Monday, October 30, 2017

Love Is All

"The Pharisees gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested Jesus by asking, 'Teacher, which commandments in the law is the greatest?' He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.' " --[Matthew 22: 34-40].

There is an awful lot of loud noise lately, but very little Love.

On television news shows and talk shows, people do not debate or converse. They simply drown each other out, shouting over each other until the time slot is up.  We used to dread cutting to the commercial break. Now the commercials are our only saving grace.

In American politics, candidates do not have a debate or a back-and-forth conversation on the issues. They simply set out to destroy one another personally. Whoever is left standing, relatively intact, wins.

In 1 Corinthians 13: 1, St. Paul said, "If I speak in the tongues of humans and angels but have no Love, I have become a reverberating gong or a clashing cymbal. "  Paul goes on to say, "If I have a Faith that can move mountains, but have not Love, I am Nothing."

Speaking without Love makes us an empty noisemaker. Even with all the Faith in the world, without Love, we are NOTHING. . .

And where do we find Love? We find it, first, within ourselves. In Romans10:8, Paul says, "The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart."

We ALL have the capacity to love others, just as much as we (selfishly) love ourselves. That is because, we are made in the image of God, and "the desire for God is written upon the human heart" (Catholic Catechism Part I, Section I0.) AND God IS Love.

We are created IN Love, by God, and FROM the Love arising from the union by our parents.

The very meaning of our lives is to receive Love and to Love others.

Tellingly, my parents did not believe in God. They also never hugged me or said, "I love you." When I was in my twenties, and my husband-to-be hugged me and said, "I love you", I thought he was doing something wrong!  When we would go to visit my husband's parents, I would stand awkwardly in their front hall with my hands along my sides, muttering, Hello. My dear mother-in-law would come up to me, and envelop me in her arms, and say, "You forgot to hug me!"  I didn't even know I was supposed to hug anyone, or say, "I love you."

Tellingly, my childhood was a traumatic landscape of not being fed, not being treated for my medical condition, going to school with black eyes, enduring verbal abuse, emotional abuse, threats, blackmail and on and on.

Just as Love is Life-Giving, so, a lack of Love results in a kind of Spiritual Death. Without Love in my childhood home, I began to shut down -- not eating, not speaking, not feeling emotion, not sleeping.

My Life today bears no relationship to my early years. The reason is well beyond having good food, medical care, a safe place to live -- it is ALL because of being allowed to Love and BE Loved.

Today, I spend every waking minute actively loving others. Shopping for my family, tending our garden, cleaning our house, making meals, helping our son with homework, washing the clothes. I knit hats and scarves for the homeless shelter. I donate to the food pantry. I support a village in Africa, where funds raised are building a much-needed school. I give away clothes, furniture, tuition assistance, books. I regularly call friends who live alone.  I share food from my table with those who have less.

Without Love, I would not have been born, and I never would have survived. Today, I give ALL the Love I've got. . .

"Love one another deeply, from the Heart." -- [1 Peter 1:22].

{Related Postings : "The Question of Love", 10/27/14; "The ABC's Of Love", 4/27/13; "Heart and Soul", 11/14/12; "Love Thy Neighbor", 10/23/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Render Unto Caesar

"The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. . . saying [to Him], 'Teacher, we know that You are a truthful man and that You teach the way of God in accordance with the Truth. And You are not concerned with anyone's status. Tell us then, what is Your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?'  Knowing their malice, Jesus said, 'Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.'  Then they handed Him the Roman coin.  He said to them, 'Whose image is this and whose inscription?' They replied, 'Caesar's.'  And He said to them, ' Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.' " --[Matthew 22: 15-21].

Caesar came to power during a bloody time, when conspirators who desired a Republic, were plotting to murder Caesar. But Caesar won out, and imposed a dictatorship. A comet appearing in the night sky convinced the populace that Caesar was a god.

The Pharisees clearly were focused upon Jesus not being "concerned with anyone's status." This is a dangerous belief under a dictatorship, when followers of Jesus were behaving as if government rulers had absolutely no authority over them. Even in today's modern China, where Christians are treated as a threat to the State, government officials are baffled by Christians, saying, 'They don't even seem to care what consequences we give them.'

In South Africa during Apartheid, Bishop Desmond Tutu famously said, 'Their first mistake was that they [the ruling party] gave us Bibles and taught us how to read English.'

Jesus seems to be giving Caesar his due as a ruler. BUT, the trap in his reply is that, if we repay to God what belongs to God, then we repay ALL to God; because, everything we have, even Life itself, comes from God.

I figured this out when I turned thirteen years old. My mother and grandmother sat me down to tell me that my mother had come close to dying as she was in labor, giving birth to me. Then, they told me that I had almost died, too. . . .

My mother went on to praise the doctor who had saved me. My parents had just moved to the area where the doctor practiced, only a few months before I was due to be born. He was an expert in the kind of distressed pregnancy which my mother had undergone.

I felt immense gratitude for that doctor! No doubt, he had studied hard in medical school. He had worked and learned critical skills in his residency.

 My mother recounted how the doctor sprang into action. when he realized that my mother and I were in distress.  But by that point in the story, I was no longer focused on the doctor. I was realizing that I owed by Life to God, who had created that man, who had given that man the gift of medical aptitude, and who had put the exact doctor whom my mother and I needed, in the right place, at the right time.

My mother was not a believer, so I said nothing about my belief that God had guided the hand and the decision-making of that doctor.

About a year later, my parents stopped taking me to church, saying, "We don't believe in that stuff."

But, it was "too late", I already believed.  And, I still believe that I owe my Life and everything good in it, to God.

[Related Postings: "God vs. Caesar", 10/19/14; "Give to God what is God's", 10/15/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Richer or Poorer

" Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live in abundance. In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. " --[Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20].

There is an old quote, " I've been poor and I've been rich. Rich is better."  Some attribute this turn of phrase to writer Beatrice Kaufman; others to Mae West or Fanny Brice.

Whoever first said this, it shows the secular belief that the more we have, the better.

I spent a childhood "living poor", despite the considerable wealth in my family, by the world's standards. My family had food but I often went unfed. I showed up at neighbors' houses looking hungry and hoping they would give me a piece of bread or a glass of milk.

My parents had a big oscillating fan in their room for hot summer nights. My sibling had an air conditioner in his room. I was told, "It is not hot."

After awhile, I learned that getting angry was not going to result in any improvement of my circumstances. When I was told at age five that I was "too old for naps, I put myself down for naps. I started a babysitting business at age 11, and bought a fan for my room.

I left home at eighteen. I got my education and got a good job and an apartment. I got married, and my husband and I started a family. I began to live in abundance.

I have a beautiful home now. I have food. Despite my childhood, when no one hugged me or said, "I love you", when I was called ugly every day, and went to school with black eyes, I now have abundant Love in my life.

But, I am the same person now as I was back then. And that is exactly the point.

I knew how to live in humble circumstances. I found food. I helped out at home, in my mother's kitchen and garden, to keep the Peace. I either lent a hand, or I stayed out of the way. I left home with an education and money in the bank at 18. I had survived.

I know how to live in abundance. I still help others generously from the heart. I will never believe that my good fortune now means that I am a superior human being.

That is because I believe in timeless, priceless values that no amount of money can ever buy--  Love, Peace, Faith, Generosity, Patience, Joy.

There are those who do believe that reaching the pinnacle of success means that they have "the Answer" to Life, that they are smarter, more qualified, therefore superior. (This is called the Theology of Prosperity).

I am always shocked when people make assumptions about me, based on superficial impressions. They see my comfortable life, and they assume that I never suffered. They see my comfortable life, and they assume that I am egotistical and snobby.

Or perhaps, they see me dressed-down, digging in my garden or sweeping my porch, and they assume that I am a Nobody. They discount me, or even walk past me, treating me as if I am invisible.

The Truth is, rich or poor, I am the SAME person. I do not want my circumstances to change who I am inside.

THIS is what St. Paul, and Christ, call us to do. Our lives may change dramatically-- sadly alone or with loving family; poor or rich or back to poor again; young and healthy or old and feeble.

Whatever my circumstances, I keep my eyes on "Christ who strengthens me."

"That's Life, that's what people say. .
You're riding high in April, shot down in May.
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. I've been up and down and over and out, And I know one thing. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race." -- Frank Sinatra.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the Faith." --[2 Timothy 4:7].

[Related Posting: "The Theology of Prosperity, 1/28/16.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Surpassing Peace

 " Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the Peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of Peace will be with you." --[Philippians 4: 6-9].

My mother was an inveterate worrier. She was also quite possibly the most negative person I have ever met. She also did not believe in "that God stuff" and she never prayed.

Our entire family spent hours each day trying to reassure her about everyday things. I tried as hard as I could to love her and to make her burden easier. As a young girl, I helped bring in the groceries from the car and put them away. I volunteered to weed her flower garden. I did all the mending and sewing for the family. I helped her with the dinner dishes, drying and putting away. I was trying to bring Peace into the family, but as a child, I did not know that this was simply Earthly Peace. Still, it was as good a place as any to begin.

It could be paralyzing for my mother to get through 24 hours. She worried if it might rain. She worried if it would not rain.

She used to ask me to tell her what was wrong, so she could worry.

It came as a huge revelation to me, when I read Matthew 6: 27, 34:  "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today has enough trouble of its own. . . Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

Worry seems to be contagious. Stick around enough worriers, and soon enough you might be joining in on the hand-wringing.

I was my maternal grandmother who taught me to pray The Our Father. It was such a simple prayer, only the beginning of a Christian education, but it was a start.

My mother used to tell me that Christians were pathetic, with all their praying. She believed that prayer was for those who were unable to DO; for the unintelligent, the poor, the lame, the weak. They did all they COULD do by praying, because they were pitiably incapable of rescuing themselves.

I am learning that I am vulnerable to worry myself. It is hard not to "go there" when all I heard in my family was the "Woe is me".  The instant I begin to worry, I try to stop myself. Either there is something I can DO to resolve the problem. OR, I will pray for guidance or help.

In fact, we Christians are called to both PRAY and DO. St. Paul says in Ephesians 4: 9: "Whatever you learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me -- put it into practice. And the God of Peace will be with you."

We believe that "If you want Peace, work for Justice". --[Pope Paul VI].  We believe in the Power of Love-- which is NOT a feeling or an emotional swoon or a dramatically romantic evening. No, Love is bringing food and clothing and shelter and education and healing to the "least of these." Because whatever you do to the least of Jesus' brothers, you do to Him. --[Matthew 25: 40].

We believe that "He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him." --[Proverbs 14: 31.]

I am learning that I am vulnerable to that constant negative self-talk that can derail the most optimistic person. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of trauma and hate in this world. We cannot solve the world's problems without at first defining them. It would in fact be foolish to believe that "Everything is for the best, in this best of all possible worlds." --[ "Candide", by Voltaire].

But at the same time, we reinforce the negative neural pathways in our brain, by constantly repeating to ourselves how awful our world is. If we believe that our world is rotten to the core, irredeemably violent, evil and hateful, then we give up on ourselves and on each other.  Ultimately, we are giving up on the Divine Goodness that is God.

What we tell ourselves becomes what we believe, becomes what we do. If we believe that prayer to God and loving others both have the capacity to make our world a better place, then that is what we will accomplish.

And so, we reach for the Heavens, holding in our minds, "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy --",  and it is there where we find our best selves, because is is there where we find God.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Solace of Love

" Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in Love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my Joy by being of the same mind, with the same Love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than ourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others." --[ Philippians 2: 1-11].

The week of October 1, 2107 has been heartbreaking. On 10:08 p.m. on Sunday, October 1, 2017 a shooter, holed up in a Las Vegas hotel suite, shot down at thousands of concertgoers in an open-air venue.

Our horrified human minds keep reviewing the scenes of the injured and deceased. We go over and over in our minds the number of people at the concert (approximately 22,000), the number of wounded sent to the hospital ( over 500), the number killed (59 at last count).

To speak of the acts of Love and pure heroism at the scene seems almost sacrilegious. How can we even contemplate celebrating the love and sacrifice of others, how can we dare to utter anything that hints of something good coming out of this tragedy?

But to speak of the Evil AND the Good is not only possible -- but necessary.

We do not know WHY this man planned this attack for so long, gathering his weapons cache of over 40 weapons plus bomb-making materials for over 20 years. Was it because of some mental illness? Because of today's easy access to guns? Because of the breakdown of his relationships? Because of some financial distress? Or do we simply call it Evil?

We may never know the reason. Even if we did, we will most likely dismiss the "reason" as sick, unjustifiable, insufficient.

The Faith community prays in circumstances such as this. Sometimes, we are mocked for this. It is as if people believe that persons of Faith can ONLY pray. But true Faith Warriors also WORK -- for Peace, for Justice, for Love.

We pray because, while it is too late to save those who died from their wounds, we CAN commend their souls, and pray for their families. We pray because others are seriously wounded and they need our Hope, our Love-- as do their family members, and those in the medical community who are caring for them.

In the end, we MUST celebrate those who acted unselfishly, and regarded others as more important than themselves ---

*** Two men actually stole a car in order to transport victims to the hospital, not thinking or caring about possible charges against them for the theft.
*** A husband threw himself over his wife and shielded her from the barrage. He died doing so.
*** A woman, under fire herself, packed her truck with victims and drove them to safety.
*** People in the crowd used sections of fence, rolling carts and wheelbarrows as makeshift stretchers.
*** A young woman held the hand of a man for hours, as he lay dying.
*** A young nurse from a nearby clinic rushed to the hospital where she used to work, to help.
*** Veterans, off-duty EMT's and off-duty police rushed INTO the scene to give aid to the victims, when they could have run away.
*** People stood in line for an entire day, in order to give blood. When they did not reach the head of the line, they came back the next day.

When you think about it, ALL that we HAVE is Love, for one another. Love is THE greatest weapon against violence, against Hate, against chaos. Love cannot always prevent these heinous acts. BUT Love can overcome our suffering. When we think only of ourselves, our world falls apart.

"If there is any encouragement, any solace in Love, any compassion and mercy, COMPLETE my Joy by being of the same mind, with the same Love, united in one heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory (ego); rather, humbly regard others as more important than ourselves, each looking out not for our own interests, but for those of others."

There is JOY in Love, and our Light shall banish the darkness.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.