Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Without A Doubt

"Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, 'We have seen the Lord.' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'
Now a week later His disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then He said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it in my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.'   Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!' " --[John 20:19-31].

My parents were the most emphatic people I have ever known. They "knew" things and believed things so strongly, that it was like they were espousing dogma.

Only, it was the dogma of the Material World. They used to lecture me at the dinner table, that I must "worship the Almighty Dollar." They called charitable donations, "giving our money away."

They "knew for a certainty" that all kinds of people were beneath us, immigrants who were Asian, Polish, Hispanic, black, etc. But WE, we were superior. Without a doubt.

It must be easier, in a way, to never doubt.  My parents "knew" things, for certain; and to hear them say it, they were never wrong.

Today, there are politicians whose catch phrases are "Believe me." I spent half a lifetime of hearing my family's dogma, and yet instinctively understanding that they were wrong, wrong, wrong. In fact, as I began to shape my own beliefs, it was a pretty good bet that the Truth was the opposite of what my parents had told me. And so when a politician says, "Believe me", I start to question immediately.

Today, we have news shows on TV that purport to showcase "debate". But all we get is each side shouting their dogma, louder and louder, at the other. This is no exploration of things in doubt. It is just a scream fest.

In John 20: 19-30, we confront Thomas, the doubter. It is actually a relief to see a bit of doubt these days.

Someone once said that to doubt our Faith is a sign of weakness in our spiritual life. But, I would argue that the only thing worse than Doubt is indifference.

Doubt shows that you care about your Faith and that you need to explore it. I liken it to being lost in a dark place. Do you sit down and give up? -- a dangerous business, because if you stop in your journey and refuse to move, you will surely die.

No. . . . . If you are lost, you reach out in the darkness. You try to find the parameters -- the walls, the ceiling, the floor. You seek your relationship to your environment. Perhaps as the hours and days go on, you call out-- "HELLO? Anybody?!"

Perhaps, to our amazement, we may actually receive a reply. We are not each alone in our own little universes. To question, "Who am I and where am I and how do I fit in", inevitably takes us to a much larger realm, where we begin to explore the Infinite.

What I see today is that we are, too often, looking for all the answers in all the wrong places. Certainly, we look to Science. But Science is merely our all-too-human attempt to understand what God has made. We humans are trying to segregate Science from God, as if Science were its own Thing, with its own ecosystem, logic and integrity.

To worship Science is to simply explore the Product. To understand ourselves in a deeper way, we must turn to our Creator.

Martin Luther King, Jr. , in his book "Strength To Love"[1963], talks about how we have made Science, "the new cathedral of men's Hopes."  He also said, " What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world of externals -- airplanes, electric lights. automobiles, and color televisions -- and lose the internal -- his own soul?"

King even argues that "the [Science] laboratory has begun to replace the church, and the scientists [have] became a substitute for the prophet."

And so, if we worship Science, and we make God "an unnecessary item on the agenda of life", then you can understand why I actually welcome Doubt.

Doubt is a tiny spot of light beaming through a chink in the wall, which we have firmly placed between ourselves and God. WHY do we need to be so very sure of ourselves, so jaded and "modern", that we cannot look outside of ourselves? Must all of modern life be so self-referential?

Outside of ourselves and our little worlds is a vast Universe of Mystery, waiting to be explored. What hubris for us to think that we create all, we understand all, we control all; and that everything simply refers back to our own human greatness.

Open ourselves to Doubt, past all that we can see, and then, we will open ourselves to God. . . .

[Related Postings: "The Benefit of Doubt", 4/29/14; "His Divine Mercy", 4/7/13; "The Truth of His Wounds, 4/13/12; "Doubt", 5/1/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Triumph of Easter

" After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from Heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, 'Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for He has been raised just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead.' " -[Matthew 28: 1-10.]

The shocking News of Easter is that in an earthly sense, Jesus was a failure.

Jesus was a lowly carpenter, from the backward village of Nazareth.  He was born of an illiterate and probably teenage mother. Mary conceived Him, but not of her husband Joseph. (But Joseph married her anyway.)

Jesus attracted increasingly large crowds. But the chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees were suspicious of Him from the beginning. They labelled Him blasphemous. They were threatened by the rumors that he was to be a political King. They needed this threat to their power destroyed.

But Jesus sloughed off that golden aspiration of secular kingship. In the end, He was strung up, mocked, spat upon,  stripped of His clothes and crucified as a common criminal.

Father James Martin has written: "The Easter story is both appalling and astonishing: the crane betrayal of Jesus by one of His closest followers [Judas], the triple detail of His best friend, the gruesome crucifixion and the brutal end to His earthly life. Then, of course, there is the stunning turnaround three days later." --[WSJ 3/26/16].

I have been called a Failure, many times, all for being a Christian. This designation of "Failure" came chiefly from my parents.

I was a Failure -- and a woefully sensitive child-- for insisting that my sibling's verbal and physical abuse STOP.

I was a Failure for suggesting that we give some of our extraneous money to charity. ("We don't GIVE our money away.")

I was a Failure for thinking of others first. ("You must think of YOURSELF first!")

I was certainly a Failure for marrying a Catholic man. My parents would not even stand in the receiving line at our wedding. When I announced my engagement, my mother said, "Where did we go wrong?"

Along the way, I realized that my parents' advice would violate my principles. They were trying to control me, to force me to adhere to their material standards. By bribery, blackmail, and rejection, they tried to wield power over me. Once I had reached my early teens, I realized that I had to make their money and power irrelevant to my life.

Essentially, Jesus did the same. The Romans had no sway over Him. When they asked if He was the "King of the Jews", He replied, "YOU say that I am."

My family wanted me to believe that there was no God. That only "Failures" in life need this nebulous Divine Being, "out there somewhere", to cling to. That "religion is the opiate of the masses", an anesthetic for those who are such Losers, they cannot accomplish anything on their own merit.

But, as John Navone, S.J. writes in his book, "Triumph Through Failure",  "The self-confidence of the world represents a radical turning away from God. The man who believes that he is self-sufficient, independently of God's Love, walks in darkness ( 1 John 1: 8; 2:2). "

Easter is a celebration of the radical, not only of God's radical Love for us. but also of a Failure turned Triumph.

By attempting to violently destroy this "dangerous prophet" in Jesus, the Romans actually succeeded in spreading Christianity, like wildfire, over vast territories.  When Jesus intoned, "Do this in remembrance of me", at the Last Supper, His single instance of poignant ritual became an entire Church.

In Russia today, some religious denominations are being called "enemies of the State" because they are not beholden to, nor swayed by, anything the State can say, or do to them. Similarly, in Apartheid South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, 'Their first mistake was to teach us to read and give us a Bible.'

As Father James Martin wrote, "The message of Easter is, all at once, easy to understand, radical, subversive and life-changing. Easter means that nothing is impossible with God. Moreover, that life triumphs over death. Love triumphs over hatred. Hope triumphs over despair. And that suffering is not the last word."

NOW that you understand this Message, what will you do with it? Because, above all, Easter demands that we change. That we love, that we take action, that we believe in and become more than we ever thought possible.

[Related Postings: ""Roll Away the Stone", 4/17/14; "Dawn's Light", 3/26/16; "Where is your Joy?' 3/30/13; " Easter Redemption", 4/7/12; "Easter Joy!", 4/23/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Our Own Role in the Passion

" I have not rebelled, I have not turned my back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my bears; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame." --[ Isaiah 50: 4-7].

On Palm Sunday all around the globe, Christians meditated on this Reading, and they read the story of Jesus' Passion, as told in Matthew 26: 14- 27:66.

Some years on Palm Sunday, I cry as if I were at a funeral.

Some years, I rejoice at the triumphant procession into Jerusalem as, all along the way,  jubilant on-lookers wave palm fronds in adoration of Jesus -- the Christ, who will lose His life, and yet,  so joyfully gain it once more.

What strikes me this year are the wildly differing reactions of the witnesses and participants in this event. Each Palm Sunday, I am confronted with a crowd of adoring well-wishers who suddenly turn, as a mob, on Jesus. What began as a celebration, quickly turns to violence, blood, vengefulness and Crucifixion.

In previous posts, I have meditated upon the question of why Jesus had to die, and who killed Him?

In our contemporary world, I suppose we could poignantly ask the same questions. . . . Where is Jesus in our world today, and What is our relationship with Him?

Some theologians believe that every time we sin, we crucify Jesus all over again.

In another perspective, Mother Teresa put it this way: "If I am the spouse of Jesus crucified, He has to kiss me. Naturally, the nails hurt me. If I come close to the crown of thorns, it will hurt me."

And so, Mother Teresa saw herself as the spouse of Jesus, feeling every bit the pain which He felt.

And therefore, the question becomes, Who do YOU say you are in the Passion Narrative?

Are you like the woman in Bethany, who poured an alabaster jar of precious ointment on Jesus' head? Her adoration was extravagant, and destined to be told and retold in perpetuity, in remembrance of Jesus' preparation for His Passion.

Are you like Judas Iscariot who seeks out the chief priests and sells Jesus' life to them, for thirty pieces of silver? Do you put worldly riches ahead of even God's Son?  In the end, Judas hangs himself, and no one wants to touch the "blood money" that ransomed Jesus' life. Are you willing to risk this, for momentary earthly prestige and power ?

Or, are you like Peter and the disciples?  To them, Jesus says, "You will all become deserters because of me this night." In fact, after Jesus' death, the disciples hide in an upper room, for fear that they too will be crucified. Do you walk away from Jesus, telling yourself that to follow Him is too hard, too risky?

Or are you like Peter and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane-- asleep?  Jesus says to Peter, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay wake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial." Would you rather coast along, yielding to your own indulgence, instead of standing up for who Jesus is ?

Are you like the false witnesses who came forward, spreading misinformation about Jesus, without truly understanding His words? Are you willfully ignorant because it is easier to fortify the secular sycophants than to dig deeper for the Divine Truth?

Ae you like Pontius Pilate, who literally washes this hands of the whole matter of Jesus? : " When Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ' I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.' "
--- A priest whom I know identifies Pilate as "the most despicable man in the Bible."
Pilate believes that he is being virtuous by being neutral. He thinks that silence means he cannot possibly be tainted by what is going down. Are you putting up a shield of neutrality, when cosmic injustices are raging all around you?

Are you like the soldiers of the governor, or the chief priests, who mock Jesus by calling Him, "King of the Jews", all as they humiliate Him, as they strip Him, fashion His crown of thorns, spit upon Him, and offer Him wine mixed with gall. Do you mock Jesus in your words, your postures? Do you subject Christians to hatred as bitter as gall?

Or, are you like Simon of Cyrene, who carries Jesus' cross?  Do you walk with Jesus, in all His glory and His agony, even as He walks with you?

Are you like the women in Matthew 27: 55, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, and had made provision for Him out of their own funds? Do you invest in Jesus?

Are you like Joseph of Arimathea, who took Jesus' body, wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid Him in his own new tomb? Do you deal with Jesus tenderly, as your own brother, because He IS? Do you take Jesus deep inside your own space and wrap Him in your arms, even as the world violently rejects Him?

Are you like Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary", who upon seeing the empty tomb, realize the Resurrection with great joy and RUN to tell everyone about it? Are you a joyful witness to Jesus' Passion and His Resurrection?

This Holy Week, I plan to pray and meditate upon which of these figures in the Passion are the ones I most resemble. I hope that you plan to try this as well; and to pray for the Grace to strengthen your resolve, and to overcome your weaknesses.

[Related Postings: "Why Did Jesus Have to Die?", 8/31/14; "Who Killed Jesus?", 5/7/14; "The Cost of Christianity", 9/9/13.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Raising Lazarus

" Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. . . The sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, 'Master, the one you love is ill.'  When Jesus heard this, He said, 'This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified.' . . Jesus told the disciples, 'Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.'  But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that He meant ordinary sleep.
So then, Jesus said to them clearly, 'Lazarus has died. I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.'
When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But, even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.'  Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' . . .
Jesus became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, 'See how He loved him.'
So, Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.
Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.'  So they took away the stone. Jesus raised His eyes and said, 'Father, I thank You for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here, I have said this, that they may believe that You sent me.' He cried out in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dad man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face wrapped in a cloth. So, Jesus said to them, 'Untie him and let him go.' --[John 11: 1-45].

The raising of Lazarus is the last miracle performed by Jesus, before His own death.  In many ways,  the death and raising up of Lazarus prefigures Jesus' own death and Resurrection.

When Jesus tells the disciples that Lazarus has fallen asleep, they reply, "Lord, if he sleeps, maybe he will get better." But Jesus tells His disciples plainly,  "Lazarus is dead."

Jesus Himself dies on the cross. Then, He descends into the realm of the dead; after which He is raised from the dead and is seated at the right hand of His Father. In this sense, Jesus is poignantly both human, descending to the realm of the dead; and divine, rising up to the right hand of His Father.

We Christians know all this, today. We read and re-read the story of Lazarus, followed by the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday, when Jesus marches into Jerusalem.

But do we LIVE this Resurrection?

My parents brought me to church for the first 14 years of my life, where I was baptized, received my First Holy Communion and was Confirmed. . . .At which point, my parents told me, "We don't believe in that stuff any more."

This is an extremely confusing, even stunning turn of events for a child. Was I just supposed to just "pretend" that I didn't believe any longer?

I was not "unchurched".  I had been "de-churched", as we call it today. It was a long road back to church for me.  I had been cast in an amber era, my Faith frozen in time, believing but not living in community with other Christians.

But, on the inside, in the way I lived my life, I had not changed.

My family seemed very preoccupied with money -- who had it, who didn't have it,  how the other person had made their money, who had more money than others, who had lost a lot of money in business or by divorce or bad luck. I didn't care about money. It was irrelevant to me.

What I cared about, as a child, was if someone loved me or not. Was that person warm, gentle, forgiving, welcoming.

My family seemed very preoccupied with who or what people were -- was the person Jewish? Hispanic? African-American? Italian? Irish?

I didn't care about a person's origin or ethnicity. What I cared about, as a child, was if someone was loving and kind.

One day several years ago, my father awoke and had his cup of coffee, as usual. He then suddenly fell over and died. No one could revive him. He was not Lazarus.

My mother called 911, but in her heart, she knew that before she could even utter their address for the ambulance driver, her husband was gone.

About 9 months after my dad, her husband of over 50 years, died my mother finally agreed to move near me, so that I could take care of her.

Soon my mother began talking about her end of days. She would tell me, "I want NO big funeral. In fact I want NO funeral. It is not worth the time or the money. Just stick me in the ground and forget it."   Since she said this several times, I knew she meant it.

What an awful, sick, sinking feeling I had, every time she said that to me. She was very ill, and in pain in her last weeks. To think that all she was looking forward to was a pit in the ground. . . well, I could not even contemplate that.

Not long after my dad died, I renewed my ties to church. I will never forget the moment when I received the Holy Eucharist for the first time again in decades. I felt lighter than air. Like Lazarus must have felt, I felt FREE!! I had received Christ. I believed, in a very public and communal way.

My Faith was not cast in amber any longer.  I had had my Faith all along, in the Love I have always sought to give and receive in our world.

But letting my Faith free was the most exhilarating experience that I had ever had. I had rolled away the stone.

[Related Posting: "Roll Away the Stone", 4/17/14.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.