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Archive for March, 2013

Do you remember the story of Joseph and the infamous multi-colored coat? Joseph’s brothers were resentful and angry because their venerable father, Jacob, “loved Joseph best of all, for he was the child of his old age” (Gen 37:3).  As a sign of his favor, Jacob honored Joseph with an ornate robe, resplendent with vivid colors.  “When his brothers saw that father loved him best of all his brothers, they hated him so much that they could not find a kind word to him.”  The brothers’ envy simmered for years, until finally the day Joseph revealed a dream in which Joseph and his brothers were gathering sheaves. In the dream suddenly Joseph’s sheaf stood straight up, but his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to Joseph.  His brothers were outraged at the image of them bowing to him! This dream was the straw that broke the camel’s back, causing the floodgate to open, and years of pent-up jealously spilled over.  Callously his own kin sold Joseph to some traveling merchants for 20 pieces of silver.

Certainly Joseph’s siblings felt left out and unloved; Jacob’s single-minded devotion to their younger brother made them feel inconsequential and insignificant. They allowed their resentment to fester and grow until the green-eyed monster of envy reared it’s ugly head.  Most people experience envy because they feel they don’t matter, and that those who receive the most attention are more important and more loved.

“Many times psychologists would say that envy is an indication that an individual didn’t receive the love or affirmation they needed during childhood. All of these examples can lead the envious to the distorted thinking that, somehow, because ‘other’ is perceivably more gifted, they are therefore better, or more loved or favored.  These distorted views add to envy’s feeling of loss and sadness.  Envy’s emptiness is ultimately a lack of self-love and trust in God’s love, which threatens one’s sense of self-worth, thereby causing insecurity and fear. ” (Sally Kazin)

Growing up I was the youngest of five, and since mom was busy with five young children and her full-time job, I learned to stay quiet and out of the way.  I didn’t have any special talents and was a terrible athlete; naturally when teams were picked I was always the last choice.  So I can certainly relate to the brothers’ animosity of feeling unimportant and unappreciated.

In 1st Corinthian 12 St. Paul compares the body of Christ to our human body; every single person, whether brilliant and talented, or confused with dementia and crippled with arthritis, is equally important.  Can a body function without a heart, or lung?  Absolutely not!  In fact, the weakest parts are the most honored in God’s eyes. One verse in this chapter reminds us that “If one part is honored, all the parts share his joy”.  So if someone grabs your coveted promotion, or your sibling is “the favorite”, since we are the body of Christ and intricately linked, there is no need to feel jealous, as you still receive a share of God’s overflowing joy.

A few weeks ago the gospel reading was the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  A young man demands his inheritance from his father, and then proceeds to squander it on a “life of dissipation” Luke 15. In desperate financial circumstances the son returns home, and his father greets him with the “finest robe and fatted calf”.  The older, obedient son had worked hard his entire life helping his father without recompense, and now his younger wayward brother was being treated like a king!  Of course he furiously berated his father for his lack of appreciation for his years of hard labor.

Then the father looks at his older son kindly and lovingly and assures him that “everything I have is yours”.  But the older son was too preoccupied with his anger and resentment, and couldn’t see the tremendous treasure staring him in the face.  Just as we sometimes feel that God is uncaring when trials come our way.  Yet God has shared his own divine life with us; in our lifetime we will experience sickness and loss, but we will never lose the presence of our loving Savior.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit we have all the supernatural gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding and strength we will ever need!

God sacrificed his own son to bring us the gift of everlasting life; he held nothing back.  Perhaps because of lack of time and money, you may be unable to travel to exotic locales such as Hawaii or Rome.  But be patient, since even though we can’t visit all these places in this lifetime, in heaven every resort, every romantic city, and every exciting adventure awaits.  In heaven every tear will be wiped away, and we will never experience pain or anger or grief ever again.

Next week is Good Friday, and a wonderful time to meditate on the agony of Christ’s passion, the suffering he experienced, just for you, because you matter so much to him.  In today’s reflection from the Word AmongPassion Jesus bloody face Us, we’re told to “Enter into the reality of the Last Supper, the Passover meal where Jesus provides a way to remember and receive him. He did this for me. Watch with Jesus in the garden, where he suffers so intensely as he awaits his betrayer. He did this for me. See him dragged before the high priest, Herod, Pilate, the jeering crowd. He did this for me. Walk to Calvary, stand at the cross, mourn with Mary. And know, at every step of the way: he did this for me. This is how much he loves me.”

The Word Among Us (http://wau.org/meditations/current/)

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Cast Down

Many times in the New Testament Jesus refers to himself as “the Good Shepherd”, calling his children the sheep in his flock.  “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine, and mine know me.” John 10:14

Many years ago I read a wonderful book called “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”, by W. Phillip Keller, in A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Mass Market Edition   -             By: W. Phillip Keller    which he compares us to sheep.  Keller was both a sheep owner and sheep rancher, giving him peculiar insight into our relationship with the Good Shepherd.  As he explains, if a shepherd was concientious and responsible, his sheep thrived; conversely, if the shepherd was careless and irresponsible, his sheep would struggle and might even starve.  It’s no coincidence God likens us to sheep; as Keller explains “our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance”.  (From “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23)

In Psalm 23, King David describes the Good Shepherd, who would literally sacrifice himself in order to protect and save his sheep.  Once we make the choice to accept his authority, this compassionate and considerate Shepherd would move heaven and earth to keep us from being lost.

The first line of Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want”. This isn’t meant in a material sense; instead we “sheep” are content because no problem is too small for our caregiver.  We know deep in our heart that Jesus cares tenderly and passionately about every detail of our life; whether  it’s an overwhelming trial like cancer, or a little piddling problem of finding the right outfit for a special occasion. “He will spare himself no pains to provide shelters from storms, protection from ruthless enemies and the diseases and parasites to which sheep are so susceptible.”

Next “He makes me lie down in green pastures; “.  Sheep are nervous and highstrung, and easily spooked; if they are hungry, harassed by pesky flies,  or disturbed by a coyote, they remain agitated and tense, refusing to lay down and rest.  Sound familiar?  Keller discovered that nothing calmed his flock as much as his presence, which never failed to reassure and relax them.  In the same way, Christ’s presence “dispels the fear, the panic, the terror of the unknown”.

“He leads me beside the still waters”  It is crucial for sheep to have a consistent supply of pure, sparkling water, and the shepherd carefully leads his flock to the cleanest and choicest sources of water.  But there will always be a few stubborn sheep that wander off on their own, convinced they will find a better spot than one selected by their shepherd.  Unfortunately these sheep usually find the muddiest and filthiest spots, polluted with urine and parasites.  Echoing the obedient sheep who faithfully followed their leader, the most serene Christians are those that daily seek out the “quiet, still waters where they imbibe the very life of Christ.  One comes away from these hours of meditation, reflection, and communion with Christ refreshed in mind and spirit”.

Instead of being quiet and content in Christ, many people try to satisfy their thirst by pursuing wealth, careers or travel, thinking this will satisfy their gnawing restlessness.  Some turn to more destructive pastimes such as drugs, alcohol or sex, to quench their thirst.  But as St. Augustine tells us “O God, you have made us as your own, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”; only Christ can fill the vast hole in our hearts.

“He restores my soul”  The term “Cast down” is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has rolled on it’s back and gets stuck; it’s unable to get back up on it’s feet.  Sometimes the sheep’s fleece gets too long and gets matted with mud, leaves and branches, making it top-heavy.  If the sheep rolls too far on it’s back and the feet can’t touch the ground, it’s totally helpless.  Because it struggles to regain balance, gasses build up cutting off circulation; this condition is extremely dangerous, and in warm weather the sheep can die within a few hours.

In the Old Testament, wool represented our pride and selfishness, and high priests were forbidden to wear it in the Holy of Holies.  Just as sheep are sheared to get rid of their hot, heavy coat, filled with ticks, manure and sticks, so too does God use discipline to cut away our “coats” of materialism, arrogance and self-reliance.
Endure hardship as discipline, God is treating you as his children.  For what children are not disciplined by their father?  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Heb. 12

“The toughness it takes to face life and the formidable reverses which it brings to us can come only through the discipline of endurance and hardship.  In His mercy and love our Master makes this a part of our program.  It is part of the price of belonging to Him.”  In becoming the “new creation”, sometimes God prunes our heart of sin, of lustful desires, of the need to acquire more and more money, of our laziness and apathy, which weigh us down.  But then comes the joy when we lose those tendencies, and the captive is set free to live life abundantly, without fear!

“You anoint my head with oil”  Flies are an especially troubling problem for sheep; they lay eggs in their nostrils which burrow in deep causing severe inflammation and irritation.  If left untreated, the sheep may harm or even kill themselves butting into trees and rocks in an effort to ease the pain.  The treatment is a mixture of linseed oil poured over the sheep’s head, bringing instant relief from the annoying flies.

Christians are tormented by “flies” in the form of irritating family members or friends, misunderstandings, unforgiveness and hurt feelings, or by the ordinary frustrations of daily life; flat tires, broken appliances or a perhaps a traffic ticket. During difficult times God graciously pours out the gift of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, infusing us with wisdom, perseverance, peace and generosity, to transform our penchant for intolerance, envy and insecurity.  As mentioned in the book of James, Chapter 5, since the beginning of Christianity it has been customary for Christians to be anointed with fragrant oil for healing from serious or life-threatening illnesses, as well as at baptisms, confirmation and ordinations. The oil was used in the Old Testament to sanctify priests and prophets, and in the New Testament represents the power of the Holy Spirit.

From the Catechism No. 1293 “Anointing, in Biblical and other ancient symbolism, is rich in meaning: oil is a sign of abundance and joy; it cleanses (anointing before and after a bath) and limbers (the anointing of athletes and wrestlers); oil is a sign of healing, since it is soothing to bruises and wounds; and it makes radiant with beauty, health, and strength.”  The “oil” of the Holy Spirit cleanses, consecrates, heals, strengthens and comforts us.

Excerpts are from “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”


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A Year with Christ

Appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene after re...

Appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene after resurrection, Alexander Ivanov, 1835 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I had a wonderful time at a mom’s retreat lead by Betsy Orr.  The retreat was based on walking with Christ through the liturgical calendar.  We’re currently in the lenten season, which allows us to enter the desert for 40 days, delving into the time Jesus spent in a dry, barren place.  The 40 days reflects the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness.

After the sadness of watching Jesus die on Good Friday, we then joyfully exalt as death is vanquished, and we can victoriously proclaim “He is Risen”! We triumphantly share in the 50 days of Easter, accompanying Jesus as he appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden, and later to his apostles hunkered down in a hidden room.  We walk with him on the road to Emmaus, sometimes as blindly as the two disciples, who at first failed to recognize him.

Next on the calendar is the celebration of the birth of the Church – Pentecost!  The Holy Spirit exploded into the room where the disciples were fearfully secluded, and “tongues of fire” descended on each, empowering and strengthening them. Over 3,000 new Christians were baptized.

Our Church year officially begins with the first Sunday of Advent, and while the rest of the world is singing carols and decorating trees, we spend time praying and doing penance, immersed in purple candles and advent wreaths.  Then the long awaited Messiah is born, and we joyfully celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, God with us; he came as one of us, to personally lead us to salvation.

I grew up Presbyterian, with little emphasis on the liturgical season, so I loved some of Betsy’s ideas to decorate our homes as a reminder to everyone of the significance of each season.  Having little artistic talent, I went to Michaels and wandered through all the shoppers loading up their carts with Easter eggs, flowers and other spring decorations, feeling out of place as I searched for a simple wreath made from branches, and purple ribbon.  After wrapping the ribbon around the wreath, I hung it on our front door to reflect our time of wandering in the desert, spending time praying, fasting and giving alms.  I had a little piece of leftover purple ribbon, so I draped it on “El Cristo”, my statue of the risen Christ.  Another idea is from one of my customers, who wears purple every single day of the 40 days in Lent, to help her stay centered in the Lenten season of penance and meditation.

Many dress in green for St. Patrick’s Day, and in Atlanta we have a wonderful parade downtown, although it isn’t nearly as exuberant as the extravagant parade and celebration in Savannah!  There are lots of fun ideas we can incorporate into our daily lives to reflect our spiritual walk; on Pentecost wear red to reflect the Holy Spirit, and bake some cupcakes to celebrate the birth of the Church.  Everyone has heard of the infamous Mardi Gras revelry in New Orleans which ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the custom of eating richer, “fatty” foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.

St. Joseph’s feast day, March 19, is quite popular in the Italian tradition, and many celebrate this day with large gatherings of friends and family, serving up huge quantities of mouth-watering lasagna and stuffed pasta shells.  At Epiphany Catholic Church in Roswell, which is of the Byzantine Rite, St. Nicholas is an important saint, and his feast day is celebrated every year with a luncheon with the entire community.  A custom many observe is to exchange gifts on his feast day, and in Europe children put out their shoes the night before; in the morning all the “good” children will find apples, candy and other treats in their shoes.

In America there is so much emphasis on separating our faith from the secular world, that sometimes our faith can get lost.  When I visited Portugal many years ago, I was surprised to see statues and tiles of the saints in many businesses, with numerous Portuguese attending daily mass on their way home from work.  There was little division between their daily lives and their faith.  In Spain the celebration for St. James begins weeks before July 25, the towns are decorated with colorful banners and bunting, with the planning for the festive parade starting months before.

Some churches and groups have a party for All Saints Day, and to honor the saints, children dress up as St. Therese, St. Francis of Assisi and many of the other popular saints.  They are absolutely adorable!  One year I dressed up as Mother Teresa for the CCD children and gave them an opportunity to ask “her” questions they might have; the children were fascinated!

As she lead the retreat, Betsy described the chalkboard she keeps in a prominent place in her home, on which she highlights the name of the saint whose feast day it happens to be.  Does your family have a devotion to a certain saint?  If not, take a survey and pick one!  Have fun celebrating that particular saint with your own traditions.  With the recent retirement of Pope Benedict, the cardinals started meeting in preparation for the conclave to elect a new pope.  Once the new pope is announced, a wonderful way to mark this significant event is to drape gold and white crepe paper in your home, or attach colorful balloons on your mail box, announcing your excitement to all your neighbors.

I converted to the Catholic Church in large part because of the holiness of Pope John Paul.  He was “my pope”, and his passing was a moving experience.  I  memorialized his death with my neighbors and customers, by making two  huge bows out of black satin and tulle and placing them on the front doors of my home and business.  Decorating our homes, cooking ethnic meals on feast days, and gathering with friends and families are wonderful ways to integrate our faith into our everyday live; and of course a lighthearted way to evangelize!  Spicy Mexican tacos or burritos are a scrumptious way to celebrate the feast of Juan Diego, or Our Lady of Guadalupe.  A Hawaiian Luau would be an enchanting festivity for the feast of St. Damien!

Year of Grace Liturgical Calendar 2013 Laminated Poster

Year of Grace Liturgical Calendar 2013

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