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Archive for August, 2013

Peace, the elusive ideal and dream for so many since the beginning of time.  Sadly, violence, wars and unrest are increasing.  In this century world domination seems to be escalating, as well as the cases of genocide.  Kim Jong-il, Robert Mugabe, Hugo Chavez, Castro, Syrian President Assad, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir are just a few of the brutal dictators intent on dominating others through oppression, starvation and massacre.

You may not be old enough to remember an old song by John Lennon pleading for everyone to “give peace a chance” which came out in 1969, at the height of the Viet Nam ‘conflict’. 1969 was a turbulent, chaotic year filled with student protests and growing interest in the Civil Rights Movement.  It was a time of racial tension with groups such as the radical  Black Panthers and Black Power.  The following year in 1970, four students were gunned down in cold blood at a student protest at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard, and nine others suffered paralysis and other serious injuries.

Many tend to blame religion for the cause of war, but the word ‘religion’ simply describes the way in which one worships or believes in God.  War is all about power, control, wealth and domination; war is a result of man’s pride and arrogance, and virtually nothing to do with ‘worshiping God’.

From Pharaoh Thutmose III in 1490 BC who conquered Palestine, Syria, Nubia and Mesopotamia, to Alexander the Great in 320 BC and his empire which stretched from Greece to India, to notorious butcher Attila the Hun in 330 AD who ruled from Germany to the Caspian Sea, war and violence have been a constant in history,

Muslims claim to be a peaceful people, but their history is filled with domination and blood-thirsty conquest.  After Muhammad died in 632 the Arabs broke away from the Islam faith with tragic consequences.  The new head caliph, Abu Bakr, declared a jihad against the apostates and proceeded to slaughter tens of thousands of Arabs, which only ended when the tribes returned to the Muslim faith.

The next caliph, Omar, launched another campaign and by 650 had control of Mesapotamia, Syria, and the Persian Empire.  By the 8th century all of north Africa and parts of Spain, central Asia and India were seized,  Spain remained under Muslim control for 700 years, when finally King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and combined their forces.  Their united strength was enough to push the moors from Spain, and reclaim it once more as Christian.  Today the middle east is mostly Muslim and bitterly embroiled in violence and unrest, with horrific persecution of Christians.

Our President wants to start bombing Syria because supposedly their government has been tragically killing it’s own people with chemical weapons, continuing a history of persecution of those in the middle east.  In 1988 Saddam Hussein killed between 3,000 and 5,000 and injured almost 10,000 more with the same weapons, yet when we attacked Iraq, the chemical weapons had disappeared.  Some speculate that Hussein shipped them to Syria.  Sadly the rebels we will be assisting in Syria are the Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, both known for also murdering and torturing their people.  And there is speculation the rebels are actually responsible for the chemical genocide and that they framed Assad in order to entice the United States to intervene and help them oust their enemy.

To use our military to intervene in such a chaotic snakepit doesn’t make much sense in light of our past intervention in the middle east which has been unwanted by the people and woefully ineffective.  Our country has been increasing our indebtedness by almost a trillion dollars per year, so that we are now almost 17 trillion in debt, and we simply don’t have the resources to police the world and save the citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicauragua, Zimbawe, Libya, and Uganda and every where else that are being massacred and tortured.  We did stop Hussein and his horrific reign, but at what cost?  The physical and emotional toll of our soldiers is heart-breaking and life-long.  From Desert Storm to Iraq, military efforts to achieve peace have been futile.

When the Hutus in Rwanda slaughtered millions of their neighbors, the Tutsis, in Rwanda in 1994, sadly America looked the other way.  I believe we could have easily and successfully intervened and saved millions of lives, but we did nothing.  Rarely is good and evil defined so clearly as in Rwanda, where there was absolutely no question the Hutus were on the warpath to wipe out the Tutsis.  The source of the middle eastern persecution of it’s people is much more muddled, as both the rebels and government have been equally to blame.

From the time of Moses the Jews have had a brutal history of persecution and enslavement.  Christians too have certainly conquered land, many times peacefully, and at times with violence.  Protestants and Catholics in Ireland Queen Elizabeth I, another version of the Clopton Portraithave been at war for 1,000 years, and during the Protestant Reformation Queen Elizabeth I would execute anyone refusing to forsake the Catholic faith, while her half-sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary burned at the stake over 300 ‘heretics’.

Pope Francis has warned that “Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake,” The pontiff added. “War begets war, violence begets violence.”  So how do we achieve world peace?  By gaining peace in our own heart; we have to lose our own anger and resentment.  Only after we have peace in our own heart, can we strive for peace in our family.  Peace between families can lead to peace between neighbors, and then peace between cities and countries.  But to obtain peace, each person must make a conscious decision to let go of hostility. As long as one hangs on to revenge and has angst over the past, or lusts for wealth and power, there will never be peace.

St. Paul tells in Phil. 4:8 that through “prayer and petition” we will have the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding”.  And before Jesus was crucified, he warned his disciples of the coming tension in John 16, and reassured them with this promise “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

My prayer for you all “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Roman 15:13)

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It was really sad to hear about the suspensions of baseball player Alex Rodriguez and 12 other players as a result of their use of performance enhancing drugs.  Rodriguez also lied about his drug use, and tried to impede the investigation.  Fans were shocked several years ago at the revelation that famed athletes Barry Bonds and record setter Mark McGuire also used drugs to improve their playing abilities.  Last year cyclist fans were stunned at the news that world-famous Lance Armstrong, winner of the Tour de France seven times, was banned forever from competing in any sport, and was stripped of all his titles, due to his illegal drug usage.

It seems a code of ethics has been dropped from the lives of many in their quest to further their career.  This is also true of other professions, especially in the corporate world.  To gain the next promotion, or win games or races, these cheaters will cut any corners, use illegal drugs, or squash anyone who gets in their way.

It’s truly hard to believe that athletes as talented as Mark McGuire and Lance Armstrong would risk their reputations, careers and health in their elusive search for fame.  When confronted with their illicit activities, they lied and did everything they could to hide the truth.  They don’t care about the grief and anguish of their loved ones – nothing else matters but winning.

I grew up in a family who had little interest in sports, and was quite ignorant of the passion and zeal of sports fans.  I was a teenager when I met my husband, and made the mistake one year during the World Series of turning the television channel in his parent’s house to a show I enjoyed.  After all, no one else was in the room.  I quickly learned I had committed a faux pas of epic proportions, as my future mother-in-law, an avid fan, was listening to the World Series game from the kitchen.  I never made that mistake again!

My husband is a devoted sports fan, and explained to me the enormous amount of money at stake for today’s athletes; top salaries are almost 30 million PER YEAR.  Using performing enhancement drugs can lead to a veritable pot of gold.  Salaries for baseball players are up a whopping 6,600%.  In 1975 Pete’s Rose’s salary was a measly $175,500.00.  So today there is a much greater incentive to engage in risky and illegal behavior.

Cheating is at an all time high in schools; according to a 2002 survey of 12,000 high school students, 74 percent admitted cheating on a test at least once in the past year.  Students rationalize that their entire future hinges on getting grades high enough to attend the best schools.  Here in Atlanta 35 teachers, principals and other staff have been indicted for changing failing grades to passing grades in order to obtain generous federal funding.

Every day we are faced with moral dilemmas; we might have been given too much change or been undercharged at a store; we might have spoken in anger or been too critical; you may work for a company which is taking advantage of senior citizens or engaging in other unethical practices; you might have bumped into a parked car at the grocery store and damaged it.  Sometimes doing the right thing can cost you a lot of money or time.  I have adopted a motto to “always do the right thing”, but I’ll be the first to admit it takes a lot of prayer, courage and discernment.  Making the right choice isn’t always crystal clear; other times you know exactly what to do, but it would put you severely in the hole financially.

Sharing your dilemma with your spouse or someone with high moral caliber will guide your decision.  I never found the WWJD phrase (what would Jesus do) very helpful, because even though I try to imitate him, Jesus’ holiness seems beyond my grasp.  Instead, I think of a holy friend and ask my self “what would so and so do”.   I also search scripture for answers to life’s tough moral challenges.

In Jesus’ time the tax collectors demanded payment of taxes from the disciples; since they had no money they came to Jesus for help.  In Matthew 17:24  Jesus advised them to “go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”  They were blessed for trying to do the right thingGod can only bless us when we are striving to live moral, holy lives; of course we will fall short, but we have to keep pursuing perfection.

The pharisees tried to trap him with words and in Matthew 22 asked Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  Our Christian faith definitely calls us to follow our civil laws, as long as they aren’t in opposition to God’s moral law.

Moral integrity and character seem to be in short supply and we must be a light in the darkness.  Rather than spending your life  trying to gain fleeting wealth and fame, seek instead the priceless treasure of everlasting life that “no thief can reach nor moth destroy” (Luke 12:34)  Then we too can say:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2nd Tim. 4:7)

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Back in 1998 I had the privilege to travel to Portugal and Spain on a pilgrimage with about 20 others.  The flight was long, lasting most of the night, with quite a few playful, loud children on board who were going to Europe to visit grandparents.  I didn’t sleep a wink, and I was tired and cranky when we arrived in Lisbon.  I thought we would go to a hotel where I could freshen up and perhaps rest for a few hours and most importantly eat a hot breakfast of bacon and eggs, accompanied by a steaming cup of hot coffee.

Things didn’t happen quite as I expected; instead of sleep and food, as soon as we left the airport we were loaded onto a bus and carted off on a whirlwind tour of Lisbon.  As you can imagine I didn’t care about sight-seeing, I wanted food!  I was getting more and more irritable when we pulled up to a church and unloaded.  As we entered the Church of the Holy Miracle we lined up to view a host enshrined in an elaborate gold monstrance on top of a tabernacle.  As the tour guide started to describe the incredible miracle, I felt like the most ungrateful, self-centered person in the universe!

The relic dates back to the 1200’s when a woman was going to steal it and take it to a sorceress;  on the way the host started miraculously bleeding! She took the pulsating host to the local priest, who carried it in procession back to St. Stephen’s Church. There it has remained to the present day.  The relic was scientifically analyzed in 1997 and proved to contain actual flesh and blood.  Over 750 years later the blood is still in liquid form and somehow has never dried up.

Over the centuries there have been over a hundred similar miracles, most of them in Europe.  One of the earliest and most famous relics is in Lanciano, Italy.  The name ‘Lanciano’ means ‘The Lance’, and according to tradition is the town where the centurion, Longinus, was from.  If you recall, Longinus pierced Jesus’ heart after he was crucified.

The Lanciano miracle occurred when a monk was having a crisis of faith and doubted the ‘real presence’ of Jesus in the Eucharist.  The monk prayed fervently for God to remove his doubts, and God graciously complied.  One day the monk was consecrating a host for mass, when his hands began to shake at the wondrous sight before him.  The bread somehow extraordinarily turned into real flesh and the wine turned into real blood!

In 1970 the Lanciano miracle was dissected  and the scientists concluded that it was human flesh and blood, type AB, and that it contained the same proteins as fresh blood, which normally disappear within 20 minutes after blood is drawn.  The flesh was determined to be heart muscle.  In 1978 a team of NASA scientists were examining the Shroud of Turin and discovered the blood type on the Shroud is type AB, matching the blood type on the relic of Lanciano.

Just as “doubting Thomas” declared when he heard of Jesus’ appearance to the other disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:24), so Christians for centuries have doubted the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  From the moment Jesus gave his discourse on the bread of life, many of his followers  refused to believe and turned away.

To strengthen our weak faith, at different times Jesus has graciously performed many eucharistic miracles.  Two great books about these phenomena are “Eucharistic Miracles” by Joan Carol Cruz, and “This is My Body, This is My Blood, Miracles of the Eucharist” by Bob and Penny Lord.

Sadly, doubt is quite prevalent today concerning many of the harder teachings of the Catholic Church.  Two which seem to cause the most controversy and are the most opposed by society are the Church’s stance on the act of homosexuality and it’s doctrine on contraception.  Jesus did ‘prove himself’ by mysteriously appearing through locked doors to Thomas and the other disciples saying ‘Peace be with you’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe’.  Thomas answered and said to him ‘My Lord and my God!'”

So during those times of doubt or confusion, whether you are doubting God’s ability to provide for you, or you are struggling to accept the more difficult teachings of the Church, cry out to God for help, just as did the father with the demon-possessed son in Mark 9:24 “I do believe, help my unbelief!”, and let God reveal himself to you.

Related articles:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/2528832/posts

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