BAPTIZED BY THE BREATH

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Thursday, September 20, 2018

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Temple authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:19-23

Breathe Deeply 2In the Gospel of John, the Spirit is as breath, the Hebrew evidence of life being present in a mortal soul.  There was a time, not that long ago, when people would check to see if someone were still alive though yet they appeared motionless would place a mirror close to one’s mouth and nose to see if a faint breath would fog the mirror.  From ancient times we have referred to the notion of one’s last breath and have spoken of a baby drawing its first breath.  Yes, breath is a reference to the presence of life.

Only John makes reference to this baptism by way of breath.  “He breathed upon the disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”  It is as if John wanted us to understand by way of the baptism by breath we begin our life with the Life of Christ living within us.  We begin our ministry of bringing the Life of Christ into the world.  We begin our lives as human souls Divinely graced.

John also has Christ emphasizing by way of proximity that the first order of the day for those baptized by the Breath is the work of forgiveness.  We ourselves enter into the Divine Initiative of Grace.  We have no choice but to forgive for we have within us the ongoing Life’s Breath of Christ.  We now have the calling to forgive, the commandment to forgive, but possibly in the highest order, now the impulse and desire to forgive.

It is the first mission of the Christian and the Christian community to forgive, to allow the grace and mercy to flow into through our human agency.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

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OVERCOMING OUR BLINDNESS

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Jesus also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.  And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.  You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? – Luke 12:54-56

I know this frustration that Christ experienced, this frustration with holy people who cannot see the evil in their midst.  Certain people they seem to be blind to what is so obvious; certain people seem deaf to the voices of deception and lies.  And like Christ, I cry out, “Why do not know how to interpret this present time?”

What is it that blinds us so that we cannot discern the evil and the good?  So many things.  One source of our blindness is deep seated prejudice, making generalizations of a specific few, a cultural inheritance from a former time, an outcome of peer pressure to be loyal to the tribe.  Another source of our blindness is a lingering resentment, a vengeful and vindictive spirit.  Another source of our blindness is irrational fear, a fear fostered and magnified, a fear of change, a fear of exposure, a fear of the unknown, often a fear conjured by those who seek to control.  And another source of our blindness is the problem of self-interest, the viewing of our own needs as being more important than the needs of others, the placing ourselves at the center of the universe.

BLINDNESS

In Christ, we have a means to be cured of our blindness and our deafness.  It is the Spirit of Christ that can wash the dust and the mud from our eyes and open our ears to that which is beyond the rancor of the crowds.  In Christ … we are given the gift of discernment, if we allow ourselves to receive it, learn it, explore it, and put it into practice.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

 

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I DEMAND NO MIRACULOUS PROOF

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, asking Him for a sign from heaven, to test Him.  And He sighed deeply in His spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And Jesus departed, and getting into the boat again, He sailed across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.” – Mark 8:11-13

I have done it; my guess is that at some time you have done it as well.  I speak of our bargaining with God.  “Lord, if only You could … then I will serve You.”  Most of us quickly realize that this is but a testing of the Lord, much like did the Pharisees.  “Show us miracle, a sign from heaven, then we will give credence to what you have to say!”

cHRIST'S hEARTIn my daily self-examen, the other day I sensed the Lord asking me, “Why do believe in me?  Was it some miracle?  Was it the miracle of a virginal birth?  Was it the miracle of the resurrection?  Was it some ecstatic experience of being filled with the Spirit?”  So my self-examen moved into a deep contemplation, in search for the reason or reasons why I believe in Christ.

I believe in Christ not because of the miracles of Christmas but rather the Divine initiative in the Christmas Moment … God seeking to dwell among us, a shared experience of saving and transforming this world.

I believe in Christ not because of the miracles of feeding the crowds but because He had the compassion for the needs of the people … teaching us that in doing what we can in the face of human need somehow God will make it sufficient to meet the need.

I believe in Christ not because of the miracles but by how His teaching provides such insight into the ways of God and the ways of human society, ways that seem to go against our worldly way of thinking.

I believe in Christ not because of the miracles of Easter but because of the Beautiful theology of Love found in the self-giving sacrifice of Christ for our sake so that we in turn might live with Christ living within us.

I believe in Christ not for what He can provide me but rather for the keen awareness of His Presence with me.

I believe in Christ not out fear of hell but because of the beckoning of heaven.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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THE OPEN INVITATION

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Monday, September 27, 2018

Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:12-14

Sometimes the teachings of Christ seem rather radical, often unrealistic, and usually inconvenient.  This is teaching about invitations to banquets is one of those teachings but it speaks volumes about the ethos of the Christian Way of living.  We are to be open to others.  We are to be sharing with not only close friends but also friends we have yet to come to know.  We are to be reaching out to those in need.  We are to be seeking our reward not in temporal and earthly forms but in eternal and heavenly forms.

Yet … this inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to a banquet seems so very unreasonable without understanding what a giving a banquet meant in the times of Christ.  A banquet was a community event, by definition a sharing of a communal experience.  Yet, it could be an exclusive event, only the preferred were invited and those “others” kept outside.  But Christ calls for a community banquet to be an inclusive event, all are invited with no one kept outside the doors.

locked doorsEarly in my ministry, I observed racism practiced in what is meant to be a sacred banquet.  I served one of those churches that had one of those invisible signs on the doors, ‘WHITES ONLY”.  It was a small town, a segregated town, and everyone knew the “unspoken rules” about the mixing of racial diversity.  It was World Communion Sunday in the mid-70s.  As the worship service began in walked a young African-American man, a new teacher at the high school.  I could feel the hush and the stares.  When it came time for the congregation to take their turns kneeling at the communion rail, the ushers ushered the young man out the side door.   I think I was never so ashamed of the church.

That was over forty years ago … and I think we have made some progress in understanding how such practice exposed a sinfulness deeply embedded in our society.  But, my Loved Ones, this sin of excluding some from the banquet … still lingers in one form or another.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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CHRIST WAS NOT ABOUT CONTROL

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Sunday, September 16, 2018

CHRIST AND ROMAN GUARDThen the high priest questioned Jesus about His disciples and about His teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.  Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When Jesus had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”  Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” – John 18:19-23

The High Priest with his own police force, probably soldiers assigned to the High Priest.  They served as the heavy handed henchmen of a heavy-hearted system.  The position of the High Priest had become a position in which political power and religious power had become alloyed.  This always happens when the religious leaders seek to control for they will eventually do anything to keep control.

Religious communities that may have been born as persecuted minorities so often become compromised when they gain control of the political forces.  They begin with subtle yet coercive group pressure to control the thinking of the followers.  It is a form of mind control by way of the spirit and repetitive declarations.  And when it manages to gain control of political powers in order “to change the world”, they continue their crusade to control the people.  In the past, even Christianity has fallen into the role of the High Priest, gaining power and then doing all it could to maintain power even by means of distorting the truth and the crucifixion of what they perceive to be the troubling, threatening dissent.

I do not believe that Christ meant to control the world by obtaining worldly power, the story of the temptations of Christ I believe reveal this.  Rather I believe that Christ wanted to transform the world by practicing heavenly power, the power of grace and mercy, inspiration and example, His words and His Spirit.

The writer of the Gospel of John wanted us to know that one of the High Priest’s guards struck Jesus and said, “Is that how you answer the High Priest?” And John certainly included it for reason.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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CHRIST’S MANNER OF PRAYER

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after He had finished, one of His disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John the Baptizer taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial.” – Luke 11:1-4

Christ praying 2Christ’s disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray.  And I find that somewhat perplexing for these disciples were Jewish, born and schooled, people who attended the teaching in the synagogue, and now were students in this traveling rabbinical school.  So I think that they asked not so much how to pray but rather how to pray in Christ’s manner.  The disciples refer to the manner of prayer taught by John the Baptizer, a manner of prayer probably lost in the sands of Time.

So when Christ offers an example of His manner prayer we find His manner remarkably brief with an efficient and effective economy words but still words carefully selected. [I have been in many a prayer group and listened to many a pastoral prayer and this brief economy of words is a lesson seldom followed.]

Christ’s manner of prayer is remarkably straightforward without need for flourishes.  Even His opening words of praise to the Lord is but a direct address without feeling the need to overload it with wave after wave of praise words.  “Our Father, who abides in heaven, holy is Your Name.”  I have been immersed in praise services where instead of authentic praise people flooded the heavens with flattery.  Christ felt no need to flatter or appease the Father … but rather simply to recognize the holiness of the Lord.

Christ’s manner of prayer is a blending of needs confessed and promises affirmed.  It is a simple recognition of our essential human needs.  We are in need of Providence and we are in need of Mercy.  And in this recognition of need we also entrust our needs into the compassionate care of God.  But the list of needs is short.  Bread in order to live another day; mercy in order to begin each day anew.  No, “Santa Claus” of wants and desires, contrary to the manner of prayer I find in conveyors and practitioners of the “prosperity gospel”; no reminders to God to do what we ought to know God is already doing; no, forcing God’s hand or seducing a change in God’s will.  No, simply for the needs of the day and a new beginning.

Christ’s manner of prayer is an examination of self and the coming to grip with our weaknesses, especially what comes to light in times of testing one’s character.  It is a time to forgive and be forgiven, this quality of prayer life that Christ teaches.  It is a surprisingly intimate conversation with the Father, no airs, no pretenses, no hysterics, no need to impress those who overhear.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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IN THE COMING TOGETHER, WE ARE AS CHRIST

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Friday, September 14, 2018

“Then Jesus said, I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of the One who sent me. – John 5:30

WATERCOLOR MIXEven Christ paradoxically says … “I can do nothing on my own.” And I believe He is teaching about this new Christian Way … a Way of life that He Himself is the pioneer, this coming together of the Divine and the human in a synergy that transforms both individuals and the world they live in.  As Christians we are the interplay of the Divine and the human as we seek to live our His ways and seek to go about His work.  It is not merely a venture in human effort but a venture in powers both human and Divine.  Christianity is a partnership with God, yet even more than that … it is a blending of soul with Soul.

Christ declares that His judgment is just.  His ability and power to judge justly is because He rises beyond His human limits so that He might judge with a Divine clarity and a Divine mercy.   His judgement is just because His quality of Spirit is filled with all graces Divine.  This is why so many of us judge unfairly; we rely far too much on human passions and too little on Divine wisdom.

Through the Gospels, Christ uses His own life as a model for the Christian life, His Life now lived in those who follow in His footsteps and in His manner.  It is as if Christ were saying to us … “My judgment is just because I do not seek to do my will but the will of the One who sent me; and your judgement will be just if you do not seek to do your own wishes and ways but instead the wishes and ways of the One who sent you.”

We will never be one and the same with God, but we can be transformed into what it means to be human and Divinely graced.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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NO NEED TO WALK ON WATER!

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Thursday, September 13, 2018

cHRIST WALKING ON WATER

Early in the morning Jesus came walking toward the disciples on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 

 Peter answered, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when Peter felt the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:25-33

What is faith?  Some interpret this story somehow see faith in Peter’s trying to walk on water, but in truth it is about choosing rather to have faith in Christ.  It seems seldom mentioned, but in the end, Jesus did not have the disciples walking on water but to have faith in both Christ “and the boat”.  The story is about calming the storm whether the storm be on the waters or within the fears of humanity.

Why in the world was Jesus walking on those stormy waters?  To prove His Divinity?  Possibly.  But I rather think that Jesus walked on the water so that He might be in the boat with His frightened and weary disciples.  Jesus was on a mission to be present with them till the wind ceased.  If it were a matter of miraculous power, Christ could have calmed the seas from the shore.  But rather, Jesus waited till He was there in the boat with His disciples to quiet the wind.

Looking back over the stormy times in my own life, it was my keen awareness of Christ’s Presence that enabled me to endure the storm until the stillness returned.  The Lord did not choose to change the stormy circumstance but rather chose to provide courage to this sailor in distress.  And Christ still does.  In the peaceful days, we go exploring, the Lord and I; in the stormy days, we endure.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. CHaritas de la Cruz

 

 

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BY WAY OF FAITH AND NOT SUPERSTITION

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

cHRIST bETHESDA pOOLAmong the columns at the pool at Bethesda lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the bubbling up of the waters; for it was believed that an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.  A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, Jesus said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”  The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your sleeping mat and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his sleeping mat and began to walk. – John 5:3-9

Here we have yet another of those questions with an unexpected answer as if an answer to an unspoken question.  “Do you WANT to be made well?”  “I have no one to help me into the bubbling waters when the come.”  Jesus asks a straightforward question, but the man answers with but an excuse.

I have always found this apparent miracle rather puzzling.  And I have considered so many potential meanings of this encounter by the magical waters.  First … was the man actually crippled in a physical way or was he crippled in his will to be whole and well?  Second … what is with those “magical waters”?  They have the mark of a local superstition rather than a manner by which God does the miraculous.  Had these people allowed a living faith malingered into a belief in superstition and group hysteria?  It all sounds like the Oracle of Delphi than a holy place of God.  Third … with what tone did Jesus utter His question of the man?  One tone would be compassionate for a crippled man.  Another tone would be disappointment in this reliance of a superstition to heal him.  Yet another tone might be … one of a challenging a man who was crippled more of mind and heart rather than of body.  And when he was healed, was the healing one of a spiritual nature or a physical nature?

So many times in my work as a pastoral caregiver I have asked people in a number of ways …”Are you truly wanting to be healed?  Are you willing to be open and to be open to changing?  Are you will to come clean and then follow a new course?  Are you willing to take responsibility in doing your part to be made well?”

As one reads the healing stories shared in the Gospels, one notes that often Christ first asks … “What is it you have need from me?”  It is as though He is trying to teach us … the first step is to be willing to put into words what it is that you need.  This is a principle that has proven itself over and over again, a million times over again.

So on this day … Christ is asking you … “Do you want to be made well?”

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. CHaritas de la Cruz

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Mustard Trees and Oak Trees

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Christ also said, “With what can we compare the Realm of God, or what parable will we use for it? This new Realm of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” – Mark 4:30-32
mustard tree

Many a cynic has pointed out that the all-knowing Christ made an error.  They note that the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds.  And they are correct.  Yet, they are shallow in their understanding.  God always speaks within the context of the knowledge of that particular time.  And as Time goes by and our human understanding grows, God continues to translate former understandings into more perfect understandings.

I would think that if Christ were teaching in the context of our times and with our wider knowledge of the planet, this parable might begin … “This new Realm of God is like an orchid seed, the smallest of all the seeds on earth.  But then again … the rest of the parable loses the power of its metaphor.”  No, even now … though we know there are smaller seeds than that of the mustard tree … the mustard seed serves better the teaching.

Know if Christ were teaching in Southwest Florida where I live … I can imagine Christ teaching this lesson this way.  “Consider this tiny acorn.  Plant it in the ground and one day it will grow into a wide spreading oak with its branches serving as mighty arms.  In its shade, old men will rest, on its mighty branches, children will climb, and it will produce enough acorns to seed a forest.  Such is the possibility and potency in small beginnings.”

Throughout scriptural history, one can observe the writers of the scripture translating God’s truth into the context of the clearer knowledge of the readers and the needs of maturing cultures.  Yet, when we imprison the truth of God within the confines of those former times, we fossilize the Truth of God which seeks to become ever clearer, deeper, and fuller.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

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