Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Message

" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and thenWord was God. He [Jesus] was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him [God], and without Him, nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . .The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to what was His own, but His own people did not accept Him. But to those who did accept Him, He gave the power to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name . . . And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His Glory, the Glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and Truth.  -- [John 1:1-18].

Sometimes, as blind human beings, we wonder where Jesus came from? We understand that Jesus was part- human, part- Divine. We celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmastime. And we celebrate His return to His Father at His Easter Resurrection.

We forget, however, that Jesus was there all along, "in the beginning" with God, even all the way back to Creation.

This is clearly the meaning of " As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end."

Each year, as we enter the Christmas season, and as the current year wanes, we human beings -- blind and frail -- often fear that the world is coming to an end. Recently, a friend said to me, "I no longer recognize our world today."

We debate whether today's persecution of Christians is worse than it was, than even in the early days of the Church. Pope Francis himself has stated that today's persecutions are far worse than in Biblical times. The Knights of Columbus this year successfully lobbied to designate current Christian persecutions as a "genocide".

Despite the birth, at this time of year, of "the Light of the human race", are we really plunged into darkness?

What I have to focus on these days is that "the light shines in the darkness", and, "the darkness has not overcome it." And, if anyone speaks against the Source of this Light, then perhaps it is because "the world did not know Him."

I see around me plenty of  people who misperceive Christianity. Public figures who say that the Christian "backward" thinking must be abolished and that we Christians must be "re-educated". ["Deep-seated religious beliefs have to be changed."]

I have come to the point where I am not sure if the phrase "Catholic haters" means "Catholics who hate", or "people who hate Catholics".

If people want to deconstruct and denigrate Christianity, the least they can do is to get it right.

 I  dream of a day when the whole world understands that Christianity is all about Love, not hate. . . when we realize that the First Commandment is to love one's neighbor as oneself. And that violent actions in the name of Religion, do not arise from God; because War is not Love.

I dream of a day when we truly live out the Scriptural admonition that "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, but Christ is in all of us."  People who misunderstand Christianity see only division. But Christians have always understood that human unity, in, with and through God, is what we work so hard, our whole lives, to achieve.

I dream of a day when, as Pope Francis said, we Christians are not engaged in those gotcha moments, when we gloat in catching another's transgressions. Christians believe that we need to "first take the plank our of our own eye, as we fail to see the speck in our brother's eye." -[Mt. 7:5].

I dream of a day when the world sees that, as Mother Teresa said, "God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful."  The lure of this world's extravagant riches is, to a Christian, worthless and even, disgusting. We need wealth to live, we do not need to live for wealth.

I dream of a day when the world understands that Christians are not "status quo" but actually anti-establishment -- seeking Peace where there is war; ministering to the poor, when the world seems to idolize wealth; working to end divisions, rather than conspiring to multiply them; worshipping God and His Plan, rather than worshipping human celebrity.

I pray that in our world today, the Logos (the Word), the Wisdom, the Prince of Peace, our Wise Counselor,  the Son of Man, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, and our Teacher may truly come to save us all.

[Related Posting: "Myths About Christianity", 11/15/16; "Got Faith?", 11/28/12].

Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

God of The Possible

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  When His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.' " --[Matthew 1: 18-24].

The Immaculate Conception. . . .  Many Christians take this miracle on Faith. But then, there are also many who cannot get past this seemingly "impossible" event; they go on to reject Christianity entirely.

Mary herself, when the angel Gabriel comes to her, questions: "How can this be? I'm a virgin." The angel Gabriel replies, "Nothing will be impossible with God." --[ Luke 1: 26-38].

There is a huge suspension of disbelief, which we must enter, for us to accept this story as Truth. That suspension of disbelief is called Faith.

Many times, we humans cannot readily make such a huge leap.

Where to begin?

I start with my own life. . . I have had many things, that seemed "impossible", occur in my lifetime. For one, my parents met, only because my mother visited the place where my father grew up  "by accident". This was a vacation which my mother did not want to take, but her family was going there anyway, so she had to go.

Coincidence? Maybe.

My mother came very close to dying, as she was giving birth to me. I almost never made it out of the womb.

I suffered many traumas in my early life, about one major trauma for each year of my life -- fire in my grandparents' home when I was three; near-drowning when I was about four; having to put myself down for naps and find food at age five because of neglect in the home; being diagnosed with severe asthma at age six to seven; constant bullying by a sibling and by kids in the neighborhood; the death of my only loving relative when I was ten, at which I largely stopped speaking; the suicide of a relative in my extended family, when I was 14; finally confronting serious parental abuse when I was 18; becoming a victim of a major crime during which I came close to dying, when I was 22.

A person who has confronted so much abuse and trauma are 12 times more likely be suicidal. But, I am not.

A person who has endured sibling abuse and bullying is 67% less likely to get married. I am happily married. For over 30 years.

A person who has been abused throughout childhood is much more likely to abuse their own child. I am a loving mother.

A person with a lifetime of trauma is seven times more likely to be alcoholic and ten times more likely to abuse alcohol. I am substance free.

A person with so much past trauma is much more likely to be in jail or have criminal tendencies. I am gentle and loving. I have never committed a crime.

I have been called "a miracle". A statistical impossibility.

I challenge you:  Before you say that Christ's birth, as God's only Son, to a young peasant woman, as a result of Immaculate Conception through the Holy Spirit is "impossible" --  then you MUST confront the "impossible" in your own life. . .

When you discover the "impossible" in your own life, then you are confronting "the God of the Possible".

If you are open to the Possible, then you are becoming open to God.

I AM a miracle! And if God can work these seemingly "impossible" blessings in MY life-- and in your own life--  then who is to say that Mary's birth to the Lord's Son is so unbelievable?

This Advent season, I pray that we may ALL open our hearts to the Possible. And to God.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Compass

" When John the Baptist heard in prison, of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, 'Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?' Jesus said to them in reply, 'Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have to good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.' " -- [Matthew 11: 2-11].

Somehow, I cannot get over the fact that-- despite all of John the Baptist's roving the countryside, preaching, 'Prepare the way of the Lord', and teaching,  'the One who is coming after me is mightier than I.   I am not worthy to carry his sandals.' -- that in the end, when Jesus came, John did not at first recognize Him.

And we see this, in the Apostles' slow, all-too-human dawning realizations, about who Jesus really is.
In Matthew 16: 22, Jesus tells His disciples that "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders. . and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Peter's reaction is, essentially, 'THIS cannot be!' A man who is to be murdered like a common criminal cannot BE the Messiah.

At the time when Jesus began His ministry, the Israelites expected a great military leader, a ruler/warrior who acted also as a judge, someone like Moses. Or, they expected perhaps a prophet, such as Isaiah. Or, perhaps a King, such as David or Solomon.

At one point, even Jesus' disciples vied amongst each other for who among them would be called the greatest.  Clearly, the disciples themselves were expecting an exalted leader. Instead, Jesus rebuked them: "The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." --[Matthew 23:11].

The issue then, is HOW do we recognize God?

I think that these Scriptural passages must give us great Hope!  God is too mysterious and too huge for our feeble human brains to fully comprehend. So very often, we just don't get it. IF God is present, we often do not even realize He is there.

I always have in mind that I need to work on recognizing God in my life. But, I also MUST teach this to my son!

It is very hard for me to discern God at times. Growing up, my family and I attended church faithfully each Sunday. I went to Sunday School; I was baptized, Confirmed and received my First Communion.

But, when I was 14, abruptly we ceased attending church. When I asked about it, I was told, "We don't do that any longer."  From my family's talk, they seemed to "not believe in that stuff" any longer.

I was confused. Very.

I started hearing their gossip at the dinner table.  Their bitterness-- they seemed to covet more and more, when we seemed to have so much already. Their racism and disparagement of the poor. Their  supercilious attitude, convinced that we were superior to the poor or the marginalized.

All this I somehow knew in my heart to be wrong. For, " the desire for God is written upon the human heart."

Only in the last several years, as an adult, have I even owned a Bible. And then, I came across the great "Shema" the Old Testament Commandment that Moses gave to his people: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Recite [these Commands] to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you arise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead. . ." -[Deuteronomy 7: 2].  The Old Testament Shema became the New Testament "greatest Commandment".

And yet, today, over 70% of Millenials say that they have "no religion" at all. This is a shame, a crime.

I teach my son that he must have a Compass for God. IF God is not in it, don't do it. Always do the loving thing. IF it is not Love, it cannot be God.

I also teach my son that Jesus and God are the Great Healers. They comfort the poor and the sick, they help the lame to walk and the blind to see.

 IF what my son is doing is NOT loving and healing, then he is NOT the face of God.

I also teach my son that the Dark Side loves-- and thrives upon-- division, hatred, violence and chaos.
If my son is NOT against division, hatred, violence and chaos, then my son is part of the problem, and he is encouraging, if not participating in, Evil.

I would like to see a world where we are not afraid to say that Evil is real. I would like to see a world where we name what the Evil IS. We cannot even begin to fight Evil, if we cannot even name it.

Somewhere along the line, Christians have become "the enemy".  We Christians are asked, "You are NOT Christian? Are you?'    Pope Francis has said, "The encroachment on [Christianity] in the West is a 'polite persecution' disguised as 'culture and progress.' "

Evil has become tantalizing, dazzling, even attractive. Bad has become "good".  The Light in Christianity, in Jesus, has become laughable -- or, even worse, irrelevant.

If we do not recognize God, let alone live a life dedicated to Him, how can we hope to defeat the Dark Forces all around us? For, by not living by the Light, we invite the Darkness in.

[Related Posting: "The Voice of One", 12/5/16; "The Armor of Light", 11/28/16.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Voice of One

"John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!' It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
' A voice of one, crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight His paths.'
John wore clothing made of camel's hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
He said, ' One who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.' "  -[Matthew 3: 1-12].

In Advent, we are called to "Prepare the way for the Lord." Who among us does not greet a newborn baby with absolute Joy? These are the happy and memorable preparations for Christmas Day, setting out the creche, giving gifts to loved ones, as the Magi gave precious gifts to the infant Jesus.

But, John the Baptist calls his followers, even before Christ, to "make straight His paths."  Our pathway to Jesus entails so much more than glittery ornaments, bows and Christmas goodies. There are so many individual obstacles along the path to Jesus!

Not long ago, Pope Francis spoke about the obstacles to true personal intimacy with God, saying that when we put up barriers to that relationship, then we actually "sadden the Holy Spirit." -[ Ephesians 4:30].

Those personal obstacles to God are, obviously, lack of belief, feeling no need for Jesus in our life. But it is more complicated than that!

Paul talks about "putting away our former way of life, our old self, corrupt and deluded by lusts. . . putting away falsehood, stealing, evil talk, bitterness, wrath and anger and wrangling and slander and all malice." --[Ephesians 4: 22-31].

In my house growing up, I witnessed greed-- the refusal to share our bounty with those less fortunate. I heard "evil talk" -- judgmentalism of those who could not help their poor situation. There was gossip over the dinner table; there was bitterness that, as abundant as our fortunes were, we did not gather in for ourselves even more. There was wrangling, so that father revenged his hurts by taking his anger out on his daughter, and so that mother took her jealousy out on daughter by slandering her and blackmailing her; and brother sensed the daughter was the 'favorite' since she was the battleground, so brother hated sister.

It used to pain me as a child that we were not Believers. It seemed that we needed that Peace in the house, above all.

It did not occur to me that the gossip, judgement, bitterness, wrangling and jealousy were enormous barriers to the Peace that we so sorely needed.

It also pained me that I was so very different from my other family members. Didn't they see what I saw? -- that all the material possessions, power and "domineering talk" in the world were worth as nothing compared to Peace -- and Love?

Which is precisely the point of how seemingly "odd" John the Baptist was. His clothing was made of camel hair.  Other people's clothing at the time was made of linen. John ate locusts and honey. Other people at the time probably ate fish, or bread.

John the Baptist was out preaching to crowds. But, he was IN society, not OF society. Like Jesus, He was humble, even derided by some.

This is often what it is to be a Christian, even today. What passes for "entertainment" or even news, is falsehood, gossip, snarky comments, anger, one-up-manship, and constant out-maneuvering.

I am reminded of my teen son, who refuses to engage in social media -- no public gmail account, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Facebook page. He has seen his schoolmates take embarrassing or even risqué photos of classmates, and then forward them around to everyone. Social media has become vindictive weaponry.

He has heard of kids in other town schools who have been suspended from school for "sexting". He wants no part of it.

He is IN school but not OF school. If anything slanderous, bitter, gossipy or angry plays out, my son walks away. The kids seem to like him.  But, for him, it is all too easy to be "alone in the crowd."

Sometimes, as a Christian mom, I feel like a salmon, swimming upstream.  But, I know no other way to raise my son.

What he loses in this world-- closer friendships, "popularity", inside jokes, being "in" with the gossip--- he gains in a straighter path to the Lord.

This Advent, what is YOUR path?

[Related Postings: "Prepare the Way", 12/10/12].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.