A WISDOM BEYOND OUR EXPECTATIONS

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Saturday, February 16, 2019

hosanna3

Then the disciples brought the colt to Jesus and placed their cloaks on it; and He sat on it.  Many people spread their cloaks on the road that entered the city of Jerusalem, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” – Mark 11: 7-10

In another context of time and place that shout, “Hosanna!” might have been scrawled on the city walls for it ii not only an expression of praise but also a plea to the Lord …”Save us!”  This excited crowd that lined the road were sensing that revolution was in the air and better days were ahead.  Jesus was not seen as a personal savior in their minds but rather a savior of the beleaguered community.  Times, they were a changin’; a new world was coming!

And indeed this grand entrance on what we now call Palm Sunday triggered events that would change human history forever.  The corruption of Herod’s Temple would be challenged, the Jerusalem Council would set in motion of plot to silence this popular messiah-to-be, Roman justice would be found wanting, a man would die, and His life resurrected into a new faith that one day be everywhere present in the world.

The excited crowd shouted, “Save us” and saved they would be … but in a way far different from their popular expectations.  And this is often the case with the ways of change … they usually follow a course and take a form quite different from  our expectations.  But after a lifetime I have gained confidence that the Lord’s chosen course and the Lord’s chosen way proves always wiser than my mortal expectations.  My faith trusts a wisdom greater than my own … and it is that wisdom to whom I turn for counsel.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

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THE ALLURE OF WEALTH

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Friday, February 15, 2019

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  Peter began to say to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will now receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. – Mark 10:23-30

MONEY SWWIRLCounter to all the prosperity gospel preacher who try to exploit the financial anxiety and lust for gold, I believe Christ taught His disciples including you and me, that the wealthy struggle with the self-giving nature of the Christian Way.  For the Christian, our wealth is not comprised of silver or gold,  stocks and bonds, mansions and yachts, the material comforts of the well-to-do … but our wealth is comprised of a bountiful share of love, peace, joy, meaning, satisfaction, clarity of conscience, and a proper ordering of values.

But why would the wealthy struggle so?  It is a difficult challenge to totally serve the desires of God while one has a divided loyalty to serving the requirements of Money.  It is a difficult challenge to let go of what you believe is yours in order to become a means of Providence.  It is a difficult challenge to not vault one’s worth over the worth of others by way of your success in the Realm of Mammon.

The Realm of Money has its own principles and processes.  The Realm of God has its own principles and processes.  And though at times they coincide, many times, they do not.  And the temptation to live one’s life in the pursuit of wealth and the statue it brings is alluring to our mortal souls.  And I have observed all through my life … the Realm of Money demands that we gain more and more of money … for once gotten it is never enough.  In the Realm of God … the more we love with a self-giving Love the more satisfied we then become.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

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TO BE THE VISIONARY CHRISTIAN

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Thursday, February 14, 2019

People were bringing little children to Him in order that He might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them. – Mark 10:13-16

This moment Christ is certainly a tender moment, yet within that tender moment there is a reprimand, “Don’t do that; don’t you ever do that!”.  Christ chastises His disciples for speaking sternly to the children and their parents, not for reason of any misbehavior, but for reason that the children were not to bother the rabbi as He taught.

jESUS lEADING THE cHILDRENI believe this tender story is a teaching about this new Realm of God which Christ announces is on the verge of Becoming.  This new Realm of God will be visionary, not a clinging to the Past or yearning for the Past’s return, but rather reaching out into the Future and filling the Future with possibilities Divine.  It will be a children’s crusade of a hopeful and optimistic kind.  This New Realm will not be about a perpetuation of the Past but about the creation of a Future, a brighter future, a fulfilling future, a holier and more loving future, a future that will witness the ways of heaven slowly becoming the ways of earth.  I believe … this is the vision of the Gospel and also … its essence and intent.

Loved Ones, are we a people trying to revere the Past or are we a people trying to realize the Future?  Are we a people trying to preserve our grandparents’ world or are we a people trying to prepare our children for wonders still to come?  Heaven is alive in this Present Moment leaning into the Future Moments about to arrive.  Heaven is not in the Past, only the traces left in its journeying through Time.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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ALL KINDS OF EVIL AND THEY RISE FROM THE HEART

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

And Jesus called the people to Him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when He had entered the house and left the people, His disciples asked him about the parable.  And He said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. – Mark 7:14-23

EVIL HEART

Christ provides a list of examples of evil things, not distinguishing one as worse as another … “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness“.  Yet I have observed that we are only concerned and focused on a few and that few tends to be not applying to ourselves.

Committing adultery is an evil thing and it rises out of the heart.

Deceit is an evil thing and it too  rises out of the heart.

Mere evil thoughts are an evil thing and they rise from the heart too.

Envy and slander, these are evil things as well, so taught Christ.

And pride and foolishness, evil things that choose to rather disregard.

Oh, and yes … needless to mention for they are so obvious … theft and murder, coveting, and wickedness these evil things also begin in the heart.

People seem so selective as what concerns them as evil.  Certain evils must not be and yet others, we easily explain away.  The Pharisees were concerned with Christ and His disciples breaking some rules, but were blind to the evils within themselves.

Evil has many faces, but only one source … a heart uncleansed and needing to be refilled with Love.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

 

 

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A NOISY DEAFNESS AND A MUTED HEART

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

deaf man speaks

Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to Him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged Him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more He ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” – Mark 7:31-37

Authors and poets are always desperately searching for the “perfect” word, the precise word, the most appropriate word, the word that conveys the thought exquisitely.  Here I take notice of certain word selections by Jesus and Mark.  “an impediment in his speech”, “Jesus looking into heaven and sighing“,  “be opened!“, “makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak”.

Impediment” … obstruction; hindrance; obstacle.   Something is keeping the man from speaking, or at least, speaking clearly.  And so often in life some fear keeps any of us from speaking clearly.

Sighing” … the sound of a person grieving or yearning.  Why would Christ be sighing in the healing moment … why would He was grieving, for what would He be yearning?  Is the answer found in His words …”Be opened.”  Are we closed-minded with closed hearts?  Christ yearns to heal of this closing of heart and mind for it grieves Him.

He makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak…”  He chooses not to use words such as “invites” or “encourages” but rather “makes”, a creative word that re-forms the materials into something more.  Oh, how this world is in need to be healed of our selective deafness, our closed-mindedness and closed-heartedness, to speak clearly without the clamor of bigotry and prejudice.

I yearn with Christ and I grieve with Christ for we all suffer from a noisy deafness and muted hearts, and the Lord is ready to heal with the creative command, “Be opened!”

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

 

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THE UNNOTICED TRADITION

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Monday, February 12, 2019

So the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’  You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”  Then He said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!” – Mark 7:5-9

To “holy” men and Bible scholars Christ directed this provoking challenge … “you reject the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!”  And I believe that this teaching of Christ penetrates far deeper than the ceremonial washing of hands, but to traditions, good or bad, that are embedded in one’s culture.

In Sunday School and in seminary, we are taught that these traditions are the detailed applications of a principle who, in time, became rules.  And in further time … the rules lose touch with the original principle.  And Christ is speaking not to a problem back then and there … but to an ongoing problem in the nature of the zealously devout in whatever time and place.  Even today.

The discernment in this teaching of Christ is, of course, what is the commandment of God and what is the tradition of Man?  And in one’s own time in history, in one’s own culture, in one’s own “sacred” practice, we are near incapable of make that sensitive discernment.

A shallow example to illustrate … when I first began ministry in Kentucky and Florida dancing in the Church was sinful.  For some reason, “folk dancing” might possibly be allowed … but to be safe, no dancing allowed.  Toe the life of me … I cannot trace this tradition back to its original command from the Lord.

Another tradition nailed to some churches in a warning with invisible words … “NO COLORED ALLOWED”.  The “devout” defenders would offer the Biblical argument of segregation.  And for shockingly many, this tradition was sacred, never be to be challenged.

Now and then I witness “hatred” being renamed as “holy wrath”.  Now and then I witness the figurative “burning of heretics” justified by the processes of “purifying the faith”.  Now and then I witness a blatant syncretism of nationalism and Christianity in a claim that “we” are the people of God.  Now and then I witness a once societal-taboo based on a former limited understanding being perpetuated for the sake of the tradition.

Loved Ones, day by day I seek to live in response to the actual commandment of God … Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul, and love others as you have been loved by God.  I try to live it purely … cleansed of all the cultural tradition that we so habitually ordain as something holy.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

 

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THE HAUNTING OF CONSCIENCE

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Saturday, February 9, 2019

JOHN AND jESUSKing Herod heard of the activities of Jesus, for Jesus’ name had become well-known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”  For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. – Mark 6:14-19

Sexual scandal in government is nothing new, nothing new at all.  John the baptizer called to accountability the royal family.  And the royal family did not like it.  And as is often among powerful people, they sought to rid their lives of this annoying critic, as well as the feeling of guilt that accompanied their self-indulgent ways.

Apparently, the people in power were puzzled about what role this Galilean rabbi would play out in the cultural/religious history of this land.  Was He the Elijah who precede the new messianic age?  Or was He another prophet in a long line of prophets, but another voice of conscience that rose up now and then?  But to Herod … Jesus was possibly the spectre of another John the Baptizer, a ghost of the man whom Herod sought to silence.  And there is the psychological insight in this story … guilt haunts us in spite of all our denials and all our attempts to silence it.  No, guilt can only find relief in the restorative mercy of God, usually administered through human agency.

All through the Gospels we observe Herod trying to avoid the accountability for his actions.  He denies, he deflects, he shifts blame, he distracts his seared conscience through his boasting and pomposity.  But the guilt still haunts him.

False feelings of guilt are useless and harmful to a mortal soul.  But true guilt is a reality that makes itself known in unexpected ways.  It is as if true guilt carries with it its own justice.  No, the only way true guilt can be dissolved is through accepting responsibility and asking for the mercy of the court.  Christ tried to reassure us that the mercy of God is both eager and bountiful.  But if we hide … if we cover it up … the mercy of God is then refused.

Loved Ones, trust the mercy … and trust in the power of mercy offered.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

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TO HEAL OR TO HARM

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Friday, February 8, 2019

angry phariseesAgain Jesus entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  The Pharisees watched Him to see whether He would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And Jesus said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then Jesus asked his critics, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; He was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him. – Mark 3:1-6

The Pharisees cast a critical eye on this rabbi from Galilee for His thinking was contrary to their own.  They were concerned with law-and-order while He was concerned with compassion and goodness.  His question about is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill, begged an answer that was obvious.  You heal on the Sabbath, not harm.  Yet, in the legalism of the Pharisees, their focus on adherence to the rules, the obvious answer escapes them for their cause is of more concern than the compassion.  The Pharisees saw themselves as judges; Christ saw Himself as healer.

We are too often blinded by our own zealotry.  For the sake of a passionate cause we sacrifice the compassion that is both human and Divine.  We prefer victory over harmony, punishment over mercy, righteous cause over righteous spirit, self-righteousness over self-examen.  So fixated on a specific “ends” we neglect the goodness of our “means”.

The Pharisees claimed to be men of faith, the true faith.  The Pharisees professed to be patriots of the old order.  The Pharisees were meticulous to the laws in scripture, even extending the law in excruciating detail.  The Pharisees believed they sat in the seats of justice, administering both the only valid interpretation and the punishment of those dared choose another way of conscience.

Did you notice that when the Pharisees resolved to rid the land of this “Jesus” problem, they turned to the political power of the Herodians, the inner circle of King Herod?  History often witnesses this unholy alliance … of the self-righteous crusaders and the power of the crown.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

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THE POWER TO FORGIVE SINS

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Thursday,  February 7, 2019

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that He was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and He was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, H said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Mark 2:1-7

… and Jesus was speaking the word to the people…”  And what was that word?  There were not yet the Gospels nor the letters of Paul, Hebrews and James and the Revelation … no, I believe the “word” that He was proclaiming … was the miraculous and healing power of forgiveness.

Forefront in the Gospel of Mark, often considered to be reflective of Simon Peter’s recollection, is this account of the faith of the compassionate helpers and the healing of a paralyzed man.  This teaching moment is not forefront about faith, though faith is demonstrated; this teaching moment is not primarily about healing, though healing was performed; this teaching moment is about the power of humanity to serve as an agent of Divine forgiveness.

To provide contrast, to present the prevailing understanding, the scribes are concerned that this Jesus’ speaks blasphemy.  “What heresy is this?!  Only God Almighty can forgive sins!”  Jesus brought a new understanding … “Whatever you forgive on earth is also forgiven in heaven.”

Forgiveness is more than words.  Forgiveness is not the automatic response to “I am sorry”.  Forgiveness is not letting people  to get away with whatever.  No, forgiveness is a vow of restoration and renewal, a hope-filled gift that has faith in new beginnings having learned from our past sins.

BROKEN VASE

The image I most often bring to mind is the story of the broken vase.  I was a youngster and through my reckless play I knocked over my mother’s vase breaking it in two.  Panicked, I found some glue and pasted the broken vase back together, returning it to the fireplace mantle.  My mother came in and made no mention of that vase.  Years later I was helping my mother move to a condo.  I unpacked that vase.  And it was so very, very obvious that the vase had broken and was clumsily glued back together.  I then, now as a middle-aged man, realized that I had not gotten away with breaking that vase.  No, rather I have been beautifully forgiven.

Yes, God is the One who forgives our sins, but God is not the only one.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Chairtas de la Cruz

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WITHOUT HUMILITY, NOTHING WILL CHANGE

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

John the Baptizer

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”  John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  – Mark 1:1-5

I have heard them for years, those Christians voices who declare that “unless a nation humbles itself and repents that nation will not be blessed by God.”  Yes, I have heard this warning now for a number of decades and I have observed a most curious and tragic thing …  it seems always directed toward other people and their sins and very seldom at themselves and their sins.

John the Baptizer lived in a similar time as ourselves.  And so he came preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And crowds came and answered his call to repent.  But as best I can see … the chief priests, the Bible scribes, the Pharisees, the Temple leadership … they were not counted among those who repented.

Confession/repentance is not what other people need to do, rather confession and repentance is always what “I” need to do.  Confession is the voluntary revealing of one’s inner self and its needs; repentance is the changing the direction of one’s life from the direction it was taking.  I find confession is rarer in these times, that is unless one is exposed for their past sins.  I find repentance is rarer in these time, I observe not much changing of life, especially among those who are quick to point out the sins of others.  I believe it is the fear of exposure, the fear of humility, the fear of being found to be in need.  Again, confession and repentance is not what those other people need to do, rather confession and repentance is always what “I” need to do, whoever that “I” might be.

Loved Ones, we too quickly and vehemently boast that we are the righteous ones and those others need to change their attitudes and ways.  We need to be a people who understand the wisdom of humility.  We need to be a people who understand that we all must take that journey to the river.  We need to be a people who accepts the fact that we all need to change our ways.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

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