the Western press. His translator told him, "Brother Yun, these people don't want to know the Truth. In China, Christians are persecuted with beatings and imprisonment. In the West, Christians are persecuted by the words of other Christians."

Brother Yun writes, "Before I travelled to the West, I had absolutely no idea that so many churches were spiritually asleep. There seems to be something missing that leaves me feeling terrible inside. Many meetings are cold and lack the fire and presence of God. In the West, many Christians have an abundance of material possessions, yet they live in a backslidden state."

Brother Yun continues: "I can assure the Western church with absolute certainty that you don't need any more church buildings. Just because you have a church building doesn't necessarily mean Jesus is with you. Many churches look beautiful on the outside, but are dead where it counts, inside."

Brother Yun concludes, "In the West, you have so much. You have insurance for everything. In a way, you don't need God."

THIS Independence Day, I ask you: How much are you willing to suffer and fight for the Right to own a Bible, recite Scripture, pray in public, wear a cross or other outward signs of your faith, attend church, gather in prayer groups, sing hymns aloud, take Sunday off as the Sabbath, assert your beliefs in the Almighty God, in His only Begotten Son, in the sanctity of the unborn life, explain and defend the Truth about Jesus and not the falsehoods about His mission . . . . ??

Because, the greatest threat to Faith in America is not persecution, or the lack of churches, but our pervasive indifference to the sacred . . . .

[Related Postings: "Independence Day", July 4, 2011; "Celebrating My Independence", July 3, 2102;
"For the Love of Freedom", June 29, 2103].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015.