Monday, February 29, 2016

Mercy Me

" There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now, I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?'  [The gardener] said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.' " -[ Luke 13: 1-9].

The Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus, calls for a Jubilee year every 50th year. After seven times seven years (49), the 50th year is a time of celebration, liberation and rest.

The Jubilee Year, being a time to relinquish our covetous hold on the things that God gave us,  is also a time to forgive old debts, to show forgiveness to others and to bestow mercy.

 Pope Francis has named this Jubilee Year as "The Year of Mercy."

The parable of the fig tree is a story of Mercy. The owner of a fig tree is dismayed that the little tree has borne no fruit for three years. He orders the gardener to cut the tree down.The owner says, The tree is taking from my soil.

The gardener protests, No, leave it alone. I will cultivate it and fertilize it. Give the little tree another chance.

In this parable, the gardener is a stand-in for God, who in His Divine Mercy, gives us ALL many second chances.

I sometimes wonder at this business of "second chances". We all want to receive second chances ourselves. But too often, we do not want to give others any second chances.

I remember standing in line at the market one weekday morning. Somehow, I had gotten in the line for customers who had fifteen items or fewer. That day, my cart was loaded with a week's worth of groceries.

A man behind me said rather loudly that 'SOME people apparently cannot figure out which line is for only those with fifteen items or fewer.'  I felt my face grow hot and my hands start to shake. I was clearly the one whom this man was talking about.

The truth was, I barely knew what day it was. My father had died suddenly about a year ago. I had had to bring my mother to live near me; since after my father's passing, I found out that she was terminally ill. It fell upon me to care for her.

This was the mother who had treated me cruelly all my life; who had abandoned me in a far away city, after I had barely survived a life and death situation. I steeled myself to care for her. I could not abandon her, as she had abandoned me.

Not long after I had moved my mother near me, my best friend died of cancer. She was a young mother, leaving behind a husband and two young children.

Facing all of these losses, I felt the pain of all my childhood traumas come flooding back upon me. Each day was an agony of pain and shock. It was hard to get through the day.

In the supermarket that day, a kind store employee led me to the correct line. I was still flushed with shame.

I did not feel like standing up on a fruit crate and defending myself. Who would care to hear what my life story was?

But as I read this parable of the fig tree, I can see myself in that tree. This was a time of my life when I was thrown back into survival mode.  I was very far from bearing any fruit. I needed nurturance, cultivation, reassurance, Love.

This is not the first instance I have seen lately of mercilessness. In my town a few years ago, a young woman was sexually assaulted while out jogging. Ugly rumors circulated that she falsely claimed this crime against her, to cover up an affair from her husband. The TRUTH: her attacker was a known predator, who was subsequently arrested for a string of assaults across several states.

In another instance, a woman is criticized for having a "harsh look", when her seriousness stems from a lifetime of abuse and trauma. People avoid her thinking she is mean, when all she wants is to have someone whom she can call a friend.

When the world is merciless and cruel, then we all die by a thousand cuts.

If we expect God to forgive us, we need to begin by becoming more compassionate and merciful towards other human beings.

For, when the world is compassionate and merciful, as God is, then we all have the joy of blossoming like a little fig tree, thriving and bearing much fruit.

[Related Posting: "The Fig Tree", Nov. 18, 2012;  "My Little Fig Tree", March 3, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 22, 2016


" Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up to the mountaintop to pray. While He was praying, His face changed in appearance and His clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were conversing with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His exodus that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.
As they were about to part from Him, Peter said to Jesus, 'Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'  But, he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then, from the cloud came a voice that said, 'This is my Chosen Son; listen to Him.' " --[Luke 9:28B-36].

 Jesus' Transfiguration occurs early on in His ministry-- after His Baptism, after forty days in the desert, after Jesus' preaching and is rejection in His home-town of Nazareth, after choosing His disciples, and after beginning His ministry, to go about "throughout the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere." --[Luke 9: 6].

As Jesus begins His ministry, the people begin asking, 'WHO does He think He IS?' And God answers from a cloud: " This is my Chosen Son. Listen to Him."

Peter's first response--- to build three tents on the mountaintop, for Moses, Elijah and Jesus --- brings all of them back to the Festival of the Tabernacles from the Old Testament. This feast-- also known as the Festival of Booths-- involves building temporary huts to recall the Israelites' exodus from Egypt, their tented existence, and their wandering in the desert for forty years.

But, those tents are a regression, back to the time when the Israelites feared that they would never have any permanent land, never have enough to eat, and never reconnect with the God who, they feared, had forgotten them.

When I think of those huts, I think of my years growing up. During my traumatic childhood, I gradually withdrew. First, to protect myself I stopped showing my emotions. Then, I stopped feeling any emotions; then I barely slept, staying hyper -vigilant night and day. I either hid in my room, or fled outdoors. Finally, I stopped speaking.

You could say that I put myself in exile. In my dangerous world in that house, it was better to feel nothing, see nothing, eat nothing, say nothing. In the end, it was like I was living in a dark, muffled cave.

As a child, I thought that I would be safe that way. But although I was surviving, I was not at all living. It was like being buried alive. I had become a shadow, a ghost.

As I became an adult and left my childhood home, I began to loosen the self-imposed restrictions. I would eat enough, speak enough, sleep enough, feel enough, go out into the world enough, to survive. But I was far from thriving.

I would eat sparingly, because having been fed inconsistently as a child, I still had that exile mentality that maybe I should save some food for tomorrow.

I would sleep sparingly, going to sleep only after my husband and son were asleep. I was still back in that Exodus time when it was safer to stay awake and keep watch. But, I had left that desert long ago.

I would speak only enough to get along at work, at home, in the market. But I would never fully reveal myself, because I was still afraid of the reaction if I showed my most vulnerable self.

Theologians and preachers have long said that we must "lose our slave mentality." No, I would never say that we are slaves by our own fault!

But, how often do we adults live, with that child of trauma inside of us calling all the shots, when we have been out of exile for so very long?

We eat as if there will be no food tomorrow. We sleep as if the enemy is still threatening us at the end of our beds. We speak as if the Truth, uttered boldly, will only get us bruised and battered again.

For the longest time, as an adult, I was fully aware that the stone in front of my cave had been rolled away, and that the Light shone upon me like brilliant daylight in the darkest night. But, I was too afraid to come out!

And so, Peter's first response--- to huddle inside flimsy huts, as if  he were still in the Exile of yore. When God comes out from the cloud and announces His presence, Peter reacts with fear.

I am working hard now, to emerge from my "cave". It is not easy. I have to tell myself that I am in a time of plenty, not deprivation. I go to sleep praying, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep." I can be safe in my bed. I am in community with my church friends, where I speak God's Truth, the Truth that will set you free.

When times get rocky, the first thing that I want to do is to retreat. It is good to retreat, reflect and pray. Jesus did this all the time.

But, there is a retreat; and then, there is exile and fear. Jesus did not remain in the dry desert forever, battling demons. Nor did He remain tented on the mountaintop, basking in the glory of His Father. He emerged from His desert and His mountain and He walked among the people.

In His first preaching in Nazareth, Jesus said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed." -[Luke 4:9].

This Scripture resonates with meaning for me. It is as if Jesus is speaking to ME. He is setting me free. . . .

He can set you free, too!

[Related Postings: "Transfiguration", Mar. 20, 2011; "Transfiguration of Christ", Mar. 5, 2012; "My Transformation", Feb. 24, 2013; "Transforming Hope", Mar. 3, 2015].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Test

" Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during this days, and when they were over, He was hungry. . . . Jesus answered the devil, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him for a time. . The, Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about Him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to preach in their synagogues, and was praised by everyone." --[Luke 4: 1-2,12-15.]

This Scripture in Luke is the traditional start of Lent.

Before His time of testing, Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist (or Baptizer). Note that in Luke 3: 19-20, John the Baptist rebuked Herod, at which Herod shut John the Baptist in prison.

Now, at this point, Jesus was without John the Baptist, in proclaiming the Good News. Matthew describes Jesus' early ministry as this: "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people."

One of His first teachings came in His hometown of Nazareth. The townspeople reacted with rage, saying "Isn't this Joseph's son?"  So furious were His listeners at Jesus' message of Love for ALL, they tried to throw Jesus off the cliff!

A rough start, for the "first Christian", and God's Only Son, eh?

Is THIS what it is like to be Christian? Baptized, by someone who was thereafter thrown in prison for His beliefs? Tested in the desert for forty days, by Satan? Rejected by your own hometown?  Violently manhandled, and almost thrown off a cliff?  Not a very auspicious beginning. . . .

Many Christians believe -- falsely, it turns out -- that in exchange for being Faith-filled and obedient to God's Word, that our life will be peaceful, comfortable and easy.


I look back at my life and here is what I see:
Age: newborn -- almost died before I was born. My mother almost died in labor, too.
Age: two -- was already raising myself, potty training myself.
Age: three -- fire in my grandparents. I was terrified.
Age: four -- came way too close to drowning in a neighbor's pool.
Age: five -- made it my own responsibility to find food when I was not being fed at home. Put myself down for naps.
Age six: -- diagnosed with a chronic lung disease.
Age: eight-- shutting down my emotions against the sibling who was bullying me. Parents told me the abuse would stop if I did not "react".
Age: ten -- my beloved grandfather died, the only family member who cherished me. I stopped speaking.
Age: fourteen-- a suicide in the extended family. I was told, 'We don't go to church or believe in God.'
Age: 22-- I was the victim of a violent crime that almost ended my life. I was told not to come home.

I handled everything by isolating myself. I grew up sort of feeling sorry for myself. Ashamed that I even had such a history. Who HAS such a life?!

People to whom I even breathed a word of my story, have said to me: "THAT is about the worst story that I have ever  heard."

I have had people -- Christians -- tell me, "Why tell me such things?! WHY repeat this? What AM I, your therapist?!"

I have had people say, "Some people should never have had children". Which means-- I would not be alive!

I have even had Christians shun me for this life that I have had, treating me as if I were classless or crude.

I have had Christians put their hand on my arm, as if to silence me.

I have had Christians interrupt me and tell me how bad THEIR life has been. That just makes me feel as if my own pain does not measure up. Our pain cannot be compared. It is not a contest.

When I look at Jesus' life, even from the very beginning, He was not spared any pain.  Almost immediately after His baptism, He was put to the test, not just by Satan, but by His own townsfolk.

I have wanted to run away and hide and thereby spare those who know me, the pain of my story.

But, Jesus did not do that. He did not hide. He did not shy away from the pain. He even warned His followers of the pain in being a Christian. He told them, 'People will hate you because of me.' He told them, 'You will be persecuted because of me." He told them, ' In this world, you will have many trials and tribulations.' He told them, 'You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends.'

Jesus went everywhere, telling His story, telling of the Kingdom of God. He did not silence Himself from sharing His story, or the Word. At the last moments of His life on earth, He even gave away His own body for us!

In the early church, "the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul . . . And with great power, the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant Grace was up on them all." --[Acts 4:32].

IF we do not share our Christian trials and tribulations; our joys and our sorrows -- then who DO we have? We are meant to turn to our God, yes.

But, if we suffer alone, how are we a "community in Faith"?  Even Jesus calls us all Friend. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the apostles, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover [this last meal] with you before I suffer." -- [Luke 22: 15].

In unity, we are ALL meant to be friends. We are meant to walk together.  . . . Not to suffer alone.  In the telling of our pain, we are not dishonoring the meaning of our life. We are praising the God who walks with us as Friend, and who rescues us from ourselves !

[Related Postings: "The Cost of Christianity", 9/9/13]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Least of the Apostles

"Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures; and He was buried; He was raised on the third day; He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.  After that, Christ appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once. After that. . . to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, He appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not, I, however, but the grace of God that is with me. Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach, and so you believed." --[1 Corinthians 15:1-11].

From the very beginnings of my life, I have been the most unlikely of Christians.

My mother was raised in the Episcopal Church. Her parents chose that church, not out of any systematic understanding of the denomination's views, but because  that church was where all the "right families" attended.

My father had a Catholic mother, who had to leave her Church in order to marry my grandfather, who was Presbyterian. When he married my mother, he became Episcopalian.

Talk about a confused spiritual upbringing for me. A least you could say we were "ecumenical".

When I was born, I almost did not make it out into the world alive. In essence, I almost died before I had a chance to live. My mother always exalted the skilled hands of the doctor who delivered me.
From the age of thirteen, though, when I was told the story of my birth, I knew who my Real Deliverer was.

But when I was fourteen, after both of my mother's parents had died, we stopped going to church.  I call this, "The Day They Took Church Away."  Our church was too far away to walk, and we had no other relatives in town.

Once the grandparents were gone, the Truth came out. My parents were non-believers. No, I did not actively persecute Christians, but I spent my childhood hearing my family scoff at the Immaculate Conception. They talked of Christians as losers who have "only God', and not much else going for them. They called Christians "hypocrites" who needed to cling to God since they were the worst sinners in our town.

Gradually, I went silent. What does one, a mere child, say to people who utter such hateful things? Particularly when such people are your family?

When the call to Convert came decades later, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Consider Acts 9, in which Saul, who became Paul, "still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples", and nearing Damascus, saw a sudden flash of light around him and fell to the ground, hearing Jesus say, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' "

When the call came to convert, like Saul, I was in a black fog. I felt as if I could see nothing. I tried to meditate upon the merciful face of Jesus, but His face was not there. I had to rely on other Christians to assist me, to see clearly for me, to pray for me, to put their arms around me. I was in crisis. I was in immense pain.

Worse, I felt keenly, and personally, all the persecution emanating from my parents. I was (re)-living the pain of my family's hatred of Christians. Paul, himself, was thrown to the ground by the accusations of persecution, coming from the Lord Himself.  It was no wonder that I took all of this so personally: Jesus did, too, and we all have Jesus inside of us.

As with Paul, it was a long road back. I was fearful of being open with my Faith. I told the priest, 'No one ever taught me to pray. No one ever prayed for me.' The priest said, 'Well, I WILL pray for you.'

I started as a baby, just as Saul, becoming Paul, had to be fed by others in order to regain his strength.

I had to learn the Christian prayers all over again, The Lord's Prayer, The Hail Mary, The Glory Be.

I kept confusing Mary, Mother of Jesus, with Mary Magdalene.

I debated which Holy Day was more important, Christmas or Easter?

I had never owned a Bible, much less read it.

I had trouble following the order of the Mass. My husband had to nudge me when to sit, stand or kneel.

I was afraid to walk up the aisle to Communion. My son had to lead the way, with my husband behind me.

My First Communion was at 6:30 a.m. Mass, when it was still dark outside and the church was practically empty.

As Paul says, "I have toiled harder than all of them."  As for me, I have not had my Faith handed to me. I have had to fight for it; to nurture the tiny flame of Faith, to feed my Faith the oxygen of prayer, Scripture and church services.

My Faith is "abnormally born", not innately conferred. My Faith was borne out of the ashes of persecution and vehement non-belief. I had to start by crawling, then walking. Every once in awhile, I "fell off my horse." And so it was, with Paul.

Paul was the only apostle who did not receive Jesus when He was alive. Paul received the Risen Jesus, in a vision.  He calls himself, the "least of the apostles" for this.

People look at me and they seen me as one born again. Resurrected. They see me as a miracle, considering where I started from.

They want to give ME all the credit. But, 'I am what I am' , only by the Grace of God. My path is proof, not of my OWN stellar accomplishments; but proof that, "In my weakness, I am strong." God's grace is more than sufficient for me.

When I speak of God and His Son, it is "not I, however, but the grace of God that is in me."

IF you believe in my transformation, you believe in God. IF you believe in God, you will see HIM in my transformation.

I am the most unlikely of Christians. But, "whether it be I, or they [Christians from birth], so we preached and so you believed."  Yes, I, the least likely of Christians, has been given my voice. And, my Faith reaches all around the globe!

[Related Postings: "Recipe For a Saint",  Nov. 21, 2013].

(Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.