Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Pursuit of Freedom

" Brothers and sisters: For freedom, Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.  For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. Do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through Love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as ourself.'
 But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. I say, then: Live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh . . . and the Spirit . . are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want." --[Galatians 5:1, 13-18.]

Recently, I told someone that I have never, in my life, had self-determination. That person looked at me, shocked. Being Americans, we expect ultimate freedom. Certainly, we are perhaps the most free nation on earth.

What I meant by that is that, as a child, my parents had a Life Script for me -- I was to wear "power colors", attend certain schools, select a certain college major, marry a certain kind of person, pursue a career at a specific company, in  a specific city, and in a specific department.

Once I had ticked all these things off their list, I was, well -- miserable. I was living someone else's life, not my own. After awhile, I was such a clone of who they thought I should be, I was not even sure who I was anymore. I am sorry, that is not free. THAT is enslaved.

Then, our son was born; and I chose to quit my career and stay home to raise him. This was a right choice for me and my family. A joyous choice! My work for the next few decades would become all about loving and nurturing my husband and our son.

I soon found that my life was all about awaking early to see my husband off to work. Then, seeing our son off to school. Even though, I really needed to sleep later. . . Then racing around all day accomplishing my to-do list, so that when my family came home, I could fully concentrate on the homework-dinner-bed routine. Before I knew it, the alarm was going off at daybreak again, and I was up and "off to the races" once more.

There is a certain amount of dissatisfaction about this kind of life for Americans. We are taught that life is all about, "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  Yes, we are "One Nation, under God"; but so many Americans believe that the American Dream is all about "ME" -- doing what we want to do, when we want to do it, and no one had better, EVER tell us what to do.

I had a conversation about this with my teen son only a few months ago. He complained that he did not want to do this homework assignment, but he would do that one; he did not want to take out the trash, bring his wash to the laundry room downstairs, or pick up his things from the living room floor.

My response was, 'Well, at the end of the day, I don't want to stand in the hot kitchen and make dinner. I don't want to haul wash downstairs to the washing machine and deal with the smelly, grimy, dirty clothes. I don't want to go out in the heat, the rain, the wind, the snow, to go to the market.'

My son pondered for a few moments, and took in what our life would be like if I had the "Freedom" to say, 'My Flesh is in charge, -- my feet hurt, I am tired, the wash smells awful, and I just want to sit down and do nothing.' He turned to me, then, and said, almost whimpering, "You mean that I HAVE TO do the things that I don't want to do?!"

It is highly unpopular today for Americans to say that the greatest things of all come, in life, when we love and serve others. We want to believe that the greatest of all things come when take care of ourselves, first -- when we are to sure to be our Best self, to pursue what WE want, when WE want it, to love ourselves, to never let anything stand in the way of what WE want, our goals, our own notion of Life by our own terms.

Yet, as Paul makes clear in Galatians, "The flesh and the Spirit are opposed to each other, so that we may NOT [always] do what we want."

In fact, the surest way to losing one's freedom is to become enslaved to oneself. If I say, 'I will drink this wine or this beer as much as I want, when I want' ; eventually, I will lose my freedom because I will become enslaved to alcohol.

The same goes for materialism, which is a zero sum game: if I say, 'I am going to keep making money and acquiring things, no matter what or who gets in my way'-- then, eventually, I will lose my freedom because every one of my waking hours will be spent on working to acquire MORE. And as soon as I reach what I believe is the pinnacle of success, I bump into someone who has way more than I do.

IF we believe that true Freedom is reaching our own personal goals, with no Love or regard for the needs of our community, then we will live in a world where we "go on biting and devouring once another, consuming each other."--How far away are we from this, in our world, today? Or, sadly, does this describe exactly what is going on in our world today?

Paul talks about a world in which the greatest Freedom comes from using our gifts, out of Love, to care for each other.

This does NOT mean becoming the person whom others want you to be! We must discover and hone our gifts, which are our own and come from God!

But, we are also called to use those gifts, not "as an opportunity for the flesh, but [rather] as an opportunity to serve one another with Love."

I learned the hard way, in my own childhood home, that one's life goal, to become the best self at the sacrifice of all others, is a true path to bondage. In my own family, mother was pitted against father, son against father, father against daughter, father against son, son against daughter.  We were devouring each other, in competition for all best resources.

The only way for me to untangle this ugly knot was to learn to love and serve-- serve mother, father, brother, to work for the Peace of the family.

Only then, when I no longer cared about, or paid attention to the strife, when the conflicts and devourment no longer touched me, when the anger and cruelty became irrelevant, when I left aside all competition, and I rose above in Love -- did I finally become fully Free!

[Related Posting: "Independence Day", July 4, 2100; "Celebrating My Independence", July 3, 2012; "For the Love of Freedom", June 29, 2013;  "Free To Believe", July 3, 2015.]

(C) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Father, Myself

"Families are the domestic Church, where Jesus grows; He grows in the love of spouses, He grows in the lives of children." -- Pope Francis.

Father's Day is June 19, 2016

Father's Day is somewhat of a forgotten holiday. It is perhaps THE only holiday for which we have no decorations. Even for Mother's Day, we have lace and flowers and glue-smeared craft projects. But Dad gets the same gifts each year -- a tie, a sports shirt, maybe some tools.

Sometimes, I am afraid that IF Father's Day is sort of forgotten, then dads must be forgotten, too.

Father's Day is a decidedly mixed blessing for me-- as it is for anyone whose father was not there for them in so many ways.

My father worked long hours. He often traveled for business. Sometimes, he was home for dinner. But when I was a tiny child, I was often in bed before he came home for the night.

When he was present, it was in a very inconsistent way, as well. Sometimes, he was distant, vacant, as if he were dwelling in some far-off land. This was especially true when he came home from work, sat in his favorite spot and slowly drank away his pain.

Other times, he was all-too present; his face bitter and angry; in my face, pressing on me to provide the emotional support that a mere child cannot.

When relatives tell me that I look a lot like my father, I know that I am supposed to say thank you. Yet, what I invariably do is to cringe.

Then I run to the mirror and pray that what they are saying is not true.

This recurring experience reminds me of the song, "Nowhere To Run"---
"Nowhere to run to, baby, Nowhere to hide. . . Everywhere I go, your face I see, Every step I take, you take with me. . . I know you're no good for me, but you've become a part of me. When I look in the mirror, I see your face just a-smiling there. . . Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide."

Just as good dads can be a lifelong blessing, distant or abusive dads can be a lifelong curse. Everything he did with me, to me and for me, I carry inside of me. To the extent that those things were unfair, harsh, unloving, or cruel, there is no escaping the feelings engendered.

This is just as true for sons, as for daughters. For sons, a good dad teaches the son how to be a good man. For daughters, a good dad teaches her how to feel loved, confident, secure, lovable.

If a daughter ends up with an abusive, or an absent dad- -- emotional or otherwise -- she can struggle all her life with grown-up male relationships. She can either become promiscuous, believing that she is not worthy of a devoted man. OR, she can retreat, and become so threatened as to be unable to connect on any level, with any man.

An abusive or absent dad can have long-lasting consequences for her spiritual life, too. Many traumatized women reject even the concept of a loving God, because any God who seemingly abandoned her to such a fickle or even dangerous man, can scarcely be trusted or believed in. These women say, excruciatingly, 'There cannot BE a God, or He would have heard my cries and rescued me.'

For me, the lack of a loving and trustworthy dad had a different effect. I essentially "ran into the arms of God."  Somewhere along the way, I decided that God has always been my Father AND my Mother. I am tremendously grateful for this, every day!! This is God's Grace. It is a miracle. It is the Divine blessing that has saved my life.

My trust of the men who run the Church is another matter. The precarious relationship that I had with my dad ran a bulldozer through my very soul. Being so spiritually fragile, it takes very little abuse in the Church, or corruption, or excess, to turn me from an ardent believer into a devastated cynic.

The danger is that my wounded cynicism about the Church hierarchy could damage my Faith altogether.  No Church?-- no Mass, no Eucharist, no Jesus, no Faith, no God. You see the slippery slope for what it presents. . . .

This Father's Day, let us celebrate Fathers, as the critical members of the family that they are. Fathers cannot be simply paychecks, LinkedIn resumes, soccer coaches, the resident lawn mower, the car washer, the late-night errand goer.

Fathers are an integral part of the domestic church that we call Family. Without fathers, the family has no heart, no soul, no Love, no Faith, no God.

[Related Postings: "Father's Day", 6/15/11; "Celebrating Fatherhood", 6/16/12; "The Forgotten Father", 6/14/14.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Lopsided Church

" Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Accompanying Him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their [own] resources." -- [Luke 8: 1-3].

Just a few weeks ago now, Pope Francis stirred up a storm of hope, when he was asked about the prospect of women becoming deacons in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis agreed to establish a commission to study the role of women in the Church.

It has always been argued that Catholic priests/deacons can be only male, because the original Apostles were only male. I used to think that that meant there was absolutely no evidence in the Bible of any role for women -- except for Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. And maybe, Mary Magdalene, except her reputation was reflexively sullied by the near constant mention of her having been a prostitute.

I grew up believing that there was essentially no central role for women in a Christian church. How could I believe otherwise?

Church women are merely the "helpers" :

In my parish today, the Rectory office is staffed entirely by women.
The Director of Religious Education is a woman. The Assistant to the Director of Religious Education is a woman.
By far the majority of the Catechist teachers are women.
Many, if not most, of the Eucharistic Ministers, are women.
The Parish Council is largely made up of female members.
The Pastoral Minister is a woman.
Spiritual Direction is offered by the Pastoral Minister, a woman.
The Liturgy Committee is headed by a woman.
The Church Choir is mostly women.
Until last week, even our Cantor was a woman.

Even most of the churchgoers are women. A recent article in the Knights of Columbus magazine "Columbia" asked, almost plaintively, 'Where are the men on Sunday?'

AND YET, everyone at the priest/deacon level is male; and, everyone above that level is male, as well.

This makes for a very lopsided church. . .

I discovered Luke 8, only a year or so ago. Finally, I learned that women DID have a significant role in the early Church. Women were followers of Jesus in a significant way-- they traveled with Him and the Apostles. They "provided for them out of their resources." --[USCCB version].   "These women were helping to support them out of their own means." --[NIV, Application Study Bible]. Given that, at Biblical times, women were not independent financial creatures, their contribution probably "cost"them a lot more dearly than it did even the male disciples who dropped their fishing nets to follow Jesus.

Much has been made of Mary Magdalene, the "First Apostle", who was the first -- male or female-- to have run out of Jesus' tomb to declare Him Risen. Only a few days ago, the Vatican announced that St. Mary Magdalene's commemorated Day had been upgraded from a memorial to a Feast.

Elevating St. Mary Magdalene's day to a Feast gets her a sung Gloria and prayers dedicated especially to her.

Well. It is a start.

I wish we could seriously contemplate the kind of message the Church is sending to its little girls and young women about their Faith. We are being encouraged to do a lot of --(most of ??) -- the work of the Church, but we get no office in the diocese.

As a woman, sometimes I feel like all I am wanted for is my work, not my Faith. I feel like my Faith is somehow considered not as valuable, not as complete, nor as significant to the life of my parish.

I cannot believe that our reduced role is due to our greater sin. St. Paul was the greatest persecutor of his time, yet he became an Apostle. Matthew was a tax collector.

The women described in Luke 8 were not wholly pure, either. Mary Magdalene is described as someone "from whom seven demons had gone out."  Joanna was previously allied with Herod.

Nor is our lesser role due to our lesser Faith. In Luke 7: 36-50, a woman who "had lived a life of sin in the town", wets Jesus' feet with her tears, and dries them with her hair. Despite the Pharisees' revulsion before her presence at the supper, Jesus tells the woman, "Your Faith has saved you."

I can only think that we need to take much more seriously the Scripture from Paul, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." --[Galatians 3: 26-29].

The question is: Do we merely recite this? Or, do we live it?

Consider what would happen in YOUR church, if just for one day, the women stayed home?  I honestly wonder if there would BE a church?

[Related Postings: "Women In Faith", 8/18/14;  "The Banquet", 10/12/14.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


"I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it, and progressed in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my race. But when God, who from my other's womb had set me apart, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, so that I might proclaim Him to the Gentiles, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus." - -[ Galatians 1:11-116, 17, 19].

In this Scripture, Paul is speaking, and if he sounds defensive -- well, he is.

Paul is one apostle who was not around when Jesus was still alive, traveling with His disciples, preaching and healing and speaking of God the Father.  Paul often speaks of his experience of Jesus as that of encountering the Risen Christ-- as opposed to the Living Christ.

Worse, Paul, formerly Saul, was one of the worst persecutors of Christians in his time. He himself says, "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it." --[Galatians 1:13].

And yet, Paul went through probably the most dramatic conversion in Scripture. On the road to Damascus, he literally fell off his horse, then heard Jesus crying out to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" --[Acts 9:4]. Saul finds out that, in persecuting Christians, he was in fact, persecuting Jesus Himself!

Although Paul called himself "the least of the Apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church" -[1 Corinthians 15:9], arguably Paul became one of the greatest of the apostles.

Not only did Paul have to overcome his bad reputation for having persecuted so many Christians, he had to overcome the fact that, before becoming a devout Christian, he had been a devout Jew. He had to argue that there are many paths, all legitimate, towards God and towards being a follower of Jesus.

He had to counter a prevailing sentiment at the time that only peoples who had been devout Jews beforehand, and followers of the Law, could later become Christian. There were even those who suggested that one had to first convert to Judaism, before contemplating becoming Christian.

I hear a lot from family, friends, readers, who are in despair that their children or family members are not religious, not faith-filled. But, I take great comfort from the story of Paul.

I grew up in a non-believing family. At the dinner table, night after night, I heard the constant diatribe about how Christians are the greatest sinners; the weakest of persons who cannot survive by their wits, so they have to lean on God. I was taught to worship at the altar of Human Endeavor, and if you are too weak to take care of yourself, and foolish enough to believe that there is a God, then you are truly lost.

And yet, only one generation back, my Irish Nana was Catholic. I never understood how my father, who had grown up under the tutelage of such a faith-filled woman, could have become such a blasphemous, persecuting man.

In talking to a cousin about her, I learned that my Nana had been in despair when she died, over how my parents were not raising us in the Faith.

I also remember my dear mother-in-law, on her death bed, telling me that I was going to convert someday. It is quite a sin to laugh at the words of a dying woman, but I shook my head when she said that; and as I exited her room, I thought that maybe she had become delirious.

But, almost 20 years later, I did convert. No one was more surprised than I was at the turn of events that brought me to conversion. Like Paul, I look back on what my life had been, surrounded by persecutors, and I am amazed at where I am now.

And so, to all who despair that your siblings, children, cousins, friends, co-workers, neighbors are scoffing at you for our Faith -- in God's version of Time, it is never too late. No sin or violence or blasphemy is too great for God to overcome.

God waits for us patiently, gently calling to us, never forcing Himself on us, but always there.

God beckons us. It matters not who we are or where we have been. In His revelation of Himself, He calls us home.

[Related Postings: "The Least of the Apostles", 2/7/16].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.