Sunday, August 30, 2015

Inside Out

"When the Pharisees with some scribes gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. --For the Pharisees, and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders.  . . And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. -- So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, 'Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?' He responded, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ' This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; . . You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition.'
Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them, 'Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile." --[Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23].

The Israelites, through Moses, received a litany of laws-- even beyond The Ten Commandments --
from the Lord their God. These laws protected them, and rightly so. "The Law of Moses was given to the Israelites when they were still a band of ex-slaves struggling to survive." -

When Jesus came, He came with one New Commandment, to love one another. As St. Paul explains, in Galatians, "Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law. . So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came.. . But now that Faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God." -[Galatians 3: 23-26].

So many times, I think that we have totally forgotten this one simple lesson, that we are ALL children of God.  In fact, Mother Teresa used to say, " If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

I found this out the hard way. When I was a girl, my own brother used to call me ugly every day, in excruciating detail. I was "Crooked Teeth", because I needed braces to straighten my teeth. I was "Pimple Face", because of my teen acne. I was "Eagle Beak", because of my aquiline nose. I was "The Brain", reduced to only one bodily organ, because I was a good student.

I used to get so angry at all these names. I was not so much angry because these accusations were true. I was angry because there was nothing I could do about them.

It seemed quintessentially unfair to tear me apart over something I WAS, rather than something I DID.  I vowed, through clenched teeth and tears and anger, to never pick on anyone, or judge anyone, over something they could not help. If I have done wrong, correct me. If it is about the superficial -- my nose, my skin color, my gender-- respect me, or leave me alone.

We live in a world, STILL, that runs by human rules. We "cling to human tradition." We latch onto appearances, but we forget what is in the heart.

We fear the black man, especially if he wears a hooded sweatshirt.

We revere the tall, white man with good, thick hair.

We assume women, especially attractive ones with full, flowing hair, are actually dumb.

Women paint their nails with polish, and apply makeup endlessly. But our polish contains toxic substances not regulated by the FDA, and our lipstick contains lead. We persist, thinking the cosmetics give us a big advantage in how people regard us.

Men exercise feverishly, building impressive muscles, believing this formula for strength will make them more attractive, socially and in the workplace.

I once knew a guy who just could NOT get a promotion. His work was flawless, his attendance perfect.. Men who had been employed well after him were getting promotions before him. The Truth: He was short-- and not all that handsome. What a shame.

Some folks insist that the Bible is not relevant today. Actually, we are fighting the same battles today, as Jesus did in Biblical times.

We have our biases still about what practices are "acceptable", about what practices will "protect" us, and will allow us to thrive -- the designer clothes, the fancy imported car, the handsome children, the huge mansion, the "right education", the executive title.

But, Jesus does not care about human convention.

We all have the capacity to burnish ourselves on the outside, but to give in to evil, greed, malice, deceit, envy, blasphemy, folly on the inside. We can have a beautiful exterior package, but a rotten core. Jesus makes his disdain clear, 'You hypocrites are far from me.'

Jesus turns our world on its head-- He turns us inside out, to reveal our hearts. He wants to know, not how much convention do we have on the Outside, but how much Love do we have on the Inside?

[Related Postings: "Clinging To Human Rules", Sept. 4, 2012; "The ABC's of Love",  April 27, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Husbands and Wives

" Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife, just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed Himself over to her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church." --[ Ephesians 5: 21-32].

There is a dangerous trend today of folks taking a few particular Biblical verses out of context, and using those isolated words to reject the whole of the Catholic/Christian church. The deacon who taught my Biblical School class last year used to say, "Learn and understand what the Catholic Church teaches, before you reject Her."

BEFORE we even get to the part where this Scripture that says, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands", the very first command in this Scripture states: "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ."   What this means to me is, in everyday relationships, and in marital relationships, forget the power struggle! So husbands, this statement, that wives should be subordinate to you, does not mean you have won some sort of battle of the sexes.

This Scripture goes on to say that the husband is head of his wife, just as Christ is head of the Church; BUT, that the husband must love his wife just as much as he loves his own body. In other words, the wife and husband are as one body.

And, the Scripture says, the husband loves his wife, even as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for to sanctify her. A husband's love for his wife is to be so deep that he sacrifices himself in body for her, keeps her in splendor, without spot or blemish, keeps her holy, and nourishes and cherishes her.

With husband is like Jesus, and the wife like the Church, is there anything that "Jesus" will not do for His "Church"?  No, Jesus is even willing to suffer and die for Her. Because Jesus and the Church are One.

The husband is so in communion with the wife, that he even leaves behind his own father and mother, and becomes one flesh with his wife.

There is a great mystery in this union, something so unexplainable, so perfect, so holy and sacred -- that we call it the Sacrament of Marriage. Being so holy and sacred, there is nothing that can separate such a husband and wife, not even death.

This is why the "casual hook-up" is so anathema to Christians. Saying, "I will live with you, but only until the rent gets too high for me, or until you will stop leaving your socks on the floor" -- won't cut it.

My own family called themselves Christian, but did not understand marriage. I remember when I went home to tell my mother that I was going to marry my soul mate, and my parents were horrified --because he is Catholic. They said, "Can't you marry someone else? Why don't you date others?"- and, "You cannot marry a Catholic because, then, you can never get a divorce."  My mother even asked me to "explain" what I saw in him?

At the time, I thought that would be like trying to explain the punch line to a joke. But it is even more deep and ephemeral than that. WHAT do I see in him? -- It is nothing in particular. It is everything.

It is like trying to explain the relationship between Jesus and the Church. It is like trying to explain God. You cannot. Can you?

How can I explain how I know exactly when my husband needs another cup of coffee? I hand him the cup and he stares at me, astonished, saying, "HOW did you know?"   How can I explain how, when I walk in feeling defeated, my husband says to me, "You need a hug!" How can I explain how I will hand my husband a tissue, even before he sneezes?

We have been married so long and are in such communion, that we look at spouses who live and work and travel apart, and we shake our heads. Neither one of us could live very long without the other. The times when we have been forced apart by circumstances have felt to me like I had had my right arm cut off.

It is beyond me how or why people criticize that. Isn't that what we humans long for our whole lives, to be in unconditional, spiritual and eternal commitment with someone? The only thing better than that is to be in communion with God.

In fact, just as husbands and wives are one body, so are Jesus and the Church. All of these relationships-- husband/wife, Jesus/Church--  point our way to God --- which is why, the mystical relationship between a husband and wife is a little bit of Heaven on earth.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bread Is Life

" Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do  not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.' --[Ephesians 5: 15-20.]

Paul preached in Ephesus, a place where early Christians were working in great diligence to spread The Word and show their love of Christ. But, Paul chides Christians in Ephesus: " But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the Love you had at first." -[Revelation 2:4].

I have worked very hard to be a good Christian. My Faith has unfolded like a beautiful flower, budding up, then slowly unfurling in splendor.

This process has captivated some. Christian friends have said that I am "transforming before their very eyes."  I smile more, I am more confident, I even experience Joy now!

But, this "born-again" process - and it IS a process-- is painstaking and even painful. I tend to think of being "born-again" as going through a birth tunnel, except we are adults, and we can feel every bit of pain. Certainly, I don't understand how anyone could go through this process alone, without Faith and without God!

This process goes through stages. I remember when a dear friend gave me my first Bible, when I was already an adult, married and a mother. So many of the things that my family had taught me, that I had this nagging feeling were wrong, wrong and more wrong -- were corrected simply and beautifully in Scripture.

I was told as a child to wear only certain colors- - I read Matthew 6: 28, wide-eyed, soothing me with the words, " Why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow."

I was told that we alone as humans are responsible for ourselves. That People who think there IS a God to rely on are weak and useless. I read Matthew 10: 29 with a softened heart: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the gound outside your Father's care"

I used to read Scripture so eagerly. I could not get enough of the Truth. I so desperately wanted to set my thinking right. I used to hide my Bible under my desk at work, and if I was having a bad moment, I would read and memorize certain passages.

 I used to go to the chapel daily and sit before the Tabernacle, pouring out my troubles to the Lord and praising Him for all the blessings in my life.

It is not as if I feel that I am complete in my Faith now. Far from it.

But, I am in a different stage now. I am a "doing Christian." Whereas I started out as a "being Christian". I now run around diligently, helping others, writing about the Word, serving at my church.

All of this is good, very good. But the message to Ephesus in Revelation 2 really resonates with me. It is as if that burning Love that I had at first, as a Christian, has faded.

There is a tendency in all of us Christians today, to be indifferent. This is the greatest danger to our Church today!

We DO mostly the right things. But how often do I slow down to simply thank God, to ask for His Counsel, to "try to understand what is the will of the Lord"?  --[Ephesians 5].

The Bread of Life is not "being diligent". In a way, it is even more than simply believing. Both of these -- Faith and diligence-- can easily wear thin!

The Bread of Life is to seek Jesus. To love Him with all of our hearts and minds and souls.

The Bread of Life is to watch carefully how we live, seeking the Spirit, which advocates what Jesus taught us -- joy, patience, self-control, kindness, peace, goodness, generosity, modesty, faithfulness, charity, gentleness.

{I notice that these are states of Being, not acts of doing!}

The Bread of Life means "not continuing in ignorance", not being afraid to delve into the Bible to learn the Truth about how to be modest, peaceful, patient, etc.

The Bread of Life means giving thanks, always, for what you DO have, not complaining about what you don't have!

The Bread of Life is Jesus Himself. Seek Him.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Banish The Fury

" Brothers and sisters:  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed Himself over for us, as a sacrificial offering to God." -- [Ephesians 4:20 - 5:2].

I once told the story of my cruel childhood to a priest. He shook his head grimly, at the litany of abuses-- black eyes; mysterious infections for which I was blamed; the times starting at age five when I had to find food on my own because my father said to my mother, "Do NOT feed her"; the times my mother told me to stop crying or she would give me something TO cry about, so I stopped speaking up when others hurt me; the time when I was about four when I nearly drowned in a neighbor's pool, and I KNEW it was happening as I watched my air bubbles floating up and away.

The priest said to me, "But WHERE is the anger?"

I did used to get angry when I was two and three. When I was two, I had taken my brother's verbal abuse all day long. Finally, around late afternoon, I threw a wooden bowl of nuts at his head. I froze, as the nuts scattered all over the tile floor and the bowl clattered down and bounced. But the adults laughed. I began to think of anger as my secret weapon, something that I could get away with, even with adults in attendance.

But, very quickly, this impulsive strategy began to backfire. When I was about age three, if my brother was mean to me, I would stomp my feet, and cry and scream. He thought that was hilarious, so he would torment me all the more. The neighborhood kids would witness this, and they would laugh as well. Soon, it became a game for them all, to escalate the torment until I would run screaming, all the way home.

Gradually, I learned that the abuse and the torment were about the abuser. The anger was about ME--- and I was finding, sadly, that my anger would not stop the abuse.

Over the years in that home, I started to shut down various "systems" -- experimenting with not showing anger, not feeling any emotion, not sleeping so that I could remain vigilant, not speaking, and finally not eating.

But the hoped-for result never came to pass-- the abuse never went away. I became a "ghost".

I decided that I would spend as much time, elsewhere, as I could -- in school, at the neighbor's house, at dance lessons, in my room reading. OR, I would do what I could to make things more peaceful in our home -- setting the table, sewing and mending, weeding the garden.

By the time I was thirteen, I was saving my money to get out. By the time I was 18, I decided to leave an "escape kit" at a girlfriend's house. I had substituted strategy for anger.

I would certainly never recommend abuse as a good way to wean yourself off Anger. It is way too harsh a path.

But by and large, I do not get "screaming angry" any longer. Oh, when I was a new and inexperienced mother, I would shout at my toddler son. Everything as a mom seemed so urgent and dangerous. One day, I shouted at my son, and then, after I had calmed down, I asked him if he had heard what I was saying. He said, "No, Mommy. All I heard was the shouting."

I have never forgotten that.

We must leave aside all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, malice and reviling.  The more we shout and blame and hate, the more our critical message of love and compassion becomes lost.

I never wasted my time descending into hatred for my family. Their souls were already deadened.  That would only kill my own soul, as well. I did the best I could to stay calm and loving. Then I left home. Today, I work to uplift and advocate for the poor and the forgotten. I am not angry, I am resolved.

St. Paul wrote these words centuries ago. They are as relevant today as when they were written. If we wallow in anger and hatred, then anger and hatred win. Nothing ever gets fixed. No Love ever reigns supreme. Compassion dies on the vine.

Be kind to one another. Compassionate. Forgive one another. Be beloved children. Live in Love.

Anger reinforces evil. Love conquers all.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bread Is Not Power

" Jesus said, 'Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.'  So, the crowd said to Him, 'What can we do to accomplish the works of God?' Jesus said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in the One He sent.'  So they said to Him, 'What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in You? What can You do?'  Jesus said, 'My Father gives you the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.'  So they said to Him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.'  Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.' " --[ John 6: 24-35].

In the Old Testament, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Lord told Moses, 'If you love me, you will follow my Commandments.'  Pages upon pages of more detailed rules were delineated in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  It has been estimated that there are 613 commandments in all.

When Jesus came, the crowd in this passage asked, 'What can we DO to accomplish the works of God?'

We see the roots of this anxiety over work, and our temptations towards status from achievements, early in Jesus' ministry. In Matthew 4: 8, " the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I will give You', he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.' Jesus said, 'Away from me Satan! For it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.' "

I was raised in a family that believed that following certain rules would ensure success and wealth. I was to eat only nutritious food,  never sugar or salt, to make me stronger.  I was to attend certain schools. I was to achieve only top grades. If I received an A-, my mother would say, "Next time, it WILL be an A".

I was to wear my hair a certain way, not too long and not too short. I was to wear only "power colors" such as red and blue. Brown was for losers, yellow was for cowards.

My father truly believed that he was better than the neighbors because his lawn was greener and thicker, and our home was better maintained. He believed that he was better than the neighbor who sold hardware out of the trunk of his car, or the neighbor who painted houses for a living. After all, my father WAS a banker, wasn't that a whole lot more prestigious?

But it did not take long for me to become deeply suspicious of power. I was the baby and the only daughter in the family. But I had no power. Some days, I went to school with black eyes. Some afternoons, my brother booby-trapped my room with raw eggs in shell. Most nights, I stayed up until
everyone was asleep, to keep myself safe in my bed.

After awhile, I no longer wanted what my family could DO. I wanted how they could love. And yet, they did not love.

When I left home, for university, I was beginning to realize that works, or power, were things that could easily be abused.  Power could become a means of aggrandizing oneself to the detriment, and even to the harm, of others. Worshipping one's own works could mean jealousy, bitter factions, intolerance, abuse and cruelty.

In university, I read "To The Lighthouse", by Virginia Woolf. The section entitled  "Time Passes" changed my perceptions utterly. This middle section of the book details the gradual erosion and ultimate destruction of a home, simply by inexorable decay from the passage of time.

I saw with dismay that nothing that man can do or produce will last forever. Our works, our power, are ultimately power-LESS.

Virginia Woolf seeks something that can be lasting. She finds this in Art.

I find this in Love. The work of God IS Love, through our belief in the One whom God sent to us. His Son.

Today, I work for God, and I work to give His Love to others. I find that I finally have power, but it is way more power than I could ever have myself. I know full well that it is God's power! I am only borrowing it.

Two friends, who were formerly Lost Boys, ask me to help them in their ministry to their village back home. I say, "God, You better send someone with the knowledge of what to do." In short order, I meet  a woman who has started her own foundation. She is willing to teach my friends what they need to know.

My donation basket at my church, where women donate hand-made hats and scarves for the homeless, is empty. I say, "God, how can I get more items for the shelter? They really need a way to stay warm in winter."  The next time I check, the basket is full!

Is something mystical happening? I believe so. I believe in the power of  Jesus and His Love, to give life to the world.

I believe that Jesus is the bread of life, and that whoever comes to Him will never hunger and will never thirst.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.