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Archive for May, 2013

Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. (From Wikipedia)

My friend, Linda Schaefer, probably embodies serendipity more than any other person I have ever met.  From her childhood spent wandering with the gypsies living in tents in Portugal, to photographing the poor and homeless in New York City, this free spirit ‘accidently’ met some of the greatest saints who walked the face of the earth.

As a struggling photographer living in SOHO Linda was asleep one morning, when she was awakened by a large ruckus outside.  When she peeked out her window, she found herself staring into the twinkling eyes of Pope John Paul II, who proceeded to bless her!  The Pope just happened to visiting New York City and parading down the street past her loft at that exact moment!

Linda has always had a heart devoted to the poor and underprivileged, and one day she bravely flew to India to seek approval from Mother Teresa to photograph her work.  Mother Teresa turned down her request, but invited her to ‘come and see’ and to work at the Missionaries of Charity orphanage.  Linda acquiesced and later moved on to volunteer in Kalighat at the home for the sick and dying.  At the end of volunteering to help the poorest of the poor, Linda again met with Mother Teresa and asked permission to photograph her work.  Mother turned her down once more, and Linda proceeded to do what no photo-journalist ever does; she burst into tears!

I think Mother Teresa recognized the purity of Linda’s intentions, and then graciously consented to allow Linda full access to the work of the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity.  The result is a compilation of Linda’s experiences and extraordinary photographs in a book titled “Come and See:  A Photojournalist’s Journey into the World of Mother Teresa”.

Serendipitously Linda was able to attend the beatification of Mother Teresa, and was sought out by CNN and Prophetess of Our Timeother news agencies for interviews because of her extensive knowledge of the holy saint.  Linda thought her mission was over, but on the flight home was encouraged by a fellow passenger to continue exploring Mother Teresa’s life.  An anonymous benefactor enabled her to interview Msgr. Esseff, one of the spiritual directors for the Missionaries of Charity, as well as Sr. Tarcisia, one of Mother’s close associates.  She was also able to meet Fr. Benedict Groeschel, who was the liaison between the Archdiocese of New York and Mother Teresa for several decades.

The new book is hot off the press and entitled “Prophetess of our Time”; through her interviews Linda has painted an inspiring and humorous picture of Mother filled with anecdotes and unknown revelations.  My favorite is Mother’s encounter with Daniel Ortega and the baptism of  his seven children. Another favorite is Mother’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, and her relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

One of my favorite scripture verses is Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your intelligence do not rely; in all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.”   From new age, to the ashrams in India, to Catholicism, Linda has repeatedly given up her preconceived notions and allowed God to lead her in the direction HE wants her to go.  A wonderful lesson for all of us!

 

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Growing up Presbyterian I was taught Sola Scriptura:  scripture alone.  In other words, the only authority basilica, st. peter, st peters basilica picture, picturewhen it comes to our faith is the Bible.  Interestingly enough, the Bible doesn’t claim to be the only authority.  In fact, in 1st Timothy 3:15 the Bible calls the Church “the pillar and foundation of truth”.    The problem with the premise of the Bible being the sole authority is that every single protestant denomination has their own interpretation of most scripture verses.

At the Reformation there were over eighty different interpretations of the verse in John 6:51 when Jesus declared “I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die...The Jews quarreled among themselves asking ‘How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat”.  Jesus reiterated his meaning by saying “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. “

Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists interpret this verse to be symbolic; when they receive communion it ‘represents’ Christ, but doesn’t actually become his flesh and blood.  The Lutherans and Episcopalians believe the Eucharist truly becomes the flesh and blood of Jesus, but that it retains it’s properties of bread and wine.  For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has interpreted Jesus’ words to mean the Eucharist is completely transformed, becoming his flesh and blood, and that it is no longer bread and wine.

So the million dollar question; whose interpretation is correct?  Jesus emphasized his meaning again when he said “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink”, yet many protestant ministers claim we can’t take Jesus literally; of course he didn’t mean for us to eat his flesh!  But in the first century Ignatius of Antioch, who was appointed bishop by John the Evangelist, warned the Gnostics they were in danger of losing their salvation if they denied the Eucharist was the flesh of Jesus.

I’m assured by protestant ministers the Bible is crystal clear, but it seems to be easily understood only if you agree with their interpretation.  Look at all the confusion between so many different denominations concerning the meaning of just one scripture verse; and the controversies didn’t end after Jesus was crucified.  In Acts Chapter 15 the question of circumcision arose; some were teaching the Mosaic law that one had to be circumcised in order to be saved.  Paul and Barnabas and the others argued over the question of circumcision, and finally they decided to go to Jerusalem to meet with the presbyters and apostles to resolve the issue.

Their gathering became known as the Council of Jerusalem, and it was the first council to hammer out doctrine for the new church.  Through much discussion they decided new converts did NOT have to be circumcised, thus establishing a precedent for resolving further issues.  Notice they didn’t examine scripture, or claim scripture had the sole answer; instead they discussed the matter until Peter reminded the assembly that salvation came through grace, and they were able to reach a consensus.

Emphasizing the importance of the magisterium, in 2nd Timothy 2, St. Paul advises Christians to stay faithful to the doctrine he has given “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.”

In the following years each century would bring fresh disputes and new councils.  From the Kerinthians at the end of the first century, to the Valentinians in the second century, who believed Christ’s body was an optical illusion, the teachings of the apostles have been disputed.  In the fourth century the Church lost three-fourths of it’s members to the Arianism heresy, which taught that Christ was created, so there was a time when he didn’t exist.  Ergo, Arianism denied the doctrine of the Trinity.

Thankfully St. Augustine’s mentor, St. Ambrose, was able to lead many of the strays back into the fold.  The result of the challenge to the doctrine of the Trinity was the Council of Nicaea, which took place in Asia Minor.  In those days travel was difficult, so the Pope sent representatives, and some of the the western bishops were unable to attend, resulting in a larger number of Eastern bishops.  After heated debate, the assembly formulated the Nicene Creed, affirming the existence of the Trinity from the beginning of time.  Can you believe it took four centuries to hammer out the doctrine of the Trinity?

But there was still some controversy over the term “one in being with the Father”.  Did the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or from the Father alone?  This question would haunt the Church forever, rearing it’s ugly head in 1054, when the Eastern Church split from the Western Church, in part over this very issue.

Disputes continued with the Appolinarists in the fourth century (denial of Christ’s two natures), Donatism in the fifth century (belief that validity of the sacraments depended on the holiness of the priest, rather than on Christ’s grace), Monophysitism in the sixth century, Monothelitism in the seventh century, Manicheism in the eighth century, and on and on to this century and the Feeneyites.  Presently there are dozens of mainstream protestant denominations and tens of thousands of non-denominational churches, all with their own interpretation of the Bible.

The book “Dissent From the Creed” lists every disputed doctrine from the beginning of the Church to the present day.  After the apostles died, there was tremendous confusion and every Tom, Dick and Harry had their own version of Christianity.  After much discussion, it was decided only doctrine personally received from the apostles would be acceptable; if it wasn’t personally handed down by an apostle, it was rejected.  The writings of some of these first bishops are still available in a book titled “Early Christian Writings”.

Just as the Constitution of the United States has the Supreme Court to interpret it’s meaning, so too the Bible by itself can be confusing and hard to understand.  In Acts 8, when Philip came upon the Ethiopian eunuch, he found him reading the Old Testament and asked “Do you understand what you are reading?”  The eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?

Before one word of the New Testament was written, the Church was active and vibrant, vigorously teaching and admonishing new converts.  The bishops compiled the New Testament in the decades after the creation of the Church.  The earliest books of the New Testament were written around 60 AD, but a complete list, or canon, of books wasn’t compiled until the second century.  The list was not officially accepted until the year 393 at the Synod of Hippo.  So it doesn’t make sense the Bible is the sole authority, since it was the Catholic Church which put the New Testament together!

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Antidote to Evil

It seemed an ordinary, older home in a slightly run-down neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio.  Who could ever have guessed this unassuming house hid such horrendous, terrifying secrets.  Three women were chained, tied up, held captive and regularly beaten and assaulted on a regular basis for a decade by a depraved man named Ariel Castro.

In the same week Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor, was on trial for the grisly murder of newborn babies who had somehow managed to survive their mother’s abortion.  The details of their horrific deaths are too appalling and gruesome to list… Last month two Muslim terrorists (two brothers named Tsarnaev) displayed their hatred by setting off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, senselessly killing 3 people and severely injuring hundreds.  One family lost their 8 year old son that ghastly day; tragically the same family’s beautiful little Irish dancing 7 year old daughter lost her leg in the explosion.

Hearing of the experiences of these innocent women, babies and children has literally left me heartsick.  But evil is not isolated to areas far from my quiet little suburb of Atlanta. We recently found out that at the end of my tranquil, picturesque street, appropriately named Maple Lane, a single mom had a boyfriend who it turns out was running a dangerous meth lab in her house.

On my friendly street where we ladies gather for bunco once a month and chat with each other over our fences, one emotionally troubled neighbor simply exploded last fall, and kidnapped his wife with the intent to end her life.  Miraculously she escaped, but her husband then committed suicide. Evil lurks everywhere and rears it’s ugly head in the most expensive neighborhoods, the ritziest schools and in the most prominent businesses.

I have spent time pondering the hearts of  these monsters, Gosnell, Castro and Tsarnaev, and I simply can’t grasp the depths of such depravity.  Torture is so prevalent in South America that there are clinics here in America to help survivors heal and somehow find a measure of peace.  The sex slave trade of children and women is enormous, both here in the US and around the world, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  Sin and evil flourish in the ghettos of New York City, and in the most sacred churches in Rome.  How can such hatred and violence exist in souls designed to dwell in God’s covenant?  I simply have no answer to the existence of such evil.

Through sleepless nights praying for the countless victims who suffer terrible anguish on a daily basis, the only answer I receive is to pray more and to strive to keep growing spiritually.  As Mother Teresa tells us, we must become like “a pencil in God’s hand”.  The more we strive for holiness, the more filled we are with God’s grace.  The more we lose our selfishness and pride, the more God can use us to soothe wounded souls, and in the words of St. Francis, use us to bring light to darkness, hope to the despairing, and faith to the doubting.  We’re more able to share God’s forgiveness and mercy with a world held captive by lust and shame.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” 2nd Corin. 10:4.  Our prayer can tap into God’s mighty army of angels and disable the dark forces arrayed against us.  In 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan, a small community of eight Jesuit priests and their buildings completely escaped harm, even though they were located just blocks from ground zero. Everything else within a radius of 1.5 kilometres from ground zero was obliterated.  One of the surviving priests, Fr. Hubert Schiffer,  told the Eucharistic Congress of Philadelphia in 1976, that 200 scientists could find no scientific explanation for the sparing of his community. Fr. Schiffer believed the rosary they recited daily wrapped them under the protection of Mary’s mantle, shielding them from the atomic blast.

Prayer can convert the most perverted child molester, or the most heinous serial murderer.  Serial rapist and murderer Ted Bundy, who was responsible for the horrific deaths of hundreds of young women, had a conversion experience shortly before his execution. He was lead to Christ by Attorney John Tanner, who met and prayed with Bundy at least 50 times.

Are you praying 30 minutes a day?  Good…perhaps you can increase your prayer time to an hour a day.  Are you trying to live a holy and sacramental life?  Or are you part of the problem?  Do you look at pornography, or graphic romance novels?  Or perhaps you think the violent and sexually charged movies you watch, or those graphic video games you play don’t matter.  Or that God doesn’t really care if you and your boyfriend are intimate before marriage.  But it DOES matter – my sin affects you, and your holiness affects me, since we are linked as the body of Christ.  God is calling us ALL to holiness, to become as Matthew Kelly describes in his books, the “best version of yourself”.

The bible is clear about the best way to fight evil.  We’re instructed to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). But don’t make the mistake of thinking Christians are doormats.  We have to stand firm against abuse and corruption every chance we get; to make a stand to help the downtrodden and those who are treated unjustly.  When possible we must calmly confront those who are taking advantage or cheating others.  I’m sure you have heard the cliche “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’“. But as any whistle-blower can tell you, when you expose those who are stealing or embezzling, or reveal the actions of a pervert, prepare yourself for all hell to break loose.  Prepare to be shunned by family and friends; be prepared to lose your job.

When confronting evil, the bible instructs us  “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  When you encounter pure evil, anger is useless; it simply fuels the fire, stealing your peace.  Romans 12 also tells us “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Scam artists, corrupt politicians, apathy, alcoholism, racism, drug addiction, senseless murders…life can be grim.  When faced with the worst life can bring, the above verse has brought me enormous comfort.  We all desire for justice to prevail; for right to outweigh wrong; too often evil appears to triumph.  But remember, on the last day “everyone will be held accountable for every word spoken” (Matthew 12:36.)  Gosnell, Castro and so many other degenerates will have their day of judgment; they will meet their maker and be held accountable for every single action.  Instead of harboring bitterness, I can relax and let go of my anger, remembering God’s promise in Psalm 37:

 “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.”

So when you feel overwhelmed by the crushing weight of misery and sorrow in the world, remember in the final analysis that God’s peace and love will be victorious – the light of Christ will overcome the darkness of the world, as Christ himself said “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16

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