LET NOT THE CROWDS DETERMINE

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Monday, August 20, 2018

But after His brothers had gone to the festival, then Jesus also went, not publicly but secretly.  The Jewish leaders were looking for Him at the festival and asked, “Where is he?” And among the crowds, there was considerable complaining about Jesus. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.” Yet no one would speak openly about Him for fear of the Jewish leadership. – John 7:10-13

judging crowd

I am not alone among pastors when it comes to this experience, for some people I was their cup of tea, but for others, I did not measure up.  Some loved me and cherished me, others couldn’t wait for me to leave.  Some gave thanks for being their pastor while others, only complained.   For a sensitive soul like me and possibly like Christ, I understood the reality of such difference of opinion, but still, it was frustrating and, at times, frustrating.

I slowly learned that how we are perceived by others is not who we truly are.  Some perceive us in gilded light; others, tarnished light.  But what truly matters is how we are perceived in honest, heavenly light.

I always tried to do my best with the purest of intentions and with all the effort I could muster.  For many it was more than enough, for others, not near enough.  And often, I thought of Christ Himself and how among the crowds there was complaining.

Loved Ones, let neither the adulation of the crowd or the complaining of the crowd formative of your soul and conscience.  Turn an ear to the Lord and listen for how that honest and holy One perceives you, both in where you walk wisely and where you stray foolishly.

Do not let the crowds be the decider of your course, for the crowds are not nearly as reliable as the judgment of the Lord.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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THE TRAGEDY OF OVERBLOWN PRIDE

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Sunday, August 19, 2018

hEROD AND jOHNWhen Herod’s  daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother who hated John for accusing her of adultery, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Herod was deeply distressed; yet because of his public oath made in front of his guests, he could not want to refuse her.  Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison. – Mark 6:22-27

In the months to follow, King Herod would be haunted by the spectre of John the Baptist returning …

Herod had ambivalent feelings about John … he feared yet he was fascinated with him.  Herod had him thrown in prison to silence John’s criticism of him, but I do not believe Herod actually wanted him dead for fear he might be known as an executioner of a holy man.  Maybe it was all the wine he drank at this grand feast that gave rise to his foolish vow he made to his daughter, but his own boastful ego trapped him in a dilemma that overrode his better judgment.  Out-of-control egos often end up in self-inflicted downfalls.

Overblown pride can make fools us all.  Overblown pride can entangle us in unintended consequences, leading to tragic outcomes for both ourselves and others.  Overblown pride leads a soul into a life of hollow hypocrisy.

Christ emphasized that humility is the pathway to both wisdom and integrity of life, yet time after time … overblown pride keeps returning to deceive us.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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Near and Far

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Saturday, August 18, 2018

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;  you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that God is one, and besides God there is no other’;  and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask Jesus any question.  – Mark 12:28-34

You hear this many times in His teaching, this use of “near” and “far” when He speaks of Truth.  “The Kingdom of God is near!”  And here …“You are not far from the kingdom of Heaven.”

Possibly it is but an coincidental matter, or possibly by the design of either Christ or Mark or the translator.  The text states that “one of the scribes came near“… One could take this choice of language, this sense of “near” and “far” to refer to geographical distance.  Or one could take it to be referring to temporal distance.  Or one could take it to refer to moving toward or away from perfect clarity.  In this well-seasoned time in my life when I am “nearing” that grand transition, I think it is probably a fusion of all three … geographical, temporal, and clarity.

In photography, one works at achieving perfect focus that brings about that clarity.  The blurry achieves clarity through focus.  And I have found that most of us struggle in our understanding not so much in terms of right understanding and wrong understanding … but rather in the clarity of our understanding.

healing the blind man's eyesLike the blind man that Christ healed in a two-fold process.  First, the blind man could see but vaguely see for the people looked like trees walking.  But, then, when Christ ministered to him a second time … it was only that he could finally see clearly.  In the beginning of our journey of salvation, we see through a dusty window, but through the years, as Christ continues to wash our eyes in our baptismal waters, we more and more clearly the Truth of God.  That is … if we allow through prayerful contemplation and prayerful acts of servanthood Christ to continue to heal our vision.

The scribe drew nearer to Christ … and in so doing Christ drew nearer to him.  They ask questions of each other … and in so doing … the scribe drew all the nearer to the understanding that it not merely giving lip-service to the commandments, but in doing them … but then to come ever nearer … place within those commandments the the quality of Christ’s Soul.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

 

 

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The Difference Between Legalism and Goodness

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Friday, August 17, 2018

christ and rich young ruler

Then someone came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The man then asked Him, “Which ones?” – Matthew 19: 16-18a

The inquiring man asked the wrong question, one that too many, too often still ask today … “Which of the commandments am I to keep?

And this question is symptomatic of the lack of true and authentic spirituality, the failure to understand that our sense of goodness is to be found in the moral conscience of God, a morality that is found in the heart of God.  Goodness and God are found in the character, the wishes, the dreams, the hopes of God and not in our human endeavor codify God’s Goodness into laws.  The morality of God cannot be separated from the Divine personhood of God.

“Which of the commandments am I to keep?”  The question itself betrays the intent of this man.  He does not truly desire to be “good” but rather to be “good” on his own terms.

In law school I learned that “the law is but the bare minimum of morality”.  Yet, in matters of faith we have through the centuries have used legalism to condemn others and excuse our selves.  We have turned verses into laws, etching in stone that which God did not etch in stone.  We have taken situational applications of the faith and turned them into law, totally casting aside the limits of their knowledge in that time.  We have disregarded certain moral concerns and emphasized other moral concerns usually for the purpose of establishing ourselves as righteous. “Which of the commandments am I to keep?” 

The practice of legalism can be used to fence in the goodness of God.  Instead of trying to fulfill the intentions of God, God’s wishes and ways, we limit God to our self-chosen menu of rules.  And sadly, once again, we do so to prove ourselves righteous and others unrighteous.

But Christ came to reveal the Heart of God, a Heart that seeks to create a realm based on a More Perfect Love rather than a more detailed, a moral realm of authentic goodness, not a legal realm that can often be used for purposes never intended by the Lord.

My life is not devoted to live by way of the Goodness of God.

Always in His Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

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AND THEY CRIED OUT, “HOSANNA!”

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.  – John 12:12-19
Hosanna2

The people of Jerusalem, at a share of them, were desperate to be saved so they shouted “Hosanna, Lord, save us!”  But the Messiah for whom they had prayed entered riding a donkey, an ancient Hebrew symbol for humility, not the mighty stallions of Roman centurions, but a donkey.  Yet, contrary to our images of war, the reality was that the Hebrews went to war not on horses but on donkeys, as odd as that image may seem.  So it could be proposed that Christ entered Jerusalem as humble king, a savior who came to establish the Peace and offer the ways that would lead to Peace.  He would come to ignite a revolution mounted not with vengeful swords but with unconquerable Love.

In Christ, we witness victory through the resolve of strong humility and the power to unite people through courageous self-sacrifice.  He would offer Himself through the sacrifice of self so that His Spirit would then be shared by the many.  He would not fight a futile rebellion of violence but instead an unconquerable movement of faith.

“Hosanna”, the desperate people shouted, people who had grown weary of the hypocrisy of Herod and the iron fist of Caesar, weary of religious leaders who took care of themselves and were indifferent to the poor and outcast, weary of soldiers who policed a harsh, cruel form of law-and-order.  And when the desperate people shouted, “HOSANNA!”, their cry echoed off the massive stones of Herod’s Temple and the Walls they had built, and Christ shouted back an encouragement …”FEAR NOT!”

The singer/songwriter Paul Simon penned this verse of his song, The Sound of Silence.

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made
And the sign flashed its warning,
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence

In the hard times in which Jesus of Nazareth came to serve as Messiah, I wouldn’t be surprised if that word, “HOSANNA!” had somehow been etched into the massive stones of Jerusalem.  And now and then, sadly rather consistently, the people have continued to cry, “Lord, save us!”

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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THE FATE OF THE PROPHET

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

jESUS AT nAZARETHThen Jesus with His disciples came to His hometown of Nazareth.  On the sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and cured them. And He was amazed at their unbelief. – Mark 6:1-6

Why has a prophet little honor in his or her hometown?  Familiarity?  Yes, maybe, the memories of childhood might confuse the image and stature of the prophet.  Reluctance?  Again, maybe, for why would this kid who played in the streets have more knowledge of the faith than we ourselves?  I tend to think that it is because new ideas tend to be viewed as an act of betrayal of the ways we’ve always known.  I can hear the elders whisper to each other, “The ways in which he was nurtured are now found lacking?  Who does he think he is?  How dare him!”

I suppose this frustration in Nazareth is an example the ages old tension between the conservative and the progressive.  One side is reluctant to change, the other side is eager to change.  One side values stability, the other side values possibility.  As Christ reminded us … new wine and old wineskins put ever other in danger.

I think I know something of what Christ went through with the people of His hometown. When I take on the robes of the prophet, the elders quite often get upset.  They cast stones with notes attached that say, “Heretic!”, “Leave us alone!”, “Why are you so eager to change the old ways?”, “You are not one of us!”, even, now and then, “You run the risk of hellfire!”.  I am rather sure that the people of Nazareth thought they were being obedient and committed to the ways they had come to know … but Christ was amazed at their lack of faith.

An aspect of living faith is the going on to the More Perfect Love and the More Perfect Understanding.  Yet, for so many, they are shackled to the former understandings that had not yet been perfected.  Living faith involves listening to the God who still speaks, learning from the Truth that God continues to reveal.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

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The “Why” of our “Ways”

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

woman with alabaster jarWhile Jesus was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” – Mark 14:3-6

Today I share about the Beautiful Thing and how it contrasts with the ugly thing.  And I see it in two places, once in the obvious focus of the moment, once in the subtle setting of the moment.

Almost casually this moment long remembered is placed in its setting … in the home of Simon the Leper. A man who is known by his affliction, leprosy, someone who was labelled as untouchable, an outcast, someone to avoid, a person from whom you kept your distance.  This avoidance of lepers was a matter of Biblical law based on then a lack of understanding the disease.  (Biblical law has a premise that it often draws upon … with the knowledge we have at the time, we will conduct ourselves prudently and cautiously.)   But against the flow of the culture, Jesus and His disciples dine in the home of Simon the Leper.  The Beauty of acceptance of an outcast, the ugliness of an unfounded prejudice, this is the contrast.

Now, the more obvious example is the woman who lavishly anointed Christ.  This was the Beautiful thing, to love lavishly.  The contrasting ugliness is the rather cold-hearted criticism of the woman’s extravagance.  As happens so many times in the Gospels … Jesus turns a situation into a teaching moment.  I used to hear Christ’s words, “Why do you bother her?” as a chastisement of the disciples, but lately, I am wondering if these words were more of a penetrating question about their attitude and behavior … “Why?  Why is your reaction one of criticism?  Why are you so self-righteous in your appraisal of her?  Why are so insensitive, so blind to the Beauty?  Why?”

Yes, I find this a lesson in the need for self-examination … why do we do what we do?

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

 

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FOR THE SAKE OF THE WHOLENESS

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

August 13, 2018

After the parable of the lost sheep, Luke has Jesus continuing on with a parable of further explanation … “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. – Luke 15:81-10

COIN NECKALCE

I am told that the ten coins may refer to a necklace of coins, with the ten coins making a complete set.  And if that be the case … I think Jesus is extending the theme of why we go about helping the lost to be found.  In the story about the lost sheep, I noted that this story speaks of the Christian ethic about the significant worth of the individual, an ethic which goes counter to the ethic found in much of worldly philosophy, possibly even against common sense.  Here, I believe, Jesus is adding another dimension about why we search for the lost so that they might be found … and that dimension is restoring the wholeness of the community.

The necklace of coins was in need of that one coin that made the necklace whole.  It is the story of a desperate effort to restore wholeness to that community of coins. It is the teaching that completeness has a worth even beyond the total of the parts.  Community itself, wholeness of the whole, the full set of the individuals, has value in itself.

But the Church through the centuries has often been unwilling to preserve the whole.  Too often if one coin is lost they simply do without.

We live in times when the temptation to divide the community is great.  Oh, it is usually coached in terms of conscience, and that, at times, must be.  But as I observe these times, selfish pride and self-righteousness are more at work, along with a measure of tribal vindictiveness.  But the well-being of the whole does matter in the eyes of Christ … and so we go searching for that one lost coin.  It goes against common sense and long-term strategy I suppose … but it does seem to matter to the Lord.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

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THE CHRISTIAN ETHIC OF THE INDIVIDUAL

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So Jesus told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. – Luke 15:1-5

Obviously, this parable is about tasking the risk to save the one who is lost.  It is about the Christian ethic of the worth of the individual.  It is about rescuing those imperiled rather than to playing it safe.  But this morning I allow myself a rare chance to wander off on a tangent path.

shepherd carrying sheepIt is again one of those details that we often overlook, a detail that may have a significance not at first noticed.  When the shepherd finds that lost sheep, he lays it across his own shoulders and rejoices.  No reporting of the shepherd chastising the sheep; no reporting of the shepherd punishing the sheep; no reporting of the shepherd chasing the sheep back to flock; rather the shepherd carries the sheep on his shoulders and while carrying that sheep, rejoicing.

Why did the shepherd carry the sheep on his shoulders?  Fear that this wayward sheep would runaway again?  Possibly.  But I think it was more likely that the sheep was wounded or in distress.  So the shepherd carries the sheep.

And that emphasis on rejoicing on the part of the shepherd.  This is also noted in the similar parables of the lost coin and the prodigal son … the woman and the father rejoice when what was lost is found.  This rejoicing … I imagine it is part relief, it is part the thanksgiving that comes when the fear of loss results in a happy ending, it is in part the peace that comes when wholeness is restored.

In our ever burgeoning mass society, the individual can easily be lost in the crowd.  Individuals become numbers in a chart of profit and loss.  Individuals become expendable in the corporate cause.  Individuals become but acceptable casualties in an ongoing war.  Individuals become just one soul lost in the crowd or lost in the unseen loneliness.

That one sheep … when tending a flock of so many … why worry about a wayward sheep?  In God’s economy … each individual matters.

Always in Christ’s Service

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

 

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LOSING ONE’S SOUL THROUGH FALSEHOOD

DAILY DEVOTIONAL

Saturday, August 11, 2018

MARTYRA

And Christ said to His disciples, “So have no fear of the powerful; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:26-28

Maybe it was some childhood preacher or teacher, or those long years of indoctrination in a certain expression of the faith, but it only today, that I caught a misreading I had made all through the years.  “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  I always presumed that the pronoun “him” referred to God, but the text does not actually define who the “him” is.  Oh, a theological system might provide argument that of course this “him” refers to God … but what if it refers to the Deceiver we sometimes call the devil or satan.  Or what if referred to someone in political power, Caesar, Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas?

So this brings us to the question, “We can destroy both soul and body in hell?”  The obvious, traditional answer is God Almighty, Judge of all things.  But what if it referred to those wielders of power who snatch away true faith and replace it with a false faith?

To His disciples He encourages them to not fear being martyred for being faithful to the Truth and being a faithful proclaimer of the Truth; but be especially careful about dealing with people who seduce your soul to its onw destruction.

Is our Christian faith based on the fear of hell?  Not mine, at least.  Oh, I do revere, respect, hold in awe, the Lord God … but God’s Love has chased away that fear.  But I do have a fear that the spirit of anti-Christ so adept at deception and corruption might allure me and those I love into the ways that lead to a soul’s demise.

Always in Christ’s Service,

Fr. Charitas de la Cruz

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