Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Poem

My teen son wrote this historical poem, as a school assignment:

 "Gunshots fire and cannonballs
fly higher, as they stampede
through the flesh and bones of
soldiers of the Revolution.

The Privates start running and the Corporals start shouting,
as the Generals try to counter
the advancing army in the Civil War.

The tanks open fire and the planes
roar at their flier; each dropping
pay loads of explosions on each others'
enemies in the war that was bound to end all wars.

The Supreme Leaders are on the
communicators, shouting orders
to the Colonels: "Start running before
the blood starts flowing" in the war
to end terror.

Down the war-torn path we fall
where madness reigns from wall to wall
Through the rhyming words we tumble
where villains toil and psyches crumble."

THIS Memorial Day-- at these words of a sixteen year old young man --
PLEASE pray for Peace, at last!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Hypocritical Christian

"In the following directives, I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent, I believe it. No doubt, there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!"

 "Brothers and sisters, I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was handed over, took bread, and, after He had given thanks, broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' " --[ 1Corinthians 11: 17-26].

In the early church, the Christian community would have come together in one of the larger, wealthier homes in the town. There was a small inner room, with space for only a few to lounge on benches and partake of the supper that took place before the Eucharist. This inner dining room would have been furnished and heated. It was called the Triclinium.

The rest of the masses would have been shunted to the outer courtyard, or Atrium, which was open to the elements. The folks there would have sat on the ground, and would have received very little of the choice foods available to the inner few. --[Source: "St. Paul's Corinth", (c) 2002 Liturgical Press).

This is why Paul chides the Corinthians,  "One remains hungry, another gets drunk. . . Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?"

I am struck by the Gospel for Pentecost,  [John 20: 19-23], in which Jesus "came and stood in the midst of [the disciples].  The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' "

St. Paul goes on to say, "I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus. . . said, 'This is my body which is given up for you.' "

In Jesus' breathing on His disciples, they received the Holy Spirit-- the equivalent of receiving Jesus and His Father Himself.  In Jesus' breaking of the bread, His disciples -- and we -- receive the body of Christ.

Literally, we live and breathe and embody the Christ, as His descendants and ambassadors.

And yet, we foment divisions among us:  not only in the church, but in the world. As Christians who live and breathe Jesus, HOW do we DARE ?

Pope Francis has said that one of the worst sins is Hypocrisy. He calls Hypocrisy "a virus". In a homily delivered last fall, (10/16/15), he stated, "Hypocrisy does not have a color, rather it plays with halftones. It creeps in and seduces 'chiaroscuro' [hazy and impressionistic], with the charm of the lie.'"

A Christian hypocrite is one who proclaims himself or herself as a "Christian", but who shunts off those considered 'less classy', into a forgotten netherworld-- much as the Corinthians created a second class of Christians, simply by dint of their segregated architecture, and their two-tiered menus.

I grew up in a family such as this. We called ourselves Christians, because we attended a well-respected and wealthy church in town -- sturdy fieldstone, with a stone porte-cochere, plush burgundy interior carpeting, needlepoint kneelers, glorious stained glass, gilded Scriptures on the soaring rafters, and an Old Master painting of the Madonna in a golden frame.

But,  all that beauty of the sanctuary handed off little Christian humility to my parents, as they boasted each day of how superior they were to the other church members. My father had a callous name for every ethnic group he encountered, as well; and if my brother and I laughed nervously at his cruel appellations, my father would roar at us, "WHY are you laughing? I am deadly serious!"

I have learned in a painful way from these memories, that the church is not merely a sumptuous building, crafted to glorify God. IF that is "Church", then it is hollow and misleading, bearing all the sinuous charm of a lie.

No-- the church is US.

As Christians, we are ALL the body of Christ.  Like Christ Himself, we are to live this, breathe this, feed each other with this, love each other in this way.

As St. Paul so beautifully said in Romans 10, "For there is no difference between Jew and Greek. The same Lord is Lord of all."

I prayerfully wish that we could all live and love this way! As Mother Teresa used to say, "We forget that we belong to each other."

[Related Postings: "The Body", 6/15/15; "The Forever Bread", 6/22/14; "The Body and Blood", 6/2/13; "Holy Body and Blood of Christ," 6/7/11; "Corpus Christi", 6/27/11.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Accepting Hardship

" We have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by Faith, to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of the Lord.  Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the Love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. " -- [Romans 5: 1-5].

Several years back, when my life seemed upside down and backwards, and I was having a hard time even getting through the day, I memorized the Serenity Prayer. Even now, I recite this prayer daily.

We all know about the first verses of the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." --[Reinhold Niebuhr.] We have seen this prayer imprinted on countless coffee mugs and plaques, embroidered on throw pillows and screened onto T-shirts.

Perhaps few know that this prayer goes on for several more lines: "Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to Peace, Taking-- as Jesus did-- this sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it. . ."

I take the first few lines to mean that we must be wise enough to recognize those things that are too big for us to handle. We need to "Let go and let God".

The next few lines are more difficult to swallow-- "unhip", and even countercultural today.

We want, above all else, for life to be easy, right?  Our modern goal is for there to be no struggle. WHO would ever want to accept hardship as any part of our life?

We have instant Jello, we have grocery delivery services, we have pre-cut vegetables, we have fruit smoothies= no chewing required! We have yoga pants and track pants, no zippers or belts or belt loops required. We developed, first, the telephone, so we don't have to walk over to a neighbor's house to see if they are home; then, we developed voice mail, then e-mail, then texting. Now, we have voice recognition software and emojis-- no typing required whatsoever. No human contact, either.

Once, I was telling my son that I grew up in a home with with no color TV, no microwave, no videos, no electronic games, no cell phones, no computers (it was called a "typewriter"). He pronounced my childhood "barbaric".  As if dinner had been medieval,  like Henry VIII ripping the flesh off a charred drumstick, grilled over an open flame. No pots or pans, no forks, no dirty dishes.

Don't get me wrong, God still regards us as His precious children. He does not WANT us to suffer.

But somehow, since everything is delivered to us now with the click of a button, we expect life to be simple. Fast. Painless. No muss, no fuss.

With our teens relying on electronics so fully, there are some teens who are downright anxious about having a real-time, face-to-face conversation with an actual human being -- someone who has raw emotions, someone who may (gasp) even interrupt, may have human needs or may come to disagree with them.

Sometimes, as Christian parents, we are tempted to rescue our kids from pain. But as much as we try to be loving, compassionate parents, we cannot prevent our kids from experiencing a harsh remark from another kid in school, a job loss in the family, the death of a friend or relative, a failing grade, or  a rejection letter from a school or potential employer.

In Romans, you notice that St. Paul speaks of the difficulties of life openly. Life is not supposed to be pain-free.

Nowhere in Scripture are we promised a perfect, pain-free life. But God does say, "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be His people, his treasured possession." --[Deuteronomy 7:6]. God sees ALL of our trials, and He walks with us. In our difficult life's journey, God wants us to draw closer to Him, our loving Father.

And, what we are promised from Jesus is that He considers us as His family. In Matthew 12:48, Jesus points to His disciples and says, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers. . .' " Before His death and Resurrection, Jesus calls His disciples -- and by extension, us--  the Lord's gift to Him.

I have tried, my whole life, to see all of the pain and traumas as something to be learned from.  What profit the extreme trials of life, if we do not take them as an opportunity to grow in wisdom and character?

I have been called resilient and strong. I have been praised for my patience and endurance. I have been called hopeful,  and even joyful.

But I could never have reached where I am today, without my God. Even in my darkest hours, I have cried out to God to show me the right path, to shower me with His wisdom, and to allow me to feel His loving presence.

In this sense, I can truly boast, not at all about my own personal qualities, but about the miraculous and saving power of God.

The Love of God, and all Hope which comes from Him, are present within me. And I will not hesitate to lean on His Love and Hope, all the rest of my days.

[Related posting: "Hating This Life", March 25, 2012].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


" Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home, shed a ray of light divine! Come, Father of the poor! Come, source of all our store! Come within us shine. You, of comforters, the best; You, the soul's most welcome best; Sweet refreshment here below;  In our labor, rest most sweet; Grateful coolness in the heat; Solace in the midst of woe. O most blessed Light divine, shine within these hearts of yours, and our inmost being fill! . . Heal our wounds, our strength renew; on our dryness, pour your dew; bend the stubborn heart and will; melt the frozen, warm the chill. Guide the steps that go astray. ." --[Veni, Sancte Spiritus].

 Jesus appears to His apostles many times in the forty days before Pentecost, showing them His wounds, but promising them that He will send to them an Advocate, the Holy Spirit who will remain with them always, and remind them of everything which He taught them.

The apostles ask Jesus, " 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?' [But] He answered them, 'It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has established by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.' " --[Acts 1: 1-11].

Even Jesus' apostles expected a kind of political King who would bring God's Chosen people back to their rightful place in Jerusalem. But Jesus was Someone Else, entirely. A divine King, not a governmental one.

I confess that I have spent a good part of my life trying to "fix" things. Yes, we are called to be peacemakers: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." -- The Beatitudes." --[Matthew 5:1-12].

And yet, we cannot literally "make things happen", or " 'will' things to happen".
Many today believe this is so. There is a line of thought these days that, if we can dream it, we can make it happen.

I did believe from a young age, that I could script my life. My parents taught me that. I was supposed to make a life plan and execute it. I was Master of my Own Fate. And if things did not turn out the way I had planned and worked for -- well, then, I was a failure, weak, foolish and ineffective.

You see, my family did not believe in "God's timing". They put their faith in human endeavor. Given that belief system, my parents became anxious, depressed and bitter. And as I grew up, I was in for a wild ride.

I thought that I "should have" a loving and compassionate family. Instead, I had a cruel and harsh childhood, not because of material poverty, but because of a family "poverty of spirit." I loved them anyway, and I tried mightily to make peace. But there were so many things I lacked, not the least of which was Love.

When I left home to go to college, I figured I would meet my husband there and get married right after college. That way, I could set out on a new life, far from the cruelties of childhood.

I knew a guy who did that, decided that the right age to get married was 25 or 26. So he turned to his girlfriend at the time and proposed. The marriage hasn't been all that happy. I was beginning to see that you cannot begin with the result, and work backwards. It does not work that way.

I didn't meet my husband in college. So, then I went on to graduate school, in a far away city. I did not meet my husband there, either. In fact, after graduation, I came home, and met a "hometown boy".  We had gone to different high schools in the same town, to the same park in the summer, to the same bowling place, to the same pizza place, to the same diner. We had never met, until after university. . . but he had been there all along.

While in graduate school, I was the victim of a violent crime. I had always thought that if something like that happened, I would hand over my small bit of money and wait for the guy to go away. But that didn't happen. I actually fought him, as he came at me. I shocked even myself. I even got the weapon away from him. I threw it a distance away, figuring that would give me a chance to escape. But instead, he went for my throat. With his bare hands. What did save me? -- the greatest weapon of all:  Prayer. As soon as I silently prayed for God's protection, the guy let go of me, I began to breathe again and he left.

So much for the "movie script" in our heads, that if we only had a legal firearm-- in case someone came after us-- we would shoot him to the point of incapacitation.  I removed the only physical weapon from the situation, and almost died, at the bare hands of the attacker.

Once my husband and I got engaged, I figured my family would be thrilled for us. But my parents never liked my husband. They even refused to stand in the receiving line at our wedding. Or invite him along on family vacations.

Then, my husband and I went house hunting. We returned continually to one particular neighborhood,  to a specific school district, but never found anything that was to our liking. One day, we looked at a house in a completely different part of town and fell in love with our house the minute we walked in. This house is WAY better than any of the dozens we had seen before.

My husband and I had met, fallen in love, and gotten married quickly. We wanted to enjoy just being married, before having children. About three years after we got married, we told each other, "THIS is the year of the child."

Except, we found we could not have children. Oh, how the best laid plans can go awry!

About 15 years after we had gotten married, our son was born. I had been depressed, anxious, angry, overwhelmed at this long, uncertain journey. I asked God, 'WHY, God, WHY, do we have to wait so long, when others are having their second or third child?' But, as soon as I saw our son, I knew why. This tiny baby was perfect for us! And he was surely worth the wait.

After all these years of God showing me that HE WAS and IS in charge, AND that He brings things that are often better than we can have ever imagined -- I was finally starting to get His message!

I find it somehow sad, now, when I see a person who is like I used to be -- making extravagant plans for myself, then becoming angry and bitter when things don't go my way.

I used to even argue with friends and family, talking, talking, talking -- trying to "make them" see my point of view, or "make them" less irritable, more patient, less controlling, etc. But-- who AM I to think that I can control the Universe?!

As I go through my life, I am learning the value of patience. Of waiting with an open heart for what God brings, rather than bringing some perhaps lesser choice TO God, and then getting angry that He did not execute my plans on command.

With this patience and openness, I am far more receptive to the Holy Spirit.  For, "it is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has established by His own authority."

I used to be terrified of what would happen next in my life, that I could not control. But, that is no     way to live. That, instead, is the way to Fear and Death of the Spirit.

Today, I live my life far more unscripted. Instead, I am more and more able to "let go and let God." I pray, God, what is YOUR Will for me? As my church's former pastor used to say, "Embrace what the Spirit has to offer. And enjoy the ride!"

[Related Postings: "Pentecost: The Birth of the Church", 5/24/15; "I Live By the Spirit", 5/19/13; "Pentecost", 6/13/11.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Advocate

"Jesus said to His disciples: 'Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to Him and make our dwelling with Him. . .I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.' " -- [John 14:23-29].

My son recently celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation in our church.  He is a teen, on the cusp of adulthood.

As a baby, he was baptized. We say "baptized in Christ" -- because at Baptism, the child receives  God's grace, the child is infused with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and he becomes a member of the church and part of the Body of Christ.

At Confirmation, the child becomes an adult in the church. The Holy Spirit is perfected in the young adult, and the Confirmed Christian becomes a true witness of Christ.

For two years in preparation for Confirmation, my son studied, did homework, read Scriptures, performed community service hours, watched films like "God's Not Dead", read books, and wrote, from the heart about his Faith.

My son was extremely nervous about walking down that church aisle, despite all the years of preparation. But Confirmation is a PUBLIC affirmation of our Faith. That long walk down the aisle, to the altar and to the Bishop, is necessary. No, we do not hide our Faith, we celebrate it!!

When we arrived at the church, my son ran into the church, leaving us inside the car. He told us, "I want to do this myself."

My heart sank. I loved that he would possess the independent Faith to celebrate this sacrament with his sponsor, without us. But I was thinking about all the amazing Catholic women in my life who came before me -- my Irish Nana, my Irish mother-in-law, my dearest best Catholic girlfriend who passed away, way too young. I felt that all were in Heaven looking down upon my son. All I wanted was to be a silent observer of his sacrament into adulthood in the church. So I prayed to these women, and to God.

Suddenly, my son emerged from the church. He strode towards us, wearing a long flowing red robe, with a cross seal on his left chest. I had never witnessed him like that. He was positively glowing.

He came and told us, "I changed my mind. I want you to come into the church." I looked heavenward. Thank you, God.

My husband looked over at our son, and said, "What is WRONG with that tree, that he is standing in front of?" I looked over. It was a sycamore, the branches all gnarly, the bark characteristically peeling in shades of brown and tan.

I said, "O my my Lord! That is SO Biblical!!"

I took a photo of our son in front of that tree -- for posterity.

Now, the director of religious education told me that, during Confirmation, the Holy Spirit completely takes over. I went into that church and we watched him glide down the aisle.

He went first up to the altar, of all the Confirmants. The Holy Spirit was good to him, his anxiety was eased by receiving the sacrament first.

When we went home, I went straight to Scripture. You see, my son had chosen "Matthew" for his Confirmation name. Matthew was a former tax collector who converted his sinful ways, and became a great Apostle.

And the sycamore tree figured prominently in the story of Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector. -[Luke 19:1-10]. When Jesus entered Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. But he was short, so he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view. When Jesus saw him, He said to Zacchaeus, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today." The crowd muttered that Jesus was going to be the guest of a sinner. But, Jesus said, "Today, salvation has come to this house. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost."

And that is how I knew that in Confirmation, my son HAD fully received the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.