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Archive for March, 2014

Last Saturday I had the privilege to attend a day retreat for women lead by Fr. Michael Silloway and Gayle Ohrenberger, Campus Minister at St. Piux X High School.  In his first talk, Fr. Silloway quoted Pope John Paul II “both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God’s image”.  He went on to explain that even though men and women are equal in dignity, they are different physically and emotionally.

Through much of history women have been dominated and oppressed, creating a legacy for some women today who fiercely  defend their role in society as ‘equal’ to men.  They forget that women are NOT the same as men; women have their own unique set of gifts endowed by God that are different from men.  As Fr. Silloway explains “the world tells us to be one thing, but God is calling us to be something else.”  I have two women friends who are amazingly talented and have both participated in the Warrior Dash; part of the race is to leap over a raging, intense fire.  Shannon Pable, pictured on the left racing to the finish, is a master arborist with her own landscaping company, and is also a magnificent artist and interior designer.  But she is one of the most feminine women you would ever meet.  She excels for the sake of excelling, not because she has to ‘prove’ anything.  If you are a woman and love to participate in the Ironman Triathlon or the Warrior Dash, do it because you enjoy it, not because you have to prove you are equal to men.

Women are so important to God that He used a woman at every significant moment of salvation history.  In the Book of Judith, we learn about Judith, the courageous woman of faith who virtually single-handedly saves the entire city of Bethulia.  King Nebuchadnezzar sent an army to conquer Israel, which was ready to pounce on Bethulia.  All of the inhabitants, including the cowardly city’s elders, were petrified and thought it was futile to resist. Ready to surrender to the enemy, Judith berated the townspeople “for their lack of faith as she professes her complete trust in the salvation that comes from the Lord.”  (From Women’s Indispensable Role in Salvation History below) 

Judith was a widow whose husband had died three years before.  Though she was described as “beautiful in appearance and very lovely to behold“(Judith 8:7), she wore “sackcloth and widow’s clothing”, and fasted most days, living in a tent.  This humble woman, whose faith never wavered, prepared to confront the enemy by imploring God for strength, reminding him of the pride and arrogance of the Assyrians, in contrast to God’s omnipotence and power.  She begged him to defeat the enemy through the hands of a weak woman, just as He delivered His people in the past by unusual means.  She cried out “Make every nation and every tribe know clearly that you are God, the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who shields the people of Israel but you alone.” (Judith 9:14)

Setting aside her sackcloth, Judith washed and perfumed her body, and dressed in festive robes and costly bracelets, rings and earrings.  With her maid she proceeded to the enemy camp and was presented before the depraved leader, Holofernes.  Entranced by her beauty, Holofernes was determined to seduce her and invited her to a banquet.  “Holofernes, charmed by her, drank a great quantity of wine, more than he had ever drunk on any days since he was born.” (Judith 12)  After being left alone with the lascivious, inebriated  leader, Judith prayed “Give me strength this day, O Lord God of Israel!” (Judith 13:7). Then taking his own sword, she cut off his head and delivered it to the elders of her town.

Queen Esther is another woman dauntless in faith who played an important role in our history of salvation.  Esther was a humble Jewish maiden chosen by King Ahasuerus to be his new queen.  Upon learning of the scheme of Haman, an official of the King, to kill the entire population of Jews, her uncle, Mordecai, asked for Esther to plead for mercy from her husband, the King.   He reminded her that God had blessed  her and said “who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).  Knowing she could face death if she approached the King without an invitation, she proclaimed a fast for three days of mourning for all the Jewish people in preparation.  Then dressed in all her finery, she courageously visited Ahasuerus and was warmly welcomed.  Mesmerized by her glowing beauty, the King was horrified by Haman’s vile plans, and ordered him to be hanged on the very gallows Haman had prepared for the Jews.

The bravery of these heroic women saved an entire people!  Statistically men tend to be bigger and stronger physically than women, but don’t be fooled into thinking women are the ‘weaker’ sex.  Both Judith and Esther used their very beauty as women to manifest God’s power.  Women shouldn’t need to ‘prove’ that they are physically as strong as men; after all, David defeated Goliath with cunning, not power.  Certain qualities belong to men, and some to women; they are complimentary.  Women tend to be more nurturing and compassionate, as well as more sensitive and intuitive.  Men tend to be more decisive and have an innate need to provide for their families; they also tend to be ‘fixers’ and problem solvers.

Pope John Paul II tells us to rejoice in our femininity and the unique gifts that make us women.  As Fr. Michael reminded us “Too often we find our identity in what we do, not from who we are.”  In his Letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Pope John Paul II tell us  “The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity; they are merely different. Hence, a woman, as well as a man, must understand her ”fulfillment” as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the ”image and likeness of God” that is specifically hers.”

Condoleezza Rice cropped.jpgWherever God has placed you today, whether as a teacher, CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a doctor, lawyer, or cleaning lady, he plans to use you in a mighty way. Whether you are the Secretary of State, or  a stay-at-home mom, you are extremely valuable to God and to His plans.  Christianity is being attacked from all sides; our world is full of broken, hurting people.  But you are exactly where you are for “such a time as this”.  Take time today to ponder God’s plan for you, for your unique role in salvation.  Maybe God is calling you to have another child, who may grow up to be the scientist who finds a cure for AIDS; maybe He is calling you to join a prayer group and become a more powerful prayer warrior. Perhaps he is calling you to become a spiritual director and walk with others on their spiritual journey.

Just as Mary pondered Jesus’ words, try to increase your prayer time and spend a few minutes each day immersed in His Word.  My favorite devotional is The Word Among Us; some prefer the Magnificat.  Whatever means you choose, be disciplined and consistent.

“Let the Word of God dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God”. Colossians 3:16

Related articles:
Women’s Indispensable Role in Salvation History http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2bvm15.htm

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To Bake a Cake Or Not

I recently visited Nashville and had a great time in this raucous, bustling town.  Back in the 1800’s it was a booming city on the frontier, with saloons filled with gamblers and whiskey. In 1885  Captain Thomas Ryman owned 35 riverboats and many saloons, providing him with an ample income.  A thorn in his side and a threat to his wealth was a preacher by the name of Reverend Sam Jones.  On May 10, Captain Ryman went with some friends to one of Rev. Jones’ tent revivals to stir up trouble.  But instead of disrupting the revival, Ryman was deeply touched by Jones’ preaching.  The Captain experienced an earth shattering conversion and had a miraculous change of heart.  Afterward, filled with religious zeal, he refused to lease any more bar space for the purpose of selling liquor on his riverboats.

With his new religious fervor, Ryman vowed to build a meeting hall with the capacity to hold the enormous crowds thronging to hear Sam Jones and others preach. He wanted to make sure the crowds had access to a structure sturdier than a revival tent.  The new facility cost around $100,000 and took seven years to complete; it was called the Union Gospel Tabernacle.   On June 1, 1892 Rev. Jones preached for the first time in the meeting place built in his honor.

After Captain Ryman died in 1904, Rev. Jones urged the name of the hall to be changed to Ryman Exterior View of the Ryman AuditoriumAuditorium, in honor of its founder.  The auditorium eventually became known for hosting the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show from 1943 until 1974, when the new Grand Ole Opry auditorium and recording studio was built in a different part of town.

I love the story of Captain Ryman because it reflects the power of the gospel, as well as the importance of communicating this message to sinners.  Currently there is a huge controversy brewing with several lawsuits against Christians who refused to provide service to homosexuals because of their religious convictions.  A photographer refused to photograph the wedding of a gay couple, and a baker refused to bake a wedding cake for two men’s wedding.  The baker, Jack Phillips, did offer to make brownies or anything else the couple wanted, as the judge residing over the lawsuit noted  “Phillips believes that if he uses his artistic talents to participate in same-sex weddings by creating a wedding cake, he will be displeasing God and acting contrary to the teachings of the Bible.”

The judge went on to say this “fails to take into account the cost to society and the hurt caused to persons who are denied service simply because of who they are”, and ordered Phillips to bake wedding cakes for any future same-sex couples.  According to the judge, Phillips’ religious rights aren’t applicable when it comes to refusing to embrace  gay marriage.  Since the baker still refuses to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples, he could possibly be thrown in jail.

Many Americans are equating this case to the discrimination faced by blacks under the Jim Crow laws.  I fail to see the correlation, since the discrimination from the Jim Crow laws was by whites refusing to serve another race, while this ‘discrimination’ involves a man refusing to ‘participate’ in the sexual act of two other men.  A black man, or Jew, or Asian or Hispanic is unable to change their race, and should never be discriminated against or refused service based on the color of their skin or race.

In contrast, the baker didn’t simply refuse service – his deeply held religious convictions prevented him from participating in a sexual union.  Restaurants and retail stores are not refusing to serve gay men or women, gays aren’t forbidden to ride buses or purchase homes.  As Erick Erickson explained in his article Yes, Jesus Would Bake a Cake “The disagreement comes on one issue only — should a Christian provide goods and services to a gay wedding. That’s it. We’re not talking about serving a meal at a restaurant. We’re not talking about baking a cake for a birthday party. We’re talking about a wedding, which millions of Christians view as a sacrament of the faith and others, mostly Protestant Christians, view as a relationship ordained by God to reflect a holy relationship.”  It is truly frightening that in a country based on religious freedom, a man could go to jail for making a stand for his Christian faith.  I firmly support anyone’s religious freedom, and feel it is absolutely wrong to coerce someone to violate those convictions.

Phillips’ lead attorney, Nicolle Martin, with the Alliance Defending Freedom, explains “American citizens should not have to live in fear of a prison sentence merely for disagreeing with the government’s opinion. All Americans should remain free to honor God in our lives and in our work. The government has no business threatening Americans with jail time for simply exercising their constitutionally-protected freedoms of religion and speech. Every American, whatever you think about this issue, should fear a government that ignores the First Amendment in order to exercise this kind of power over its citizens.”

Even though I support the rights of these Christians, I do wonder if a different approach might be more beneficial.  What if Phillips had agreed to bake the wedding cake, and then used that opportunity to share his evangelical faith with the other two men.  Perhaps he could explain that God created man and woman to become one flesh, and that to be a sacramental marriage, the union must be procreative, capable of producing children.  Possibly he could have shared the story of the women caught in adultery and explain that even though God loves all his children, black, white, gay, straight, alcoholic, adulterer, etc., he asks for a certain purity from them.  Phillips could have shared Jesus’ words to the adulteress “go and sin no more”.

The evangelical could have explained that God only wants to protect his children, and a homosexual lifestyle is destructive, both physically and emotionally.  Sadly, homosexuals suffer from depression and other emotional disorders at a disproportionate rate compared to straight individuals, with a resulting higher ratio of suicides.  Those in the LGBT community claim discrimination and bullying is the reason for such widespread unhappiness, and these actions may contribute to the high numbers, but in and of itself that explanation fails to tell the entire story.

The statistics in the gay culture are far grimmer than the rosy picture portrayed by the movie industry.  As Hollywood pushes their ‘gay agenda’ to normalize homosexual behavior, it has become more acceptable in our culture than it ever has before (at least since the times of the Roman Empire), yet the suicide rates continue to rise in the LGBT community.  Physical abuse and addictions are additional issues which plague homosexuals at higher rates.

Promiscuity rates are far higher among gays, resulting in AIDs infections of gay men almost three times the incidences of heterosexual men.  Violence among same-sex partners is on the rise as well.  According to  the Community Programs Coordinator at The Network/La Red, a Boston-based domestic violence support group specifically for LGBTQ people, same sex domestic violence is the new silent epidemic.

Pope Francis emphasized the importance of a compassionate heart stating “sterile priests do not help the Church,” and referred to the Church as a “field hospital” where injuries are treated.  Theories abound about the origins of homosexuality – some experts claim trauma, such as sexual or physical abuse, can trigger gender confusion.  Others claim those with same-sex attraction are simply born that way, which doesn’t quite gel when you survey identical twins and discover one is gay, and the other is not.

Our world is filled with hurting, trouble people in need of the gospel of Christ.  Whatever the origin, those with same-sex attractions need healing; they need us to share God’s abundant love and tenderness.  Just as Rev. Jones’s words pierced the avarice in Captain Ryman’s heart, our words can set others free from anger, depression, unforgiveness, loneliness and insecurity.  Only through much prayer and discernment can you make the difficult decision to reach out to gay couples with love and compassion and be a ‘part’ of their wedding, or to stand up for your faith and refuse to participate in a union that cannot be blessed with God.  Whatever your decision, share it with kindness and charity, without contempt or condescension.

Related articles:
History of Ryman Auditorium http://ryman.com/history/captain-tom-ryman

Healing from Homosexuality http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/life-and-family/homosexuality/healing-of-homosexual-attractions/

“Yes, Jesus Would Bake a Cake For a Gay Person” http://www.redstate.com/2014/02/21/yes-jesus-would-bake-a-cake-for-a-gay-person/

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