Feeds:
Posts
Comments

There seems to be a common, recurring theme among Christians living busy, stress filled lives.  We feel pressured to be the perfect mother or father, student or employee, and it seems there are always too many bills to pay from our shrinking income.  Our bosses insist we become more and more productive, while we are running a million miles a minute ferrying our kids from one activity to the next.

So many Christians feel alone and distant from God’s presence.  Yet over and over in scripture God reminds us He is right there, guiding and protecting us, rescuing us from danger with His ‘strong right arm’. Psalm 136 describes God’s never ending love and that He “… led Israel from their midst, for his mercy endures forever; with mighty hand and outstretched arm.” This doesn’t mean God literally reaches down with a physical arm from heaven; instead it represents his omnipotence and phenomenal power, and that He is always there to support us when we are ‘drowning’ in our problems.

In 606 B.C. the city of Jerusalem was ravaged by King Nebuchadnezzar II and the sacred temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.  As a result of turning away from God and worshiping idols, thousands of Israelites were exiled to far away Mesopotania and forced into servitude.  Shortly before the end of their seventy year long exile the chosen people felt alone and abandoned, so God reminded them in Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

Eventually the Israelites repented of their sin, and God allowed Cyrus II of Persia to conquer the Babylonians.  Cyrus believed the words in Isaiah 44:28, written 200 years before, was a direct order from God “I say of Cyrus, My Shepherd! He carries out my every wish, saying of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt’, and of the temple, ‘Lay its foundations’.” He allowed the Jews to return to their ruined city and issued a decree authorizing them to rebuild the temple.

Our spiritual journey reflects the struggles of the Jews and their volatile, roller coaster relationship with God.  But instead of worshiping pagan gods, we ‘worship’ money, power, television, facebook, suggestive movies or books, and wallow in anger, self-reliance and laziness.  Then a job loss or illness reminds us of our need for a savior, and we turn back pleading for God’s grace and mercy.

Just as God rescued the Israelites after they repented, so too did Jesus rescue Peter when he started sinking in the waves right after he had proudly walked on water.  Instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus, he became intimidated by the storm surrounding him and doubted Jesus’ power to keep him afloat (Matthew 14:22).  Peter was terrified and called out “‘Lord save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”  When you are terrified and overwhelmed by your responsibilities, call out for help, and envision Jesus reaching out with his ‘strong, right hand’. Grab on with both hands and don’t ever let go!

True Racism

On my way home from work the other night I was shocked to hear an extremely inflammatory campaign advertisement on the radio.  Negative attacks on the other candidate from both parties are nothing new before an important election, but with the Republicans poised to possibly overtake the Senate and House of Representatives, some Democratic candidates are getting desperate.  Knowing the black vote is crucial, their advertisements are turning particularly ugly and downright racist.  From linking Republican candidates to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, to painting Republicans as lynch mobs, and warning that unless African-Americans vote, local police departments won’t be accountable, as shown in Ferguson, and more innocent blacks will be killed.

As journalist Jeremy W. Peters explained in the New York Times “The images and words they are using are striking for how overtly they play on fears of intimidation and repression. And their source is surprising. The effort is being led by national Democrats and their state party organizations — not, in most instances, by the shadowy and often untraceable political action committees that typically employ such provocative messages.”

Republicans are accusing Democrats of race-baiting “They have been playing on this nerve in the black community that if you even so much as look at a Republican, churches will start to burn, your civil rights will be taken away and young black men like Trayvon Martin will die,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican Party.

For decades Jesse Jackson has employed strong-arm tactics to force companies to hire more minorities, whether job applicants are qualified or not.   “When he speaks, white executives listen. For they know that he can make life very rough if they don’t ‘cooperate.’  Corporate leaders from Anheuser-Busch to Toyota have acceded to his demands, agreeing to earmark large sums of money for minority hiring and outreach. Moreover, they typically make sizable donations to Rainbow/PUSH, thus making possible future shakedowns. Often as well they set aside a certain portion of their contracting to minority-owned firms that pay Jackson for referrals. Jackson’s style can be called affirmative action with a clenched fist. And because of white executive timorousness, it gets results.” (From article Silicon Valley Capitulates to Jesse Jackson Shakedown)

Racism is wrong; whether it is directed by Caucasians against African Americans or vice versa, it is offensive and should be condemned.  The Jim Crow laws were despicable, and I greatly admire Rosa Parks and others who courageously stood up and refused to accept the repression.  Rosa rode the bus daily in Montgomery, Alabama, and one day in 1955 the bus was almost full, so she was ordered to give up her seat in the colored section for a white person.  She defiantly refused, and was arrested by the police for civil disobedience.

Some other heroes of the Civil Rights Movement are the valiant “Little Rock Nine”, composed of nine daring black high school students chosen to integrate the all white Central High School in 1957, in Little Rock, Arizona.  On the appointed day, shamefully, around 1,000 white townspeople gathered and as the students tried entering the school the rowdy mob shouted racial slurs and threatened violence.  Some of the townspeople surrounded one terrified student, 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, and threatened to lynch her.

Little Rock’s mayor asked for the federal government to intervene, and President Eisenhower responded by deploying the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, and by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard.  The ‘guards’ stayed at the school for the next year, but the harassment continued; young Elizabeth was pushed down a flight of stairs, Melba Matilla had acid thrown in her eyes, and the three male students were regularly beaten.

These and other daring activists risked their lives to put and end to such blatant dicrimination and boldly implement the Civil Rights Movement.  But in spite of the efforts of these brave Americans, education for blacks in America currently seems to be lagging badly, in spite of the massive infusion of federal funds from the Department of Education, which was created in 1979.  The gap between whites and blacks in math and reading has increased by five points since 1992, resulting in a whopping 30 point gap.  Even though the black graduation rate has increased to 68%, it still lags way behind the white graduation rate of 85%.  MSNBC Trymaine Lee described the “abysmal state of achievement for near-college age students…Just about a quarter of high school seniors were proficient or above in math and 37% in reading…the stagnant achievement growth among high school students in general speaks to a broader population of young people largely unprepared for secondary education, the clearest path to high-paying, high-quality employment.”

Unemployment among blacks is twice that of whites, and although I am sure racism may contribute to the high numbers, many experts blame the lack of education and high incarceration rate as the leading factors.  High crime rates among black males lead policemen to stop them more often, leading to a vicious cycle of higher arrest rates.  Since many black families come from single parent homes, which are the largest group in poverty, many black teens can’t afford an attorney, and wind up with poor representation from understaffed public defenders.

Sadly tactics such as the shake-downs by Jesse Jackson, the provacative rhetoric of Al Sharpton and the heinous strategies of the Democratic Party, are increasing racial tension and division.  In spite of  Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s  laudable efforts to keep juveniles and non-violent offenders out of the prison system, resulting in the biggest decrease of black incarceration since 1988, Democratic senate campaign ads for Michelle Nunn feature racially charged pictures of children holding up signs begging “don’t shoot”.

I find it unconscionable that Democrats are currying votes by deliberately stirring racial hatred and unrest. Democrats claim to be the ‘party of the minorities’, so why aren’t Democratic and black leaders addressing the main problem in the black culture of absent dads, which directly leads to poverty, abuse, addiction, and crime?  President Barack Obama challenged black men to set an example and become leaders when he addressed the graduating class of Morehouse College in 2013.  “Obama, who was raised by a single mother and grandparents, lamented the absence of his father in his life and urged the graduates to make family their top priority.   ‘Be the best husband to your wife, or boyfriend to your partner, or father to your children that you can be. Because nothing is more important.’” (From USA article below)

The President is absolutely right.  Since poverty, addictions, abuse and crime are much higher for children from single parent homes, it seems the most important issue politicians and black leaders should be addressing is the problem of babies born out of wedlock in the black culture, which has reached the astronomical rate of 72%.  Especially since it is over double the rate for white unwed mothers.  Black fathers are too often completely absent from their children’s lives, with devastating consequences.

So instead of fanning the flames between whites and blacks, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and other Democratic leaders should be concentrating on helping young women to have more respect for themselves, to carefully examine a man’s character before dating him, and to encourage the institution of marriage.  Before dating a man, a woman should ask whether he will treat her with dignity and respect.  Does he work hard and is he willing to support her and a child?  Does he have anger or addiction issues?  These leaders should be encouraging black men to finish high school and attend college or vocational schools, and they should teach young black males what it truly means to be a real man who takes his responsibilities seriously.

Part of the reason blacks have such low graduation rates is because black students experience more school suspensions than white students.  NPR recently reported that numbers compiled by the Department of Education showed  that starting in preschool (four year olds), black suspensions are three times the number of white suspensions, often for the same offenses.  The school system funnels students into the juvenile justice system, by having them arrested for such infractions as a  school fight, leading to the dismal “school-to-prison pipeline”.

Are black preschoolers and elementary students more prone to unacceptable behavior, or is it the ‘perception’ that black children misbehave more than white children?  This is another important issue black leaders and politicians should tackle.  Children who have experienced school suspensions generally tend to have lower self-esteem, lack motivation, are stigmatized and drop out of school at higher rates.  If this problem is properly addressed, it could vastly improve the lives of countless African-Americans.

Instead Al Sharpton has been inciting protests and riots, resulting in looting and unrest in the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, where a young, unarmed black male was shot and killed by a white police officer.  On the surface the facts seem damning, but without waiting for the truth, Sharpton has been demanding justice and the prosecution of the police officer.  While the jury has been deliberating on the guilt or innocence of the accused officer, the autopsy report on Brown was leaked, and it does appear Brown grappled for the gun and had gun residue on his hands, was shot at close range, and blood in the police car reveals a significant altercation took place there.  So it is possible the shooting could have been justified, but it is impossible to know for sure until all the facts are known.

In his Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:9 Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God.”  Politicians need to stop making incendiary statements like Vice President Biden when he warned a crowed that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains”.  Before Richard Nixon became president, blacks often voted Republican, the party of their hero, Abraham Lincoln.  Then President Kennedy defied the racist Democratic politicians like Government Wallace of Alabama, and Senator Robert Byrd, and jumped into the fray with Martin Luther King, Jr. to further the Civil Rights movement.  President Lyndon Johnson was extremely shrewd and figured he could curry black votes by following in Kennedy’s footsteps.  He knew he would lose some white votes, but over-all he believed the black vote was an untapped gold mine worth the risk.

Since Johnson was pursuing the black vote, President Richard Nixon decided on his “Southern Strategy” to woo white voters by championing ‘states rights’ and petitioning the courts to delay busing students.   Nixon was extremely racist and some of his atrocious comments were caught on tape.  Johnson was just as prejudiced and for the twenty years he was in Congress blocked any efforts to repeal the Jim Crow laws.  But Johnson was pragmatic, as well as ruthless, and would do anything to get elected; in spite of his bias against blacks, he saw them as a huge voting bloc.  Both men left a tragic legacy of racial slurs against Jews, blacks and Asians.

It is time for politicians to quit using Americans as pawns to garner votes and instead to treat them with dignity and respect and truly look out for their best interests.  The only way to combat such hypocrisy, greed and lust for power is for Christians to follow St. Paul’s advice and “…be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world”.  Work on growing in holiness and stand firm in the truth, condemning these shallow politicians and their manipulative, outrageous ploys to get elected.

Related Articles:

In Democratic Election Ads in the South

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/30/us/politics/from-democrats-election-focus-on-racial-scars.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Silicon Valley Capitulates to Jesse Jackson Shakedown

http://nlpc.org/stories/2014/05/29/jesse-jackson-takes-shakedown-campaign-silicon-valley-extracts-concessions-timid-

Education Racial Gap

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/student-proficiency-stagnant-race-gap-wide

Black Unemployment

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/21/through-good-times-and-bad-black-unemployment-is-consistently-double-that-of-whites/

1 In 3 Black Males Will Go To Prison

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/04/racial-disparities-criminal-justice_n_4045144.html

Why Criminal Justice Reform

http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2014/09/08/why-criminal-justice-reform-could-play-big-role-in-final-weeks-of-governors-race/

Obama: There’s No Longer Time for Excuses

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/05/19/obama-morehouse-college-commencement/2324241/

The Child Abuse Crisis

http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1997/05/bg1115-the-child-abuse-crisis

Black Preschoolers Far More Likely to Be Suspended

http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/03/21/292456211/black-preschoolers-far-more-likely-to-be-suspended

Recently actress Renee Zellweger unleashed a media ‘frenzy’ when she attended a gala with her new look; she had changed so much that many didn’t even recognize her.  Renee denies going under the knife cosmetically, and claims she is simply eating healthier and exercising more, but the only recognizable features now are her prominent apple cheeks.  These two pictures show her around three years ago (on left), and the one on the right from a few days ago.  It really isn’t our place to judge whether or not she has had a face lift, but since 14.6 million people had cosmetic surgery in 2013, I thought this was worth discussing.

Granted, some surgeries are necessary; if you have precancerous skin cells, a chemical peel will peel away the infected cells. Aging and drooping eyelids can impair vision, and must be lifted, reconstructive surgery for scar and tumor removal is vital, and breast reduction can save a woman from back problems.  So about one-third of plastic surgery is necessary for health reasons, leaving around nine million people undergoing surgery to improve their appearance.  The average procedure can cost between $3,000 and $10,000, so annually Americans spend the astronomical amount of 45 billion simply to look prettier or more handsome.  Ouch!

I certainly understand the desire to be as attractive as possible; I used to have gorgeous copper hair, but as I have aged, my hair has turned a drab brown.  I could spend a small fortune every few months maintaining my natural hair color, but it simply isn’t important enough to me to warrant that much time, energy and expense.  I do have compassion for  those that went gray prematurely,  it makes sense to color their hair, as gray hair ages a woman dramatically.

Aging is not for the faint of heart.  Aching joints, sagging wrinkles and muscles, bunions, failing eyesight and cataracts; the list is endless.  Some people vigorously fight the aging process with excessive exercise, working out hours every day.  We should absolutely eat healthy and exercise on a regular basis, but in all things balance is crucial.  In fact St. Paul warns in 1st Timothy 4:8 “…while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future”.  So while exercise is beneficial and key to staying healthy, prayer is twice as important, since it affects the hereafter, which is eternal.

The definition of ‘vanity’ from Dictionary.com is “excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.”  Vanity is tied in with narcissism, which is an “obsession with ourselves, to the exclusion of other people — both their needs, and their gifts which they want to share with us.” (From Trans4Mind, link below)  As we are warned in Ecclesiastes 1:3 “All things are vanity!  What profit have we from all the toil which we toil at under the sun?  One generation departs and another generation comes, but the world forever stays.”  The only thing that lasts forever is our soul; eventually our bodies waste away and when we die our expensive jewelry, name-brand clothing and the rest of our cherished belongings are left behind.

If you are obsessed with your appearance, you might be suffering from the sin of vanity or narcissism.  One rule-of-thumb is to look into your heart; does it send you into an emotional tailspin because your nose is too big, or because you are pear-shaped, rather than like an hourglass?  I have never liked the shape of my legs, which I inherited from my mother; they are just too scrawny!  We all have imperfections, but television distorts our view of ourselves.  When photographing models and actresses it is common for Hollywood and magazine photographers to air-brush the pictures to ‘brush out’ flaws and make the men and women appear more beautiful and perfect.  The result is a ‘Barbie-doll’ mentality that unless we look flawless physically, we have no worth or value.

Back in 2009 actress Jamie Lee Curtis got tired of the entire charade, and hired a photographer to show her jamie lee curtis before and after thighs imagewithout makeup, sagging muscles and all.  She wanted women to see the way she truly looked, instead of the white-washed pictures you usually see.  Jamie has become so passionate about women accepting themselves, warts and all, that she has written four children’s books sharing the message of affirmation, that “It’s okay to be you”.

Hollywood is particularly obsessed with physical appearance, and Jamie had to work through that attitude in order to accept her ‘thunder-thighs’ and puffy back.   In the article True Thighs, Jamie explains “To have a life beyond the movie business, you’ve got to find out who you are without the stylists, the Harry Winston jewels and the fancy borrowed outfits. You’ve got to be able to look in the mirror and recognize yourself. ”   Jamie is open and honest about her ‘nips and tucks’, “‘I’ve done it all,’ she says, breaking yet another unwritten Hollywood rule: Never fess up. ‘I’ve had a little plastic surgery. I’ve had a little lipo. I’ve had a little Botox. And you know what? None of it works. None of it.’”  She explained that all the surgeries caused her to look puffy under the camera.

Jamie’s message of accepting ourselves and our faults is crucial for young women today.  St. Paul again warned in 1st Peter 3:3 to focus on the beauty within, rather than on physical appearance.  “Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.”  Naturally many women take time with their hair and makeup to look as attractive as possible; just be careful not to spend more time primping than you do praying!  One double check is to weigh the amount of time and money you spend on your makeup regimen, having your hair styled, your nails done and your body toned.  If you are spending more improving your appearance than on your faith or on charity, you may have a problem with vanity.

To accept yourself and your flabby arms and knobby knees, focus more on increasing the beauty inside, becoming more kind and compassionate, caring and understanding.  One good measure to determine if you are self-absorbed is to examine the amount of time you spend helping others; do you babysit for young mothers with active children to give her a break?  Even if you aren’t a grandmother, there are plenty of young moms who would be delighted to have the help.  Do you volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul or help in homeless shelters?  One group, Love and Serve Atlanta, hands out shoes, toiletries, socks and bottled water once a month in Hurt Park in downtown Atlanta.  Perhaps you are called to donate your time as a volunteer at a hospital, or to lead a bible study.  Being involved is a great way to fight vanity.

 

Related Articles:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons

http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/past-press-releases/2013-archives/14-million-cosmetic-plastic-surgery-procedures-performed-in-2012.html

Self-love

http://www.trans4mind.com/jamesharveystout/selflove.htm

Jamie Lee Curtis:  True Thighs
http://www.more.com/news/womens-issues/jamie-lee-curtis-true-thighs

Chosen
http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2012/07/16/chosen-28-2/

The word ‘pilgrim’, derived from the Latin peregrinum, describes someone on a journey seeking spiritual significance. The Catholic Church has designated many places holy and worthy to visit; some have importance because of the birth, death or spiritual awakening of certain saints. Others are apparition sites for the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as Lourdes in France, and Fatima in Portugal.  Some are important cathedrals or basilicas.

Christians make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and other religious sites for various reasons. Some go wanting to increase their faith, while some go for healing or intercession for some other need.  Other pilgrims journey to honor God or give thanks for prayers answered.  Christian pilgrimages have their roots in the Jewish faith, as Jewish law required all men to visit the temple in Jerusalem at least three times a year.  (See Ascending to God below for more info)

Recently my good friend, Maryan Lerch,  shared her experience of going on pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James.  Pilgrims plod through rocky mountains and dusty fields to reach the Cathedral of St. James in the historic town of Santiago de Compostela.  The bones of St. James the Greater were miraculously found buried in a field in 811 AD, and a basilica was built over the holy saint.  Destroyed by Muslims in 997, a magnificent Romanesque Cathedral was built over the untouched tomb in the 11th century.  Between the 11th and 18th centuries the tomb of St. James became the most popular destination for pilgrimages in all of Europe.

Maryan compared her pilgrimage to our spiritual journey to heaven, with the same “challenges, hardships and sufferings, which are opportunities to come to know Jesus more deeply”.  She explained there is an etiquette on the Way and you are cautious in asking someone their reasons for making the trek.  Only after traveling together for some time is it proper to ask this question, and sometimes the answer might be short and trite, closing off further conversation.  Just as everyone’s journey on the Way is personal and to be respected, so everyone’s spiritual journey to God is unique and sacred.

My pilgrim friend stressed the importance of the yellow arrows guiding you in the right direction.  Sometimes the arrows were hidden down low to the ground in rocks, and sometimes they were on a wall, so the pilgrim had to watch carefully.  Otherwise they would get lost and go in circles, just as sometimes those on their spiritual journey flit from one religion to another, from Zen Buddhism, to Jehovah Witnesses, to Christianity.  They take a circuitous route confused about the right path, while others stride confidently toward their goal, surefooted and certain of their path.

Before pilgrims undertake the path of the Way, they appoint a leader to determine the pace and monitor the limitations of each pilgrim.  The leader will make sure the group takes regular breaks so they don’t get too exhausted before they reach their daily goal.  In our spiritual life we all need a spiritual guide who will point us in the right direction when we get stuck in a valley or wander aimlessly in circles.  Whether you have an ‘official’ spiritual director, or whether your friend or spouse gives you guidance, they can help you stay balanced to make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself by becoming over-involved in church ministry, or neglecting your prayer life.

Just as life can be trying with bouts of cancer, financial problems and family tension, so Maryan’s trek was arduous and painful.  I simply can’t imagine the agony of their feet as she and her husband plodded eight to ten hours a day on dirt paths filled with potholes, rocks and manure.  Maryan described their bone deep weariness at the end of each day, and the sheer relief when her husband rubbed and caressed her cracked and swollen feet with scented lotion.  At the end of their almost month long pilgrimage, when they reached the plaza in front of the Cathedral, Maryan described the power of the Holy Spirit that flowed over her like a fountain, filling her with the realization that only through God’s grace and power were they able to complete their strenuous quest.

Hiking the Way helped Maryan to live in the moment and not anticipate possible pitfalls ahead.  God calls Himself “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), not a God of yesterday or tomorrow, but a God of today, because He wants us to fully live each moment and not dwell in regrets over the past or fear of the future.  Just as pilgrims on the Way rest regularly, those on their spiritual journey should pray daily and annually attend some kind of retreat to renew and inspire their faith, and refresh their spiritual energy.

Some time ago I was blessed to go on pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, where the Blessed Mother appeared to three children back in 1914 and asked for ‘her children’ to do penance and pray (full message below).  It was a profound experience and for the entire two weeks I felt securely wrapped in God’s loving embrace.  In the evenings the sick would be brought out on stretchers and wheelchairs, and everyone would light a candle while reciting the rosary.  It was a mystical moment when the veil between heaven and earth was opened, and you knew you were in the presence of angels and saints.

As Archbishop Raymond Burke explains, “It is important for the faithful to go on pilgrimage in order to rediscover the extraordinary nature of our ordinary Christian life. Being human, we easily forget the great mystery that is our life in Christ, the mystery that we live every day. When we leave our customary surroundings and make the effort to travel to a holy place, we receive the grace to look anew at our own life in Christ and see more clearly the extraordinary mystery of God’s merciful love in our lives.” (link below)

After we left Fatima we drove by bus to Santiago de Compostella and visited the hallowed shrine.  As I gazed at the sacred tomb containing the holy bones of St. James, it felt as though angels were lifting me up and whisking me to the throne of God.  Later, as I watched pilgrims wearily complete their journey and enter the Cathedral, I felt incredible bliss and had a beatific vision of God pouring out his spirit and approval on His children.  He recognized the physical and emotional cost of their journey and was blessing them in a special way.

Today is a good time to do a spiritual check-up; does God seem distant?  Is your prayer time lackluster?  Is there an area of sin that you are struggling with?  If so, perhaps it is time to expand or change your form of daily prayer; perhaps it is time to attend a conference about your faith or visit your local bookstore for an inspiring book.  Maybe you are called to go on pilgrimage to one of the many consecrated sites all over the world.  The possibilities are endless; from the fascinating Shroud of Turin in Italy, to historic Mont St. Michel in France, to the fabulous cliffs and beach of Nazare, Portugal.  Let’s get started!

Related Articles:
Why Go On Pilgrimage

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thefaithfultraveler/2009/03/why-go-on-pilgrimage/

Ascending to God

http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2013/11/27/ascending-to-god/

The Fatima Message
http://www.rosary-center.org/fatimams.htm

The Grace of Pilgrimage
http://www.cuf.org/2005/07/the-grace-of-pilgrimage-an-interview-with-archbishop-raymond-l-burke/

Fearing Poverty

Many Americans are driven to succeed financially and save copious amounts of money for retirement. If you have been fortunate enough to stick with a company long enough to earn a pension, or you have worked hard to build a sizeable IRA or 401K, congratulations!

But remember, wealth can be a blessing, and it can also hinder your entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  In Matthew 24 Jesus said to his disciples “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  I have seen different theories about the meaning of a camel passing through the “eye of a needle“; the study note in the New American Bible leans toward the theory that Jesus literally meant the eye of a sewing needle. Other scholars believe He was referring to the Needle Gate, an opening in the wall surrounding Jerusalem which was too low and narrow for camels.

Rather than getting lost in the exact meaning of “eye of the needle” I believe it is more important to focus on the message that wealth could be an obstacle to holiness, which flew in the face of the traditional ‘prosperity gospel’. The thinking of the time was that if you were well off financially, then you were living a holy life, and conversely, if you were experiencing sickness or financial difficulties, then you must be sinning somehow and offending God.

Joel Osteen is a popular minister and televangelist who promotes the ‘prosperity gospel’; the first line on his web page is “You have been blessed for unprecedented success. God has healing with your name on it, new dreams with your name on it, promotions with your name on it.” And if aren’t highly successful, then YOU must be doing something wrong.

Echoing the theme that God’s blessings only fall on the holy, in the book of Job, poor beleaguered Job was berated by his wife and friends who insisted he was being punished by God because of his many sins. They begged him to repent so that he could be healed of the ugly boils covering his body and so that his family and fortune could be restored.

Of course we know the background of the conversation between God and Satan concerning His servant Job whom He described as “blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil”. God agreed to let Satan test Job’s faith by first sending a fire to consume his livestock and servants, then a great wind to smash the house where his children had gathered, killing them all, and lastly sending painful, “severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head”.  Job knew he was sinless, and in spite of baseless allegations from his loved ones, held on to his faith proclaiming “We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” (Job 2).

St. Timothy warns us to be wary of being too focused on acquiring wealth  “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” 1st Timothy 6

Notice it isn’t ‘money’ that is the “root of all evils”, but the “love of money“.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being rich, but if your main goal in life is to financially prosper, you may want to be careful.   Don’t let your pursuit of wealth lead you to cheat or step all over others.   In his quest for wealth Bernie Maddof stole millions and callously ruined the lives of thousands of people  in a gigantic ponzi scheme.  If God has graced you with wealth, it may be a test by God to see if  you can remain steadfast in your faith.  St. Augustine believed being wealthy could draw your heart away from God, and increase your pride and greed “Fear is all the more increased and covetousness is all the more unloosed according as there is an increase of those things which are called riches […] Riches, more than anything else, engender pride.” (From Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount).

Jesus himself gave us the model for detachment from wealth when his parents, Mary and Joseph, followed ritual law and presented him in the temple with the offering of a “pair of turtledoves” as expiation for sin (Luke 2).  Generally a lamb would have been offered for sacrifice, but if the family was poor, turtledoves could be given instead. Just imagine that Jesus’ parents were so poor they couldn’t afford a lamb!  Scholars feel this was deliberate on God’s part; Jesus was born in poverty in a simple cave, he lived in poverty, and he died in poverty, buried in another man’s tomb.  This was our example to follow; to be detached from wealth, and even more, to embrace poverty.

Embracing poverty is actually easier if you have never been wealthy; the more wealth you have attained, the more you fear losing it.  Losing a job can leave you paralyzed with anxiety as you contemplate cashing in your savings and worry about struggling to make ends meet.  In the article below, Faith Tested by Fire, I explain that our trials and difficulties have a purpose; our trials are not meaningless.  If you are ‘blessed’ with financial problems, realize that God is calling you to a deeper surrender and detachment from the world.  It is hard to believe when you are ‘in the fire’, but the times of hardship are when your faith becomes the strongest.

Related Articles:

Faith Tested by Fire

http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2012/10/14/faith-tested-by-fire/

Love of Money

http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2013/10/04/love-of-money/

Desire

http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2014/07/05/desire/

Recently I was saddened to hear of a young, 29 year old woman, Brittany Maynard, who has a malignant brain tumor, and has been given only six months to live.  So she has decided to end her life intentionally in a few weeks, on November 1, with her doctor’s assistance.  In addition, she will be helping to support a euthanasia group called Compassion & Choices.  I was heartbroken for many reasons; first of all, she is taking away the opportunity for God to give her and her family a miracle.

The internet abounds with stories of patients with terminal cancer, tumors and others diseases that are mysteriously healed through prayer, or experimental treatment, or for no reason at all.    The Catholic Church contains thousands of miraculous healings, which are part of the process of proclaiming someone saint and blessed, those deemed to have lived holy lives.  But does God always perform a miracle?  Of course not, but when you purposely end your life, you exhibit an appalling lack of trust in God and in his plans.  Scripture is full of assurances that our lives are in God’s hands; my favorite is Psalm 139 “LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.  You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.”

I had the privilege and honor to be with both my parents during their battle and eventual death from cancer.  My father was terrified of dying, and he fought tooth and nail to live as long as possible.  He knew eating was crucial, so he spent most of his time planning and cooking meals and trying to provide nourishment for his failing body.  Dad’s prostrate cancer was diagnosed in June of 1992, and by February of 1997 the cancer had progressed so much that he could no longer care for himself.

He moved in with us and Hospice brought in a hospital bed, porta-potty, and weekly visits from compassionate and kind nurses.  Medication was provided for his anxiety and pain, and he was kept as comfortable as possible.  My father made me promise to keep him in my home until the very end.  Little did I know how difficult the last week would be.  For months dad pushed himself and did everything possible to extend his life.  Finally in prayer one morning I heard a voice telling me that it was time for dad to ‘let go’.  So I sat down with dad, held his hand and simply said “dad, let go”.  Nothing else.  No eloquent words, no lecture, no encouragement.  And he knew exactly what I meant, and became very agitated.  I simply repeated those words, and left, leaving him to process and ponder my message.

Around that time a friend and I prayed a Chaplet of Divine Mercy with him and explained that God’s mercy is as endless as the ocean, compared to our sin, which is a drop in the ocean when we repent.  He protested that his sins were too great, and I reassured him that Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, and it was a ‘done-deal’!  He didn’t say a word, but just started crying, and I left him to make his peace.  Not too long after that he went into a coma;  unfortunately he was an alcoholic, and even though the nurse tried to wean him off the alcohol, and on to the morphine, he still went into the DTs (alcohol withdrawal) and suffered agonizing seizures and tremors.  Finally the morning before he died the nurse figured out what was going on, and had me give him eight tranquilizers ground up with some peppermint schnapps.  It was terrifying for someone with no medical experience to care for a patient in such difficult circumstances, and for years I suffered paralyzing guilt that I wasn’t able to ease his suffering sooner, even though I was fulfilling my promise to him.

Strangely enough, as difficult as that last week was, it simultaneously felt as though I were on a religious retreat, as we were surrounded so powerfully by God’s presence and grace.  It was years later before I was able to understand the significance of that last week of my father’s life.  Several months before he died, my sister gave our dad a CD called Amazing Grace, A Country Salute to Gospel, and dad listened to this collection of songs over, and over and over again.  One song in particular, In the Garden struck such a powerful chord in his heart, that he asked for it to be played at his funeral.

The lyrics to the song In the Garden, finally helped me grasp that dad and Jesus were “tarrying” in the garden, “walking and talking” that last week when he was in the coma.  “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own; And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.”  Four years later, when my mother laying dying, I read a book that fully explained432444 the dying process.  The book is called Midwife for the Soul; Spiritual Care for the Dying and was written by hospice nurses and nuns.  It explained that stepping from this life to the next life is a process similar to the birth of a baby.  For some it is a fairly easy transition, while for others it is excruciatingly difficult.  Those who have been more immersed in the world, whether financially, or attached to their family, may have a more difficult time.  Some people have lived hedonistic lives, far from faith, and the process of disengaging from the world, and slipping to the next can be extremely grueling.  The book removed the guilt that weighed me down like a ton of bricks; I realized that dad’s addiction, sinful lifestyle and lack of faith made the crossover harrowing.  That daunting, but special last week was necessary for him to detach from this world, and ‘cross the bridge’ to the other side; it was a week when God showed him the mistakes he had made, and the pain he caused others.  It was a time of mercy and repentance, of making atonement for the past.

My mother chose Psalm 121 for one of the readings at her funeral service “The LORD will guard you from all evil; he will guard your soul. The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.”  Knowing God was with her when she was born, and would guide her passing to the next life was especially comforting to her.

I had a perpetual calender that had a scripture verse every day, and four weeks before mom died, the reading for the day was 2nd Timothy 4:7 “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”  As hard as it had been to watch my father die, it was doubly painful to witness my mother’s passage to the other side, but I realized those last weeks when she was in a coma, she was still “running the race”.  I was blessed to have an aunt with medical experience who advised us to allow my mother peace and quiet during this interval, as this was an important time for her to detach from the world.  When mom pushed us away, Judy comforted and assured us that she was trying to detach from us and gain her “crown of righteousness”.  The nurses, social works and aides from Hospice were a special gift during my parents’ last days.

A week or so before she finally died, mom said it was her time and asked if she should ‘go to the light’.  We assured her we were ready to let her go, and she went into a profound coma.  We didn’t expect her to be cognizant again, but later that afternoon she came out of the deep coma and was shocked to still be there.  She complained and said that she had “died, died, died”, and why wasn’t she in heaven?  We had no idea at the time what was happening, but simply trusted God was “guarding her coming and going”.  Now I know it is possible the detachment process wasn’t complete, and God was giving her more time to ease the transition.  If you aren’t ready, the transition can be shocking and traumatic.  Still, we have no way of knowing if God was simply still helping her to detach, or if he was using her suffering for the rest of her family, as we are promised in Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church”.  Christians are the ‘body of Christ’, so God used my mother’s suffering to help other Christians, and God knows how much help her children need!

The time before death is a sacred time appointed by God, when heaven and earth collide; I find it so tragic that some will “deem equality with God as something to be grasped”Phil 2:6 and ‘play Godby taking their own life,  rather than trusting God with the appointed time.  “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven–time to give birth and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2).  My parents died with dignity and peace, surrounded by their loving family.  If you are diagnosed with terminal cancer or alzheimer’s disease, trust God and know that no matter how easy or difficult the end of your life will be, God is there to guide you and strengthen you.  He has every moment planned, whether your suffering will be ‘redemptive’ and help others, or whether you need time to transition to your ‘new life’.

Related articles:

Hitler and Purgatory
http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2013/01/19/purgatory-and-hitler/

Cast Down
http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2013/03/14/cast-down/

Brain Cancer Will Likely Kill Me

http://www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-karner-i-have-brain-cancer-but-i-will-never–20141010-story.html

My husband and I recently attended a high school reunion in our home town in Florida a few weeks ago. We both graduated from a high school named for a town that no longer exists. Eau Gallie High School, Florida was an unsophisticated, somewhat redneck town that merged with the larger town of Melbourne in 1969.  My husband and I met in the summer of 1972 in driver’s education class.  My friend, Cathy Bottari, and I weren’t crazy about Peter, the guy assigned to the same car with us.  So we cavalierly traded him for a handsome young man that I immediately fell head over heels in love with!

Located about 15 minutes from the beach, we have blissful memories of crabbing, shrimping, and fishing from the creaky old, wooden causeway across the Indian River, or speeding along in our dad’s boat. Carefree days were spent frolicking in the waves, building enormous sand castles, and getting burned to a crisp.  But growing up with dads that were violent and drunk much of their free time, we also have bitter, painful memories.

My husband and I moved away after our marriage in 1975, and have never gone back there to live. Many of our classmates left our hometown to foster their careers and to search for better opportunities, but several have gone back to their roots. They speak nostalgically about their hometown, and gleefully announce to their former classmates when they take the trip down memory lane and visit their old stomping grounds.

For personal reasons, our high school years were some of the most traumatic years of our life, especially after my husband and his family moved to California his senior year of high school. After he left I robotically moved through my junior year, sobbing at the football games when I saw the marching band smartly prance onto the field at halftime.  My husband had played the trumpet in the Commodore Marching Band, and attending football games brought into sharp focus the throbbing ache of his absence.

My then ‘boyfriend’ graduated early and moved back to be with me.  We married six months after I graduated and we moved first to Orlando, then went to cosmopolitan West Palm Beach, eventually winding up in ‘Hotlanta’, land of ‘Tara’, Miss Confederate Memorial CarvingScarlett and the birthplace of Gone With the Wind.  I was thrilled to witness the authentic Civil War re-enactments on the rolling clay hills Margaret Mitchell described, and visit Stone Mountain and its carved monument of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, gallant Robert E. Lee, and heroic ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.  I fell in love with Atlanta that first fall when the leaves magically transformed, as if a famous artist painted a masterpiece of flame red, golden yellow and burnt orange leaves.

Our family grew with the addition of two lovely daughters, and we made a new life for ourselves, determined to take a different path from the arguments, raging and neglect of our past. We settled into an adorable Victorian home on a quaint street called Maple Lane.  We found happiness that eluded us in our childhood.  Whenever we visited my hometown I enjoyed seeing my family, paying my respects at my dad’s grave, and basking in the sun at the  gorgeous beaches, but if I had my way, I would prefer to vacation somewhere else.  Too many ghosts are there for me to ever move back again.

Coming home is always bittersweet, dredging up buried feelings of abandonment and pain. My father spent virtually all of his free time drinking endless rounds of beer to drown his sorrows at the local Moonlight Tavern. My mother had married when she was 18 and dove headfirst into motherhood with five screaming brats within nine years, so after she split with my father she kicked up her heels and square danced every night and weekend. I found myself spending entire days by myself at the tender age of nine.

The loneliness pierced deep into my heart, and haunted me for decades. An ache and yearning seemed to haunt me as I searched for ‘home’, where that restlessness would be vanquished once and for all.  Recently our dear high school friend, Louie, wrote a heart warming story about revisiting his hometown, and about the intense feeling he experienced of ‘coming home’.  His words touched me profoundly, and inspired me to ponder the meaning of ‘home’.

A gnawing ache in my heart for most of my life was eased by a devoted husband and my precious girls, but it wasn’t until my faith deepened in 1993 that I finally came ‘home’.  On July 9, 1993 the gospel reading at mass that Sunday was about the parable of the seed in Matthew 13. The sower was spreading seed and some seed “fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Then I heard the words explaining the seed among the thorns, and it felt as though a knife penetrated my heart; it was a huge wake up call. “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” Yup! That pretty much described me; busy and occupied with working full time and worrying about my family.  God was way down on my list of priorities, after my family and job, finances and even relaxing at the lake on Sunday instead of attending mass.

I made a decision that day that I would never allow my faith to get choked out again by “worldly anxiety”. Instead I made a conscious decision to make my faith a priority, and life has never been the same. Shortly after that we sang Amazing Grace, and an overwhelming sense of ‘coming home’ poured over me. The love of the Father washed over me in crashing waves of love and tenderness; a new found peace and joy bubbled through me, and I knew in a heartbeat the comforting sense of belonging, that I was a beloved daughter of the King.

At first I shocked my family by diving headlong into my faith by going to daily mass and praying several hours a day, keeping my rosary beads with me constantly. I held on to my faith with both hands, afraid this new found peace would slip from my grasp, which of course is nonsense, since Jesus promised “to be with us always, until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).  Gradually I relaxed in my faith, feeling safe and secure, knowing I could clasp the Father’s hand any moment of the day. After all, my heart is a ‘dwelling place for Christ’ (Ephesians 3:16) and I carry my ‘home’ everywhere I go.

Going to the reunion we reconnected with lifelong friends who share similar backgrounds of large families, strict parents, hard work and sacrifice.  We all remember the prophetic words to the song You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet; we skated together to the music of Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson; we enjoyed delicious hot dogs and frothy root beer floats at the local A&W; we partied all night long at Grad Night in Disney World.  Growing up in the shadow of Cape Canaveral, we grieved together when three astronauts were shockingly burned to death in their capsule during testing on January 27, 1967.

These shared experiences are a powerful bond that ties us together, and for me they magnificently demonstrate the mighty tie binding together the body of Christ.   Last year Cathy Millian and several other alumnae gathered to plan this reunion, but unfortunately  Cathy was diagnosed with cancer a short time later.  Whether they had ever met her or not, former classmates from different years poured out of the woodwork to be there for our sick friend; to bring care packages, comfort, love and most of all, the gift of their presence.  Cathy was involved in all the preparations for our gathering, and was making telephone calls several days before her death making sure gift baskets were being prepared, encouraging classmates to come.  Sadly our dear friend passed away on September 17, 2014, exactly one week before the reunion, but you can be sure she was there with us in spirit.

All these beautiful classmates contributed to help me feel that I ‘belonged’, and were an incredible reflection of Christian love and being part of the family of God.  Even though I graduated in 1975, and this reunion was for my husband’s class of ’74, I couldn’t have felt more welcome!

Related Article:

Understanding Clouds

http://boilingfrogs.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/understanding-clouds-2/

My Heart, Christ’s Home

http://maryscatholicgarden.com/?s=My+Heart+Christ%27s+Home

Biltrix

Cultural Apologetics for the New Evangelization

Only the Lonely

The onliest life of solo

Writing Sisters

Your Story - Our Story - God's Story

Held By His Pierced Hands

The only life worth living is a life worth dying for.

Brendakaren's Weblog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Making All Things New

The former things have passed away... Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Godversations

Extraordinary lessons in ordinary moments

Into Stillness

All will be well and all will be well

MCCatholic - Making Scripture Known

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Mark S. Camp, Th.D., retired - Convert to the Catholic Church

A Pastor's Thoughts

Looking at the Contemplatives and Mystics

The Integrated Catholic Life™

Mary's Garden Gifts and Books Store is a Catholic store located in the Sandy Springs/ Norcross area in Georgia. We have a wide selection of gifts for all the sacraments and for any occasion. Come by or give us a call! Through our blog, we bring you thoughts about prayer, faith, scripture, church doctrine and anything else related to the Catholic faith.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 416 other followers