Saturday, March 26, 2016

Dawn's Light

"Christ, who is only sinless, reconciles sinners to the Father. Death and Life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal. Speak, Mary, declaring what you saw, wayfaring.
'The tomb of Christ, who is living, the glory of Jesus' resurrection; bright angels attesting, the shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ is my hope arisen;
to Galilee He goes before you.'
 Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, Victor King, ever reigning!" -- [Victimae Paschali Laudes].

There is absolutely nothing like Easter morning. Even Christmas morning does not compare. Even with all those sparkling gifts under the Christmas tree, it does not compare.

For on Easter, we receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of Jesus' sacrifice for us. A gift that no money or worldly wealth can buy.

When I was a young adult, in my early twenties and away at university, I remember once staying up all night. I did not do this on purpose. Long after the party was over, the drinks and food consumed, a small group of us sat closely together and talked for hours.

Back in the day, we used to call this a "bull session." " A rap session". "Consciousness raising".

We talked about world peace, pollution, women's issues (then called "women's liberation"), civil rights, the utility of the political system or lack thereof.  [Today, kids may stay up all night, but it seems that they spend the time on electronic devices, in what passes for social interaction . . . ]

I am sure that we did not solve all the world's problems that night. We even argued somewhat over what was "right".

Suddenly, someone noticed that it was SO late, that it was "early." The group broke up.

By the time I got back to my apartment parking lot, daylight was beginning to break. I glanced over at the horizon, and saw a pale yellow stripe of light, where the horizon met the earth. It was the dawn!

I could not just pull out my apartment keys and run inside. I was spellbound. I watched the sun rise. I was in awe. We had made it through the night, and all the world's problems were still there. But the dawning light gave me such a thrilling sense of hope. That everything was possible.

In a secular sense, yes, the dawn is amazing.

But, for me as a Christian, Easter is that metaphysical Dawn-- yes -- but ten times or a hundred times more miraculous.

Easter means that God always has the last word.

Easter means that the darkness cannot win. It is like that moment in Genesis when God said, "Let there be Light", and the Light drove away the darkness and the void and the formlessness that was the world before.  I get a chill every time I read that!

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ." --[ 2 Corinthians 4:6].

Easter means that God, after sending priests and judges and prophets to draw His people closer to Him, finally sent His only Son to teach us about His Love and Mercy. And when the world rejected His Son, Jesus' sacrifice ultimately drew us together into one Christian family.

Easter is the promise that no matter how hard is our road in life, God and Jesus are always there with us.

I imagine that for a secular person, the dawn is like living through a long night with no electric power, and experiencing a sense of relief when the lights come back on.

But, for a Christian, the Dawn is the banishment of darkness, when we experience the tender and awe-struck sense of Hope. Easter is "The Prince of Life, who died, reigning immortal."

The Dawn-- Jesus' Resurrection-- is nothing short of a miracle.

[Related Postings:  "Transforming Hope", Mar. 3, 2105; "Roll Away The Stone", April 17, 2014;  "His Pierced Heart", April 14, 2014; "Easter Redemption", April 7, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Crucifixion Redux

 " All who see me scoff at me; they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads; 'He relied on the Lord; let Him deliver Him, let Him rescue Him if He loves Him.' Indeed, many dogs surround me, a pack of evil doers closes in upon me; they have pierced my hands and feet; I can count all my bones. They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture, they cast lots. But You, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten aid to me." -- [Psalm 22].

Growing up in a non-believing family, these "wags" were my family members. They mocked Christians for being helpless, worthless people who have no innate abilities to do anything without God, pitiful children who are inept and weak. But, also hypocrites, who were "holier than thou", the greatest sinners who were nevertheless claiming to be God's Chosen.

Somehow, even as a child, I knew that these were all lies. Each time a family member called wealth "The Almighty Dollar". Each time a family member worshipped Human Achievement, forgetting the role of God in all things. Each time a family member claimed that he was superior to the poor, to people of color, immigrants, the lost and forsaken. Each time a family member said, 'If they believe so much in God, let God rescue those people who think God is so powerful'. Each time a family member uttered "D@&N", and I knew, just knew that he was cursing God. Each time that these happened, I shrank away, winced and sucked my breath in.

I was always called "too sensitive".  They shook their heads. They were scoffing at me. That bewildered me.  A Wise Woman once asked me how I knew, as a child, that my family was so wrong? I stammered and said to her, 'A child does not want Hate. All she wants is Love.'

We think that we are so modern and so very evolved today. We think, 'The Crucifixion could not happen again today.' We think that we have come so far beyond that.

But, when persecute and punish Christians, we are doing the very same to Jesus! And so, my feelings of shock and dismay at how my family spoke -- that was my Spirit, if you will, protesting against their mockery.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for He is in them) and [they] hold Him up to contempt."

Each act and attitude of Sin makes a mockery of Jesus' Crucifixion. Each Sin crucifies Jesus anew.

In Jesus' times, the Romans hung Christians from crosses, and left them there until only their bones remained. So many Christians were crucified, the Romans ran out of crosses. Then, the Christians were nailed to the city walls. Christians were wrapped in animal skins and thrown to wild dogs. They were also burned at the stake; their charred bodies utilized as nighttime torches.

IF these descriptions of Christian persecution do not shock us to our very souls, they should. . . .

We believe we are so much better today. . . But we must today confront the ugly beheadings and caged drownings and torchings, of those who dare to call themselves Christian.

We may argue that these persecutions are still fairly rare around the globe.

But what passes today for "ordinary politics" spews so much harsh venom, that is antithetical to all Christian belief --- vehement anti-immigrant rhetoric; racism; mysogny (hatred of women); unjust war; torture; unfaithful marriages; greedy materialism; rejection of the poor and ill and hungry; abuse of children; killing of the unborn; corruption; bribery; labor as harsh as slavery. These are touted as worthwhile political policies.

 Anti Immigration policies are touted as Homeland Security.
Racism is cast as "Let them find a way to empower themselves, but not in my town."
Mysogny is cast as "just joking".
War is praised as "Might makes Right."
Unfaithful marriage is praised as an "open marriage."
Materialism is exalted as "the virtues of unbridled capitalism."
Rejection of the poor is explained as "meritocracy".
Abortion is called "pro-choice".
Corruption is called " just taking what I deserve."
Labor as harsh as slavery is called "moving production off-shore."

With each of these, as we destroy Jesus' message, we crucify Him all over again.

We call Palm Sunday, "The Passion", from the Latin patior, or "suffering".  Jesus suffered FOR us, so that we would finally understand the true price of our Sin.

If we sin cavalierly, as if might makes right, as if nothing matters as long as we can get away with it -- THEN, Palm Sunday is an empty spring ritual. And, Easter is about the fairy tale world of bunnies and candy baskets. And then tragically, Jesus would have died for nothing.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2106. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Throwing the Stone

" Early in the morning, Jesus arrived again in the temple area. . . Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the last, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?'
They said this to test Him, so they could have some charge to bring against Him. . .
When they continued asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, 'Let the first among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'
And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. . .
So, He was left alone with the woman before Him.
Jesus said to her, 'Woman, where are they?' Has no one condemned you?'
She replied, 'No one, sir.'
Then, Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, sin no more.' " --[John 8:1-11].

In this age of the Internet and social media, no one can never outlive the gossip and the harsh judgment for every action, big sin or little, that we have committed.

Must a person be endlessly flogged, for the rest of his life? Do we not believe that a person can ever offer his deep apologies, receive his due consequences, and then, change for the better?

Have you ever thought that most news content, and much social media content, is all about "throwing
the stone"? Without such harsh scrutinies and endless judgment, the airwaves would go largely silent.

Growing up, I was the innocent scapegoat, in a family with an ugly and cruel dynamic. Whatever toxic dysfunctions went on, they were taken out against me, a tiny innocent girl.

You would think that I would turn toxic myself, and hate my family, and by extension, everyone in my town -- or why not, in the whole world?!!

No. My experience has given me a huge heart of compassion and mercy. Sometimes, I think that if the worst sinners and abusers against you are your family, then you are meant to learn that there is NO ONE whom you cannot forgive.

I have found that when I do indulge in a little judgment and gossip, I am often totally wrong about that person:

The loving mom who abruptly skipped town, leaving her husband and kids behind? Bad marriage, people said. Nope, she was desperately seeking treatment for her advancing cancer.

The meandering, agonizingly slow driver in front of me? An "idiot driver"?  Nope, she was lost.

That boss who barely said hello in the elevator? Arrogant snob? Nope. He was coming down with the flu, and had to go home as soon as he had arrived.

Then, what about people who are not unfairly misjudged, but do real wrong?

That diner in a restaurant, yelling at the waiter about how there was to be no cheese in her dish, and the rice should come WITH the meal but on the side? What if you found out that she had a serious eating disorder, the result of a traumatic childhood? She was dysfunctionally attempting to control everything in her environment, including the food, the cook and the waiter.

The type of women who become promiscuous and who, resultingly, undergo several abortions? Condemned forever for serious sins? No, often, these are women who had been seriously abused as a child. The hurt in their soul becomes even more searing after these sins, and they suffer for the rest of their days.

Who among us wants to go down that slippery slope of who is guilty, and how guilty are they?

When it comes to my own family and all their awful cruelties, I do not want to be the judge of what they have done and what their consequences ought to be. It is all too big for me. God is big enough to handle it. I am not. Perseverating on these issues of judgment makes me feel --
oh so much worse.  Standing in judgment forces me to go over and over in my mind the harsh events of the past. I am haunting myself, instead of healing.

I do  NOT pray that God rains His merciless harshness down upon them. No, I pray continually that God does NOT send them to that dark place, where there is a burning fire that is never quenched.

The thought of them in eterernal damnation does not comfort me.

I let go, and I let God judge. By that Mercy, it is I who am healed.

[Related Posting: "Casting the First Stone", March 1`8, 2013.]

(C) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

To Forgive is Divine

" Jesus told this parable: 'A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.'  So, the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country, where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.
Coming to his senses, he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here I am, dying from hunger. I shall get up and got to my father and I shall say to him, 'I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would one of your hired workers.' So he got up and went back to his father.'
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son and embraced him and kissed him. His father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then, let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'  " -- [Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32.]

This parable is one of the most enduring stories in Scripture. It is also one of the hardest to comprehend. Who among us would not be tempted to argue on the side of the obedient son, who was bewildered and angry over receiving absolutely nothing for all his years of loyalty?

And yet, when it is we who errs egregiously, we are the first ones to long for Mercy.

This story reminds me of a woman I used to work with.  She had a sour disposition and would think nothing of telling others off, for the most minor offenses.

At least once a week, she would send out angry written diatribes to everyone in the office, MEMO: "To All" -- even if most of the co-workers on her list had nothing to do with her complaint.

She became somewhat of a joke. "Oh, here is one of her Telegrams of Complaint", the office wags would say. They would give dramatic readings of her letters, then laugh uproariously -- all behind her back, of course.

For a time, I would laugh along with the rest of the crew. Obviously, she was being hateful and ridiculous. Who could listen to anything she had to say? She had lost all credibility. Why even say hello to her?

But, God had other ideas. You see, as I entered the office each day, I was forced to walk past her desk, to reach my desk. It would be especially cruel for me to not even say hello.

So each morning, even though I really did not feel like it, I wished her a good morning. After weeks of this, I would sometimes add a comment like, 'I hope you didn't get caught in the rain on the way to work today." Then, I would smile at her.

 I think I was being nice, only because I did not want to her caught in her crossfire.  It seemed a better strategy for me to be polite, but keep moving.

One day, she stopped me, as I walked by on the way to my desk. She wasn't glowering as usual. In fact, she was smiling broadly at me. She said, "You always do your own work and never overload me with things you can do yourself. Thank you."

I thought, Is THAT what this was about?

She continued-- "You are the only one who is nice to me all the time."  Then, she looked at me straight up, and said, "You see, I grew up in a tough neighborhood.  I HAVE to put on this tough face, because if  I hadn't, I never would have survived.' "

Suddenly, I saw her as a vulnerable, real human being, with fears and feelings and needs. She was no longer the ogre that everyone else assumed that she was.

What she said next floored me. She told me that she was studying to be a pastoral minister in her church. She said, if I had any concerns or troubles, she would be happy to pray for me. . .

Wow! Just wow!

I realized that I was learning to forgive.  Everyone has a story. The story does not excuse the behavior, but it explains a lot. We all tend to get lost on our way to a better place.

Learning how to forgive and to show kindness paves the way for even more forgiveness and kindness. Mercy begets Mercy. Love multiplies.

To this day, I believe that this experience enabled me, years later, to take my mother back into my life, despite her years of cruelty to me. She became frail, thin, and diminished, after my father had died suddenly one morning. Not only was she no longer a threat to me, it would have been merciless of me, if I had "kicked her down the road" at the lowest point in her life.

She needed me. And I needed to show her the unconditional Love that she so desperately needed, then. She had been decimated by her loss. I needed to offer her Life again.

What if I had NOT taken her back? Truly, I think that she would not have lived as long as she did, after my father died.  And, as my mother lived out the rest of her days, I gained a mother I had never had.

My mother thanked me every day for my kindness. She could not believe how I took her back and nurtured her, unconditionally. To her, it was a miracle. Maybe it was. . .

Forgiveness is Life-- renewed. Forgiveness is Love-- reignited.

[Related Postings: "Casting the First Stone", March 18, 2013; "The Prodigal Son", March 10, 2013; "The Prodigal Daughter", September 15, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016.