Monday, October 26, 2015

None Shall Stumble

"As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.'  And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, 'Son of David, have pity on me.'  Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.'  So they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.' He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him in reply, ' What do you want me to do for you?'  The blind man replied to Him, 'Master, I want to see.' Jesus told him, 'Go your way; your Faith has saved you.'  Immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way." -[Mark 10: 46-52].

In this story, Bartimaeus is physically blind. But, he can "see" the divinity of Jesus, perhaps sooner and more clearly than those in the crowd.

We have seen this type of Divine Irony in John 9: 2, when Jesus encounters a man who is blind from birth. His disciples ask, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" The Pharisees refute that Jesus is the Son of Man. But, Jesus says, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."

I believe that we are all born a little bit blind. Physically, a newborn's sight is blurry or fuzzy. She can discern shapes, shadows and light. Spiritually, we are blind, as well; the only sense that we have of God is in the Love of our family, mostly from our mother and father.  A baby depends on being fed routinely, handled gently, assisted with the basics of life such as dressing and personal hygiene.

In my childhood, I did not receive these. When I was not fed, I went to the neighbors' houses, hoping they would feed me. When I was walking home from school in the rain, I hoped that a neighbor would see me and give me a ride. When I would go to school with black eyes, teachers would say, 'Oh! She is a tomboy!' But, no help came to protect me.

A child like this gradually begins to shut down. I started by crying a lot, hoping a neighbor would come to rescue me. Then, I began burying my emotions. I had trouble sleeping, because I was staying awake until everyone in the house was fast asleep. When I was ten, I stopped speaking -- by choice. I had given up on a rescue.

But, God was not done with me. He sent neighbors to feed me. He sent neighbors to give me rides to school. He sent a teacher, who asked me to stay after school to decorate the classroom. I was thrilled to be asked. Even more unbelievable to me, the teacher allowed me to choose a trinket from her prize box, a tin filled with shiny beads, buttons and little toys.

Every time we help someone, in even a small way, we give that person the hope that there IS Love --and there IS a God.

My parents took me to church for 14 years, then abruptly told me that religion was nonsense and there is no God. I call that "the day that my parents took church away."

What strikes me about this Bartimaeus story is the many who rebuked the blind man, telling him not to approach Jesus. They told him to be quiet. This story detail reminds me of my own family, admonishing me to stay away from church, because "we don't believe in that stuff."

This reminds me of our culture today, that makes having Faith seem irrelevant and even dangerous. I can understand now, that an essential part of being rescued from a bitter life is our Belief. If we don't teach our kids that, how long will we allow them to suffer?

And if we do not believe, then how will we know enough, like Bartimaeus, to even ask? Without Faith, the friends and neighbors who try to help us will seem like merely so many chance encounters; rather than a proof of God's Love, shining through others.

We need our Faith. We need to tune out the rebukers and the non-believers.

We need to possess the Courage to cry out to our God.

We also need to come to know our God. It was not until I had reached a milestone birthday in adulthood, that I even owned a Bible. I read with tears of Joy what Jesus promised to His disciples in John 14:18: "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

I read with Joy, in John 20:19, that after Jesus' death, the disciples were in a room with doors shut, for "fear of the Jews", when Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus would walk through doors, to appear in our midst, to come to us!

I read with Joy today, in Jeremiah 31: 7-9, that the Lord says, "I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble."

The Lord does not leave anyone behind. He saves the blind beggar. He saves the lame, the vulnerable mothers and the innocent children. He dries their tears and consoles them.

God forgets no one. Not even the mute, starving, numb, battered child. He leads on a level road, and He comforts everyone.

None shall stumble.

[Related Postings: "I Want To See God", Oct. 28, 2012; "Blind Judgment", April 1, 2014; "No Longer an Orphan"; May 24, 2014.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


" James and John, son of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to Him, 'Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of You.'  He replied, 'What do you wish me to do for you?' They answered Him, 'Grant that in your glory, we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.' Jesus said to them 'You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink?'  They said to Him, 'We can.'
When the [other] ten [disciples] heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, 'You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.' " --[ Mark 10:35-45].

There is a human tendency to treat God as the "Answer Man." We ask Him, as Janis Joplin did, for a Mercedes Benz. We ask Him to pave the way for a promotion at work. We ask that He bring us a designer wardrobe or a bigger house.

But, God is not like a genie, granting us three wishes.

Sometimes, what we want is not what is good for us. Sometimes, God has other plans, and a far different timing.

We believe that what we want is greatness. James and John believe that they want to be seated at the right hand and at the left hand of Jesus. But these disciples do not understand the cost involved.

Our society -- and Jesus' society -- believe that greatness is Power. Whether at work, as a parent, or as a neighbor, or family member, we humans believe that success means having the ability to judge, and ultimately, to control others. This is what Jesus accused the Gentiles of.

Yet, we read the Ten Commandments, and we see that each Commandment is written to lead us to humility, and ultimately to Love.

We read the First Commandment, "I am the Lord your God"-- and we need to ask ourselves, Do we believe that we are in charge of this world and this life? Do we worship at the altar of human achievement? Do we think we are greater than God?

We read the Second Commandment, " You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in Heaven or on earth below . . You shall not bow down to them or worship them."  We need to ask ourselves, Do we idolize amassing vast wealth, or coveting expensive items? Do we think that greatness is defined by owning more or better things?

We read the Third Commandment, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God." Do we think that we are great when we do not get what we think we are owed in this life; and then, we curse the God who does not supply us these things?

We read the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy." We need to ask ourselves, Do we believe that Sunday is just like any other day, a day to indulge ourselves in luxury? Do we believe that we do not need God?

We read the Fifth Commandment, "Honor your father and mother." We need to ask ourselves, Do we honor the institution of marriage, and honor the man and woman who gave us life and raised us? Or, once out of the family nest, do we believe that we are greater than the family we came from?

We read the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not murder." We need to ask ourselves, Do we hate others, criticize and harshly judge? Do we think that our greatness lies in being rulers over all, lording our quick judgments over all, and making our authority felt? Why do we believe that we are greater, just by tearing our neighbor down?

We read the Seventh Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." We need to ask ourselves, Are we made greater, by sneaking around, misleading others to believe that they are the only ones in our hearts?

We read the Eighth Commandment, "You shall not steal." We need to ask ourselves, Are we greater when we believe we are owed the paper goods and office supplies that we steal from our employer -- all because we feel entitled to a bigger raise and more employee recognition?

We read the Ninth Commandment, "You shall not give false testimony". We need to ask ourselves, Are we made greater when we gossip about others, spreading lies or half-truths and sitting in judgment over what they may or amy not have done?

We read the Tenth Commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his possessions." We need to ask ourselves, will we be made greater if we had what our neighbor has? Or, would our feelings of longing be the same, since what we truly long for is God?

We cannot be great, and at the same time, live a life that is "all about us."

This greatness that Jesus is talking about means being humble and serving others. This greatness comes at a cost.

It is a hard road, to take the knocks of life and realize that we are here to work for others, not to aggrandize ourselves.

We convert to this humility each day of our lives. The path is long and steep and narrow. But the reward is great -- it is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ Himself.

[Related Postings: "Hate = Murder", 2/17/11;  "The Servant Life", 9/21/15; "And the Lowly Shall be Exalted", 9/1/13; "The Humble Shall Be Exalted", 11/14/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Wisdom of Fools

"I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness, I loved her, and I chose to have her, rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet, all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands." -- [Wisdom 7: 7-11].

Wisdom -- Is it in short supply today? Or, is Wisdom under-counted? Under-recognized, because we do not value Her enough to even discern Her presence?

This Scripture was written after the Israelites returned to the Promised Land after their Babylonian exile. Only, when the Israelites returned to Jerusalem, there was practically nothing left. Their Temple? -- gone. The city walls? -- gone. The houses of their prominent citizens? -- gone.

This verse in Wisdom was written to attempt to console the Israelites over their loss. This passage makes clear that, as much as the Israelites are devastated by the loss of their beloved Jerusalem -- scepter, throne, riches, priceless gems, gold, silver and splendor--  are of these are worthless, really:  merely "a little sand", "worthless mire".

What IS priceless, beyond any riches imaginable, is Wisdom.

Critics like to say that Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, are "conservative", set in their ways, the total opposite of counter-cultural.

But if you read these passages in Wisdom, Christians believe that wealth is mire. And gold is mere sand.  This belief is totally opposed to what anyone in the Western world would teach. You cannot get more radical than that.

All of those TV shows on the lives of the famous and fabulous? Pointless. All of the lives devoted to getting straight A's in school, and going on to work 80 hours per week, to accumulate the trappings of a wealthy lifestyle? Muck and mire.

And so, if we are not working feverishly to acquire more riches than the next guy, then what ARE we doing on this planet? It seems as if there are two kinds of people on this planet, Survivors-  those for whom life is a mad scramble for subsistence. Then, there are Acquirors, those for whom life is a mad scramble to amass way more than will they ever need.

Sooner or later, we will all be forced to ask ourselves the big questions. What is our purpose in life and where is our Wisdom?

NY Times Columnist David Brooks wrote about this in a piece on October 5, 2015. He said, "[We] feel a hunger to live meaningfully, but don't know the right questions to ask, the right vocabulary to use, the right place to look or even if there are ultimate answers to all."  We are losing our Wisdom.

We have also lost our cultural references. In schools, we teach students how to master Tests that are gateways to university and beyond. The result: All we have taught them is how to test well.

 Years ago, I went on a field trip with my son when he was in kindergarten. The kids on the hay ride were insisting that pumpkins grow on trees.  Then, when school was closed for Good Friday, students were asking, "What was Good Friday and what was 'good' about it?" In middle school, my son and his classmates read the Alice Walker short story, "Flowers."  When the narrative gets to the part about some bones lying in the woods next to a knotted rope, some of the kids insisted that the bones were from a dog on a leash. No one made the connection about a lynching.

The lack of Wisdom and cultural references is more than a mere aberrational, collective "blind spot". This deficit is dangerous. In a recent article, [WS Journal, 10/3/15], Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, said that the rise of Islamic State caught the West unprepared, but the "unpreparedness was not accidental."

Lord Sacks goes on to say, "Ever since the rise of modern Science, intellectuals have been convinced that Faith is in intensive care, about to die. . . When secular revolutions fail, we should know by now that we can expect religious counterrevolutions. Science, technology, the free market, and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished."

"But, they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some point in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then, shall I live?"

"The result is that the 21st Century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.. Religion has returned [and must return] because it is hard to live without meaning. That is why no society has survived for long without a religion."

We have, as a modern society, largely abandoned Religion; and Religion has become instead a brutish, narcissistic, ravaging substitute for what passes as Wisdom, shockingly carried out in the name of the Divine. . .  Heaven help us.

Into any deep vacuum, Darkness falls. Someone once said, "Teach your children WHO God is, . . before the world teaches him what God isn't."

Teach your children what really matters, the strengths and wisdom of the heart, the moral vocabulary to discern a life for the good, an abiding Faith in One much larger than ourselves.

[Related Postings: "Prayer For Wisdom", July 23, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Adam Effect

"The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him."  So, the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and He brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. . . . but none proved to be a suitable partner for the man. So, the Lord cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, He took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that He had taken from the man. When He brought her to the man, the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called 'woman, for out of 'her man',  this one has been taken." That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh." -[Genesis 2: 18-24].

As  beloved as Pope Francis seems to be, there are plenty of sharp critics who dismiss his comments on global warming as, "political".

I would wish that everyone who has read Genesis 2, would also read Genesis 1!

In Genesis 1, God creates light to banish the darkness.  In The Gospel of John, this light is said to "shine in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." This Light is Jesus, who pre-dated Creation; and "He was in the [very] beginning with God." -[Genesis 1: 2-5].

In the next week, God goes on to create Day and Night, the dome called Sky, the stars in the sky, the dry land called Earth, the waters called Seas, plants yielding fruit, and the fruit with seeds in it, birds to fly across the dome, sea creatures, wild animals, and finally, humankind.

When I was in Biblical School, a question given for homework was, "Given the Creation narrative in Genesis 1 and 2,  what is your concept of Paradise?"

What I wrote was something that has never left my heart :

You see,  Adam in Hebrew means "man". And, "woman" in Hebrew is simply the feminine version of "man". Linguistically, man and woman are simply male and female versions of each other!

God made woman from the side of man. Men and women really ARE one flesh.

Given all this, Paradise means that there can not possibly be any violence or assault between man and woman. There would be no domestic abuse -- because, any violence would only mean hurting one's own self. St. Paul says in Ephesians 5, "Husbands, love your wife as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies."

There would be no child abuse -- because God made Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Therefore, all children come from Adam and Eve, and therefore, from God.

There would be no abortion. Consider, in the face of our Creation, our routine killing of infants who are "inconvenient". . . . We are eliminating God-given Life.

There would be no animal cruelty. God created these animals for Adam and Eve. He gave Adam dominion over the animals. God did not give Adam the license to maim or torture them.

There would be no racism. We are ALL God's children. As St. Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, tree is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." --[Galatians 3:28].

There would be no raking, slashing or burning of the landscape for minerals or metals, then walking away from a great big gash in the Earth. This Earth is given to us by God. We have dominion over it. But we have no license to destroy it. Even Leviticus 25 instructs God's people on crop rotation: "Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year, there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for your land."

We Americans spend an average of one hour per WEEK outside. We are more glued to the virtual reality on our electronic screens, than we are aware of God's awe-inspiring Creation around us.

Do we truly understand and appreciate the breath-taking beauty of Creation?

When St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, was undergoing his spiritual conversion and self-examination, he went up to the rooftop one summer night. When he saw the billions of stars, he wept at God's majesty. When is the last time you wept at the sight of the night sky? Or, do we humans simply think that we own the sky and the Heavens ?

When Job struggled and battled against all the traumas and misfortunes in his life, God finally told him, "Where were you, when I laid the foundation of the Earth? . . . when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for Joy?" -[Job 38: 4-7]. Job replied, " See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?"

As Mother Teresa would say, "We forget that we all belong to each other." I would add, that we also forget that we belong to God and to the Universe that He made.  In abusing the Earth and each other, we make ourselves into gods, and in the process, we forget our place in the Universe.

No, friends, that reverence of each other and for the Earth is NOT socialism or communism. THAT is Love--for one another, for God and for our world!

[Related Posting: "Husbands and Wives", August 23, 2015].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.