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Archive for the ‘Doctrine’ Category

Sometimes life can be prickly and hard, but we have God’s promise that “In place of the thornbush, the cypress shall grow, instead of nettles, the myrtle.” (Isaiah 55:13)  The study note in the New American Bible for this verse suggests the image of being in the desert, “symbolic of suffering and hardship”, since thorns cause pain, while the cypress and myrtle suggest fertile land, representing “joy and strength”.

We once had a thorny tree in our back yard, and when we cut it down it was an absolute nightmare to transport.  We used big, heavy gloves, and still got pricked by the pointy ends; the pain was excruciating as it pierced deep into our tender skin!  Throughout our lives we are ‘stung’ by traumatic events, whether we had divorced or alcoholic parents, or suffered physical or sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment.

The thorns are different for everyone; many today are struggling financially to make ends meet; some are grappling with health issues, either chronic arthritis or some other auto immune disease.  Others are grieving for the loss of a loved one, while some are going through strenuous and grueling rounds of chemo and radiation.  Perhaps you have a child fighting an addiction, or experiencing severe anxiety.

Thorns show up in the Old Testament after Adam and Eve disobeyed God; they were kicked out of the luscious Garden of Eden and consigned to find food “by the sweat of your brow”, tilling “cursed ground” filled with “thorns and thistles”  (Genesis 3:17).  Adam and Eve left us a legacy of hard work, pain and sorrow, but the new Adam, Jesus, “ransomed us from the curse”, taking the curse upon himself.  Unknowingly the Romans mocked their ‘king’, smashing a crown of thorns deep into his skull, piercing his flesh.  Through his crucifixion and death, Jesus ransomed us, restoring us into God’s covenant and giving us our full inheritance as sons and daughters (Gal. 3:13).  The ‘good news’ is that Jesus received the crown of thorns to take away our pain and shame, and instead fill us with his peace and joy, to take us out of the desert of suffering.

I went on my first retreat back in 1993 with several other adult leaders of the teen group.  Since then I have probably helped present forty retreats for both teens and adults, and I have both experienced and witnessed over and over the transformation as Jesus delivers his children from the chains binding them.

I was meditating one day and I heard God whisper tenderly into my heart the promise of a new life in him.  His promise to all those suffering from depression, loneliness, and abandonment “His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and power.  Through these He has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.” (2nd Peter 1:1)

No matter how many ‘nettles and thorns’ seem to be in your path, remember God’s extraordinary grace and power.  One day I felt as though I would never get past my grief and sadness, and then I received this tender prophecy based on Isaiah 35 “The desert and parched land will exult, they will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.  The desert of shame and unforgiveness will turn into streams bursting with love and joy; the burning sands of loneliness and despair will be turned into pools of refreshing warmth and tenderness.  The thirsty ground yearning for love, will spring into wells overflowing with mercy and compassion.  The place where the jackals of darkness and depression roam, will be turned into a rich marsh, where hope and happiness flourish.  We will be met with goodness and gladness, and grief and sorrow will flee.  A highway will be readied for those striving for holiness, where we will be safe and secure, free from harm, crowned with his glory.”

During this Advent take time to prepare for the coming of Christ; take time to let him soften your heart and remove the thorns.  Let Jesus whisper words of encouragement and inspiration and rest in his embrace, pondering his immense grace and unconditional mercy.  Let the flowers of virtue bloom in your heart and rejoice in being set free!

Related Articles:

What is the Meaning of the Crown of Thorns
 http://www.gotquestions.org/crown-of-thorns.html#ixzz3K0gnDhNH

Touching the Hem of His Garment
http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2012/08/12/touching-the-hem-of-his-garment/

Adopted By God
http://maryscatholicgarden.com/2013/11/08/adopted-by-god/

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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/

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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/

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Dying With Dignity

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

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‘Til Death Do Us Part’

Recently Pope Francis was criticized for marrying 20 couples that had been living together. My friend, Lisa Wheeler, beautifully described the predicament “I see the main objection from most people is that the Pope has potentially caused scandal by the public ‘marrying’ of the couples. The concern I have with the public hand wringing has been and will continue to be that I don’t think people know how to pick their battles. Do we want couples to continue to live a lifestyle that is not in conformity with what the Church’s teachings are on faith and morals or do we want them to be embraced by a Church that extends mercy, shows compassion, and provides teachable moments to ‘turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.'”

Couples that live together before saying their marriage vows statistically have a much higher chance of divorce, as there is an attitude of ‘trying it out’ and lack of commitment that carries over into their marriage. There is no question that it is a grave sin to intentionally reject doctrine as sacred as marriage, and just simply move in together.  So the priest who will be preparing a couple for marriage in these circumstances has to simultaneously present the Church as caring and loving, while at the same time convey the gravity of their sinful choices and the sacredness of their marriage vows.  Hopefully the marriage preparation will be more extensive than the one hour the priest spent with my husband and I before our wedding.  The only memory I have from that meeting was that I had to promise to raise the children Catholic.

One young lady that I know, who doesn’t attend any church, decided to find a minister who would marry her and her fiance.  She was quite shocked to discover most of the ministers she contacted refused to perform the ceremony, since she was not part of a faith community.  I did my best to explain the importance of God’s presence in a marriage, as well as the importance of being joined with other Christians, which is the body of Christ.  Eventually she found a ‘rent-a-minister’ to perform the ceremony.

I think those who skip the wedding and move in with a man or woman don’t realize the severe disservice to themselves, nor the long-term repercussions. In marriage you are giving 100% of yourself to your spouse, but when you jump the gun and just live together, you withhold significant parts of yourself.  Without  the vow to commit yourself ’till death do you part’, you are at risk emotionally and financially, and of course there is always the chance of pregnancy and abandonment. When just 25, actor Jeff Bridges met his wife Susan and fell head over heels in love with the gorgeous blonde, but he wasn’t ready to commit himself to marriage and children. So the two moved in together, and fell into the dilemma of many similar couples; Susan was ready for marriage and children, but Jeff continued to waffle, unwilling to commit.

As Jeff relates “She (Susan) actually talked to my mother about what she should do; they’d become the best of friends. And my mom, Dorothy — my own, wonderful, loving mother — counseled Sue to leave, forcing me to make a decision. My mother said, “Don’t stay with him.” “So we ended up living apart for six months, though we still saw each other. Then, when Sue got a job offer in Montana, it struck me that she was really leaving. The pressure was on! Finally I came to my senses. I thought, If I let this girl go, I will always know she was the one. So I got down on my knees and asked Sue to marry me.” (From link below)  But their marriage wasn’t a bed of roses; Jeff continued to pout for the next year about being ‘forced into marriage’. His saintly wife stuck it out and he finally realized that this stunning, enchanting woman, radiant inside and out, was the love of his life, and the greatest treasure he would ever find.  They were able to settle down into a life-long, successful marriage.

Was Bridges ‘forced’ into marriage? Of course not! He was ‘forced’ to make a decision. Too often young men and women date, get seriously involved, and then after a few years experience an agonizing breakup, because one or the other isn’t ‘ready’ for marriage. Some single people foolishly think you have to date hundreds just to find the perfect mate, as though finding a spouse can be reduced to purchasing a car or horse. My husband was just 19 when we married, but he valued me enough to marry me. I think women need to value themselves more and understand that they are ‘worth’ marrying.  If the other person doesn’t respect or treasure you enough to marry you, dump him or her and find someone else who thinks the world of you, and will treat you with dignity and honor. Don’t settle for second best. Just like the L’Oreal commercial touting their ultra expensive shampoo “You’re worth it”.

In the movie Pretty Woman, with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, Roberts played a prostitute paid by Gere to be a companion for his business trip.  The sassy prostitute is transformed into a woman of beauty and grace, and Gere falls madly in love with her.  At the end of the trip he asks her to move in with him.  The harlot-turned-princess tells him she knows it is a “really good offer”, but flatly turns him down claiming unless they married, he was still just ‘using’ her.  I was surprised that more people weren’t affected by this prophetic message about co-habitation, which I felt clearly portrayed the true meaning of ‘shacking up’.

I met my future husband at the ripe old age of 15, and being an active participant in the ‘sexual revolution’, we moved in together when I was 17. It was a really confusing time for me, because I felt I was way too young for marriage, but I was deeply in love. We separated for a few months, and I realized that of course I was too young for marriage, but I simply couldn’t imagine life without my ‘soul mate’. So one afternoon Paul said “let’s get married”, and I nodded “okay”. I knew that if regrets came later, I would remind myself it was the best solution for the quandary I found myself in.  Paul had changed jobs and moved an hour away, so we wound up constantly driving back and forth to see each other.  We made the decision to quit commuting and had a bare bones, do-it-yourself, wedding six weeks later, with simple finger sandwiches and fruit punch at the local VFW.

I was basically an atheist at that point in my life, but I knew having a mass with the wedding would please my in-laws, so I did it for them. Heaven only knows how much I needed the grace! After our wedding I was so surprised at the difference in my heart; being married just felt ‘right’. I think the natural law God places in our hearts nudged me that living together was a grave sin, in spite of the pervasive condoning of premarital sex in our culture.

My husband and I have now been married almost 39 years; was it always smooth sailing? Not hardly! We both had tremendous baggage and anger issues from both of our fathers being alcoholic and abusive; and I had the added problems of parents with multiple divorces and re-marriages. Plus, in the early years of our marriage, our faith was non-existent.  It got pretty rocky at times, but we made the decision that we were going to stay together, no matter what. So we vowed to never mention the ‘D’ word (divorce).  We discovered that love is a choice and you have to make the commitment to continue loving, no matter  how tedious or stressful.  Finally after 18 years of marriage our faith deepened considerably, and two years later we renewed our wedding vows.  We were just glowing as we promised again to ‘honor and cherish’ each other for the rest of our lives.  It was marvelous including God in our marriage this time.  He was there with his grace all along; we just didn’t realize it!

I am highly amused when I hear couples claim they want to first live together to make sure their marriage will be successful.  I assure them the man I married 39 years ago is definitely NOT the same man today; nor I am the same woman.  We have both grown spiritually and emotionally, and our hobbies and interests have also changed.  When I met Paul, he was an avid sports fan and enthusiastic gardener, while I had never watched a sports game or even touched a plant, much less planted one.  He disliked cats, while I couldn’t imagine life without one.  Now we spend most of our days off pruning, planting, and weeding our multiple gardens that are filled with fuschia bouganvilla, and lush hydrangeas, rhododendrums and azaleas.  I can proudly yell “go Dawgs” when I watch our favorite football team or “chop-chop” when we follow our local baseball team.  And of course we have two annoying kitties!

Many couples have an unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky view of wedded bliss, and spend years searching for the ‘perfect’ spouse.  Currently, men and women are delaying marriage until they are 28-30, as they spend more time pursuing their master’s and doctorate degrees, living unencumbered without children or other major responsibilities.  This leaves them free to lead active social lives and travel the globe seeing the wonders of the world.  Financial success is a priority to these young people, and they want to achieve their goal of a more affluent lifestyle before they delve into married life.  Some elect to skip marriage all together; consequently marriages are at a historic low.

The main purpose of marriage according to the Catholic Church is first and foremost procreation; joining with God to create new life.  Secondly, husband and wife are to support and help each other in all ways, especially to grow in holiness and attain heaven. Throughout their years together, they provide companionship for each other, and give emotional and physical help as well.  Third is to fulfill the innate need for sexual intimacy.  So marriage involves physical intimacy, friendship, support and child-rearing, but many idealize marriage as a means to eke out as much fun and joy as possible.  Of course marriage should be filled with laughter and love, but it is also accompanied by dedication, hard work, sacrifice and selflessness.

Several months ago a letter surfaced that was written by a young woman, Samantha Pugsley who claimed that because of the chastity program at her church, she was brainwashed into believing sex was “sinful and dirty” and that “I would go to Hell if I did it”.  She stated that because she was so traumatized by the program at church, sex after she was married was a horrible, painful experience, that didn’t get any better.  Finally, after two years the bride had a mental breakdown and was unable to have sex; she sought therapy and decided that she couldn’t be both sexually active and “religious” at the same time.  The troubled young woman explained that her trauma “controlled my identity for over a decade, landed me in therapy, and left me a stranger in my own skin. I was so completely ashamed of my body and my sexuality that it made having sex a demoralizing experience.”   She felt “soiled and tarnished”, that she she “wasn’t special anymore” and made the decision to embrace sensuality, and utterly reject her Christian faith.

Obviously this young lady has severe emotional issues, especially when you look at her biography and realize that she is bisexual (and has been since she was a teenager), suffers from severe anxiety and panic attacks and writes for a web page that celebrates a bizarre, hedonistic lifestyle, sexual addictions and perversion.  Someone with this much gender confusion and emotional trauma generally has been abused; I have no idea of the extent of other trauma Samantha experienced, but I find it doubtful that a chastity program, no matter how poor or inadequate, could leave this girl so deeply disturbed.

So this confused young woman advises others that it is extremely detrimental to ‘wait’ until marriage.  There is no way of knowing the negative influence her words have had, and the number of women and men who take those words to heart and decide to give away the most precious part of themselves, leaving themselves open to shame, guilt, insecurity, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  Since marriages are taking place even later in life, it is getting even harder to stay chaste while you are single.  Only with supernatural grace can you stay pure before and after marriage; only with God’s mystical grace can you stay ‘in love’ monogamously for decades.  Only with ‘amazing grace’ can you get through the sick times, the financially disastrous times, the times of sorrow, anger, unkind words, and rudeness that happen in any marriage, until ‘death do us part’.  Only with the explosive power of the Holy Spirit can you weather the storms of cancer and job loss, or rebellious or drug addicted teens.

Related articles:

Pope Marries Cohabiting Couples
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kathyschiffer/2014/09/pope-marries-cohabiting-couples-no-news-here-folks/

The Marriage of Jeff and Susan Bridges
http://marriage.about.com/od/academyawards/p/jeffbridges.htm

On the Primary Purpose of Marriage
http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5822

Did Pope Francis Push the Envelope
http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/was-pope-francis-pushing-the-envelope-by-presiding-over-the-marriages-of-cohabiting-couples-5812648557936640

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Free Bible images of Jesus asking Peter the same question three times about his love for Him and each time instructing him to feed His flock. (John 21:15-25): Slide 1After Jesus was resurrected, he appeared to the disciples several times.  The third time Jesus visited, he had breakfast with them, and then asked Simon Peter “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”   (John 21:15).  Interestingly enough, Jesus used the Greek word ‘agape’ for ‘love’.  English only has one word to describe ‘love’, be it erotic, friendly, or sacrificial.  But in Greek there are four words to describe ‘love’:

  • Agape – unconditional love
  • Eros     – romance
  • Philia  – friendship
  • Storge – affection

‘Agape’, or sacrificial love is a determined act of the will to put the needs of others first.  Of course people tend to be selfish and self-centered, so the only way to achieve agape love is with God’s grace; after all, only through the supernatural power of God can we forget ourselves and give unstintingly.

When Peter answered Jesus he assured him “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  But Peter answered Jesus using the Greek word for ‘friendship’ love.  Twice more Jesus asked Peter if he loved him with a sacrificial love, and twice more Peter replied using ‘friendship’ or ‘brotherly’ love.  Peter just wasn’t about to give his life for Christ just yet.

Angie and the “Joshman”

As Peter’s faith and courage eventually increased, so will our capacity for sacrificial love.  I have met several women who embody ‘sacrificial love’ in an astounding way.  One is a friend from high school, Angie Barrett Grantman.  She has a son, Josh, with Fragile X, which is a genetic condition causing intellectual disability, anxiety and hyperactive behavior such as fidgeting or impulsive actions. Some may have problems focusing, communicating and interacting socially.  They also suffer from sensory disorders and aggression.

It hasn’t been easy being Josh’s mom; children with Fragile X are excitable and volatile, and are prone to frequent meltdowns.  Josh has autism and has been severely affected by Fragile X.  As Angie puts it “He is impacted with almost every characteristic possible — autistic behaviors (he’s flappy when he’s happy), sensory issues (crowds, bright lights, being touched gently, direct eye contact, loud noises, new environments, etc. upset him greatly; cognitive deficits (mentally, he’s still a toddler but looks like a linebacker), low muscle tone, hyper-extending joints, delays in speech, fine motor and gross motor skills, anxiety, and mini seizures.  We have dealt with aggression (“fight or flight reaction”), usually due to sensory overload or the inability to communicate.”

From running the gauntlet of doctors, specialists and therapists, to remodeling her house to keep him safe, the sacrifice of her time, energy and money and the unending, unconditional love she pours out is mind-boggling.  Angie admits “It’s been a long, daunting and exhausting journey.”   From the deepest depths of despair, to being completely overwhelmed and exhausted to the point of tears, to grieving unfulfilled dreams, Angie has been steadfast and given unstintingly of herself to her child.  Thankfully, Angie’s ‘rock’ of a husband has faithfully stuck to her side and also given unsparingly; sadly the divorce rate for marriages with children like Josh is 70% to 90%.

God loves us with a magnanimous,  unconditional , unhesitating, full-fledged, tireless, lavish, unselfish and bountiful love.  In return, He is calling us to love Him the way Angie loves her son – wholeheartedly and willingly, without any reservation.  But we may not be ready yet; we may answer like Peter “Yes Lord, I love you like a brother or sister”.

Another incredible example of sacrificial love is actress Dolores Hart; she was at the top of her career, having acted in movies with gyrating Elvis Presley and dreamy George Hamilton.  Then Jesus asked her “Dolores, do you love me with a sacrificial love”.  She said “yes Lord”, and this elegant Grace Kelly look-alike gave up fame and fortune, as well as a handsome, wealthy fiance, to enter the St. Benedict cloistered convent.  She is now Mother Dolores Hart.  A wonderful book called Ear of the Heart details her Ear of the Heart Memoirfascinating spiritual journey.

God loves and accepts us just where we are, but He has so much more He wants to give us.  Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles as described in Acts 2 “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim”.

Only with the effervescent, transforming, life-giving power of the Holy Spirit can we hope to love Jesus with every fiber of our being, with our finances, our energy, and our family.   Before the Holy Spirit descended, Peter was afraid, hesitant.  Then after Pentecost he was confident and bold, willing to give his life for his faith; and he did make the ultimate sacrifice, and was martyred by being crucified upside down.

You are most likely not going to be asked to give your life, but are you willing to ask for that kind of sacrificial love that can surrender stardom and wealth, like Mother Dolores Hart?  Are you courageous enough to try to love Jesus unconditionally with your time and resources, your talents and your gifts?  It can be scary, but don’t be afraid to love Him unwavering with “all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind…” (Luke 10:27).

God cannot be outdone in generosity; ask for the gift of courage, which comes from the Holy Spirit, to say yes.  Ask for that amazing grace that will turn your life upside down and bring you more happiness and joy than you can ever imagine!

Related Articles:

  • Angie Grantman’s blog http://angiegrantman.blogspot.com/
  •  Dolores Hart http://www.religionnews.com/2013/06/17/mother-dolores-hart-from-kissing-elvis-to-joining-the-convent/
  • May the Force Be With You http://maryscatholicgarden.com/?s=May+the+Force+Be+With+you

 

 

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You may be too young to remember the television series Star Trek, with dashing Captain Kirk and capable Chief Engineer Scotty, who was known for getting the Starship Enterprise out of tight spots.  Scotty managed the transporter, which would beam the crew from the ship up and down to the planet’s surface.  Whenever Captain Kirk ran into trouble he would yell into his communicator “Beam me up Scotty”!  And Scotty would immediately zap him and the crew and whisk them safely to the mother ship.

Some fundamentalist denominations have a similar view of the ‘end times’, when Jesus will return, called the “Rapture”. This doctrine teaches that when Christ returns, all the  ‘saved’ will be magically transported to heaven.  All non-believers will be ‘left behind’.

So what does it mean to be ‘saved’?  Justification, or being made ‘righteous’ is the term by which Christians are judged to have lived a holy life and are deemed worthy to achieve heaven.  About 20 years ago I was studying the differences in denominations, and noticed this seemed to be a subject which causes some of the most division.

In fact, this doctrine sparked the estrangement of many Christians from the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1517 Martin Luther was a monk in Germany who struggled with his sinful nature.  Fasting, flagellation and frequent confession had little effect, and he became obsessed with his perceived wickedness, which he believed blocked him from entering heaven.  Finally in his study of the book of Romans, he had a revelation when he read Romans 3:28 “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

He had the giddy epiphany that salvation is a free gift, and once given, can never be lost.  His revelation ignited an enormous controversy and a new doctrine of ‘sole fide’, faith alone, developed.  In his “Wittenberg Project”  he explained his new theory “We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides…No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to commit adultery thousands of times each day.”  So according to Luther, whether one gave in to their lust with their neighbor, or drank excessively, it didn’t affect their salvation.

The Roman Catholic Church taught that man is saved by ‘grace’ alone, rather than ‘faith alone, and that man has free will, and can and has turned away from God, and lost his salvation.  This belief is partially based on Hebrews 10:26 “If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.”

But Luther didn’t believe in free will, and claimed “…with regard to God, and in all that bears on salvation or damnation (man) has no ‘free-will’, but is a captive, prisoner and bond-slave, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.” (From Luther’s Essay Bondage of the Will)

Instead of falling on his knees and admitting his frailty in fighting the ‘sins of the flesh’, and asking for God’s strength and grace in the battle, his pride lead him to distort scripture and determine that sin is unimportant to our salvation, so it doesn’t matter whether or not we win the battle against the flesh.

He must have skipped over Philippians 2:12, where God instructs us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” and St. Paul’s admonishment that “neither fornicators, nor idolators nor adulterers no boy prostitutes or sodomites, nor thieves, etc. will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1st Corin. 6:10)

There is a misconception among many protestants who falsely believe that Catholics think they are saved by ‘good works’, and not by ‘faith’.  But the Roman Catholic Church has taught for 2,000 years that you are saved by ‘grace’ alone. CCC #1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.”  

Surprisingly, the Lutheran Church reached a synod in 1999 and formed an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church that you are saved by ‘grace alone’, drastically changing Luther’s premise that one is saved by ‘faith’ alone.  Luther believed this so passionately that he  hated the epistle of James, which he referred to as an “epistle of straw” because of James 2:24 “See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

My favorite explanation of faith vs. good works is from C.S. Lewis, who described salvation as a “pair of scissors”.  You can’t have one without the other – faith without good works is dead, and good works without faith is meaningless.  Even though sola fide is one of the most divisive doctrines, in actuality most protestants and Catholics believe the same.  Even if one is ‘saved’, if you aren’t actively living out your faith in some way, then your faith is dead, and you aren’t really ‘saved’ after all.

I think sola fide somewhat limits scripture, which is full of conditions necessary to achieve heaven.  In John 6:54 Jesus assured his followers that they would have eternal life IF they “ate his flesh and drank his blood”.  In Mark 10 when the rich young man asked Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus asked him if he knew the commandments, then instructed him to “sell what you have, and give to the poor”.

In 1st Peter 3:20, St. Peter mentions baptism “which saves you now”.  One of my favorite verses is Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.” In John 3:5 Jesus warns Nicodemus “no The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 the Beatitudesone can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”, which the Church explains is baptism and confirmation.  In Luke 13:5 Jesus warns “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish…”.  Jesus is quite harsh in Matthew 25 when he warns that He will “separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”, and that if  you have NOT been there to feed the hungry or clothe the naked, then you will be “accursed” and thrown into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”!  Ouch!

It is absolutely true that scripture tells us in John 3:16 “…everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”.  BUT, one’s faith must encompass the entire bible, not just one isolated verse.  Once you believe in Christ, the bible is clear about what must happen next.  First, you must be baptized and confirmed; second, you must repent and turn away from sin; third, you must take communion (you must eat the flesh of Jesus).  More conditions include doing the will of the Father, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, following the commandments, and being detached from material things.

I think one problem with the idea of ‘once saved, always saved’, is a creeping complacency.  I was discussing the importance of prayer with a customer one day, and I was rather disturbed to hear her say “Don’t preach to me, sister, I’m saved!”  We should never be smug or complacent about our faith; our entire life should be spent growing in holiness and our union with Christ so that on the last day we can imitate St. Paul and say “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.” 2nd Timothy 4

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