Susanna’s Message

…but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness.   Daniel 13:57

The sex scandal in the Catholic Church has captured headlines for many years.  When news of it first broke in 2002 (as depicted in the movie Spotlight), it caused great shock and awe in both Catholic congregations and across the globe.  Even today, details of the horrific crimes of abuse and cover-up are still being revealed as dioceses across the country are bringing to light the names of those priests and clergy members who were responsible in any way for causing pain and harm to its many victims. And as dioceses around the world continue to find scandal and cover-ups of their own.

This is the Church.  The one place where we should be able to go as a “safe space” for all.

But how can we when there is so much evidence to the contrary?

Today’s story in Daniel exists  in the Catholic biblical canon, but may also be found in the Apocrypha of many Protestant bibles.  In this story, we find, Susanna, a pure and pious spouse of a church patriarch, Joakim, being threatened by two corrupt elders who insist that Susanna succumb to their lustful desires or they will accuse her (falsely) of adultery with a young man and she will be sentenced to death.  She seemingly only has two options:  do as they wish and sleep with the two men, or die.

Enter Daniel.

Daniel sees through the two elders to the underlying truth.  He sees that their stories don’t add up, and he demands the two elders be separated to give their testimony.  And when they do, they each describe its events differently, which proves their guilt and Susanna’s innocence, and they are then put to death and Susanna escapes abuse and is free.

I can’t help but see some parallels in the story of the religious elders of ancient Israel and the hierarchy of the Church today.  Then, like now, corruption existed in religious settings.  Then, like now, it wasn’t in everybody and everywhere, but it was in some…and even one victim is one too many.

But there is hope.

Then, like now, more and more often details of the scandal are being brought to the light.  Then, like now, victims advocate groups and counselors rise to help those who have suffered.  Then, like now, people’s eyes were opened.  And while it stinks to feel as though we have to scrutinize the leaders of our churches (or our corporation or our country, etc. ), it’s a good reminder to me that the reason for that is because there is only one True Authority, one Truth we can trust in this world, or any world…and that is Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

Though Susanna walked the earth many years before Jesus, like Jesus her heart was aligned with God, the Father.  This daughter of Judah, remains faithful to God in the midst of this little -known scandal,  just as many years later a little babe who is born in the “hill country” of Judah, called Bethlehem, remains faithful to God the Father to the point of death on a Cross.  Then He rises into New Life, breathing that Life into the very Church of today.

My footnotes tell me Susanna is a “type” of the Church.  (In biblical talk, a “type” is a foreshadowing of sorts–someone or some thing that parallels someone or some other thing that happens later in history). Like Susanna, we the Church, should not tolerate wickedness, neither outside her “walls,” nor within them.  Like Susanna, we the Church can overcome scandal.  We owe it to the thousands of victims who have suffered at the hands of it, and we owe it to Jesus who died because of it.  We need not fear it.  And we need not despair over it.  We need simply let the Light shine upon it, until the last stone is overturned.

Until then, we put our hope in the day when we, like Susanna’s husband and parents, can say with every confidence “praise God…because nothing shameful was found in her.”

Reflect:  Have I lost faith in God because of the wrongdoings of men?  What can I do to be like Daniel, and help victims of abuse (either in or outside the Church) in my area?  How can I deepen my faith in Jesus, so that when uncertain times fall upon me, I can still trust in his goodness and love?

Pray:  Lord, today we pray for all those who have suffered abuse at the hands of those they trusted, or through random violent attacks.  Help us to love one another, to understand one another and to have compassion and provide counsel for all those who suffer, but especially for those who suffer from abuse by church and religious leaders whom they trusted.  We will not tolerate that wickedness.  Empower us to continue shining your Light until the last stone is overturned.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Ocean Swimming

…but there was now a river through which I could not wade; for the water had risen so high it had become a river that could not be crossed except by swimming.                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 47:5

One of the first songs that guided and consoled me when I began the timid steps of following Jesus, was Matt Maher’s “Come to the Water.”  I sang/prayed it for days   pondering its message and taking comfort in its words and melody.  Then, after several days of this, I remember walking into our basement storage room and before I even turned on the light I could smell it: the damp, dank smell that comes with a pool of lifeless water.  I anxiously threw on the light and was relieved to see, not the flooded storage room I feared, but simply a large puddle due to a drain pipe that had accidentally been kicked away from the drain.  Whew!  Simple clean-up and a simple fix. Having restored my heart to its natural rhythm, I thought of the song and remember turning my eyes to heaven and saying, “Thank you, Lord, but this was not the water I’ve been praying for!”  And then I laughed out loud.  And I started to realize that maybe God has a sense of humor, too.

Today’s readings provide us with fantastic images of the kind of water we long for:  the Living Water that is Jesus. Images of water pouring out of the temple and into the Dead Sea in the Old Testament and a pool of healing water for the ill and crippled in the New Testament are the two bookends that point toward the Living Water that is Jesus.

The reading from Ezekiel was especially powerful for me today.  An angel brings Ezekiel to the temple of the Lord and shows him this water that starts spilling out of it as a trickle and ends in a flowing river too deep to cross without swimming. And I’m overwhelmed with images of my own life, and God’s work in me.

I sit with the images awhile and return to a prayer I’d nearly forgotten.  It’s a prayer that maybe feels unnatural to some because it’s less of prayer as we think of it and more of an encounter with Jesus.  In this prayer I picture myself lying in a pool of water that to me looks a lot like a babbling brook or a creek that would run through someone’s back yard.  I’m lying on my back and the water surrounds every part of me including about four inches over my face.  Knowing that the water is a symbol of Jesus, I relax in the water and the water is Him.  I rest in Him.  I float in Him.  He cools me if I’m warm and warms me if I’m cool.  I breathe Him in.  He cleanses me inside and out. He heals my wounded heart. He soothes my raw and sensitive spots.  He restores  my soul.  He replenishes my spirit.  We share no words (though you could), because this encounter–this heart-to-heart, face-to-face, breath-to-breath experience –is so much deeper than words if you let it.

Then after several minutes of this, I open my eyes.

And it’s hard to explain the changes I experience after these encounters because they’re subtle, but very real.  My body feels reenergized, my mind is clearer, my outlook is  brighter and the world appears somehow softer (more fragile, maybe even?)  and I am more aware that I have a purpose in it.  A mission to make changes where I can, when I can, as often as I can, as long as I can.

This is the Living Water that is so deep and so wide, that I realize I can never cross it, except by letting go of everything.  And in Him I find an ocean of everything I need..healing and love and comfort and mercy and grace.

And after reflecting on all of this, , I smile a grateful smile and turn my eyes to heaven, and say the only thing I can think to say… Thank you!  THIS is Water I was praying for.

Reflect:  How do I see Jesus as the Living Water in my life? Am I fighting Him by treading water?  Drowning in Him and afraid to let go? Thirsting for Him but not sure where to turn?  Immersed in Him, but relying on an oxygen tank? Whatever your understanding, spend a few minutes and sit with the thoughts of water and Jesus and see what comes to mind for you.  Ask Jesus to show you what He wants you to know or see. 

Pray:  Lord, thank for being Living Water for us!  Thank you for the times you replenish us and the times we thirst for you.  Help us to remember that your oceans of love and mercy are readily available to each of us, and that just as the ocean meets the beach, you are happy to meet us where we are, whether we are watching from the shore, or swimming in your depths.  You beckon us, but never force us in your love.  Amen.

On Choosing Life

“Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live…” Deuteronomy 30:19

When I was in ninth grade, I loved animals so much that I was sure I was going to be a veterinarian. I was lucky enough to have my parents steer me to a career exploration program where I got to “shadow” a veterinarian for three or four weeks so I could decide if this was indeed my future career. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.) Mostly what my fellow explorers and I observed were surgeries to neuter or spay dogs and cats.

One day in particular stands out to me from that experience. That day we were going to “spay a pregnant dog.” My ninth grade mind didn’t quite conceptualize what this meant, so I stood and observed the vet as he made an incision into the dog’s belly then reached in and pulled out the dog’s uterus (which was more akin to how I’d always envisioned an intestine would look). His pulling it out of the dog’s belly reminded me a bit of a magician’s scarf trick…it just kept coming and coming out of the dog. As he held it up, we could clearly what I can only describe as a “sausage-tube” of five puppies. You could see their fur, you could see their little paws, you could see their closed eyes. And I thought to myself what exactly are we doing here? What’s he going to do with those puppies? And after holding the sausage-tube of puppies up for us all to see, he wordlessly dropped it into a garbage bag-lined plastic bin. And then he began sewing up the dog, who’s body, I was beginning to realize, had been slowly stretching and shaping in preparation to give birth, but who now was going to awaken from anesthesia with a belly slackened and empty.

That’s when I realized that I had just witnessed a dog abortion.

And while my heart broke for those puppies quietly dying in the bin, it also broke for the dog on the table who I was certain would feel some sense of loss or confusion when she woke up. I wanted to both save the puppies and comfort the mother. I wanted to find a home for her and for those cute little pups. But I couldn’t do that myself, and that wasn’t why I was there, so I did neither. But I went home deeply bothered and realized in that moment that I was not cut out to be a veterinarian.

I didn’t know it then, but this concern I had over the dog and her pups is what Pro-Life ministries do for human families. While the terms “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice” have become trigger words in our culture that are pitted at opposite ends of a spectrum, I truly believe that most people on both sides of the abortion issue act out of deep concern for the woman expecting a child. I also believe that most people on both sides agree that men and women should be able to have a say in (or choose) medical procedures that affect their bodies. The problem with pregnancy is that there are actually two bodies involved: the woman’s body, yes of course, but also a separate hidden body that is her unborn child. And even if he isn’t present, somewhere there is a third body: that of the man who helped create that unborn child. This is what my exposure to Pro-Life work has helped me see, because I didn’t always see it: that we must act with love out of concern for ALL of them.

Yes, we help and love and pray for the destitute and overwhelmed mothers, yes we help and love and pray for the distraught or absent fathers, and yes… we also do all of these things for the unborn.

The words from Deuteronomy are clear today, “Choose life then, that you and your descendants might live….” It is an inarguable fact that through abortion, not all of our descendants get the chance to live. We are cherry-picking our descendants before we even know them. And while the gateway for that may have been a law that gave us the option, the law is not even the issue. Abortion could be legal forever, but that doesn’t mean that any of us must choose it.

If our hearts change, the law will hardly matter. Blessed Mother, pray for us!
Reflect: Do you believe your life and body are your own or that they are gifts from God? If you believe they are your own have you ever thought about why you exist? What do you believe is the purpose for your life? For your body? If you believe your life and body are from God, what are some changes you need to make to better align with what God desires for your life? For your body? (Hint: Try reading Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West or These Beautiful Bones by Emily Stimpson if you are unsure of God’s desires for your life and body.)
Pray: Loving Father, you have created us out of love for relationship with one another. Help us break down the barriers that prevent us from having real communication with one another about difficult and complex issues. Open our ears to hear what those whom we view as our opposition are truly saying, and help us unite the many divisions of our government, our country, our economy, our world, and most especially your Body the Church. Amen.

NOTE:  Some people (men or women) experience traumatic loss, sadness or even suicidal thoughts after choosing to terminate a pregnancy.  If you experience any of these thoughts or emotions after an abortion, please know there is help for you!  Consider reaching out to  Hope After Abortion  or  Rachel’s Vineyard .

You Are Not Alone

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…

was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness,

tempted by the devil.”

-Luke 4:1-2

 

Each of the three synoptic Gospel writers who mention the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matthew, Mark and Luke) anchor the temptation solidly between two other events:  Baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

What might they be trying to tell us about Jesus—and ourselves–by this sequence?

First, perhaps to remind us that we are not alone in what we experience in life…good or ill. The Holy Spirit, poured out to us at our Baptism– the very same Spirit who told Jesus he was God’s “beloved Son” –is with us in times of joy as well as in times of suffering.  Through this single event of Baptism, we, too, become “beloved” sons and daughters of God.

Second, times of trial and temptation are a necessary part of our life experience. The old adage here of “If God leads you to it, He’ll lead you through it” comes to mind.  Not everywhere the Spirit leads us will be a pleasant one; but even the unpleasant experiences will be worth it, if we endure.

Third, that we are all called to a life of ministry, by using our suffering to help others. How much would we be willing to listen to someone who has never suffered in life?  How much do we think they would be able to relate to us, if they have never suffered?  Not much at all, of course!  Why?  Because it is primarily through someone else having “been there, done that” and showing empathy and compassion for our own suffering that usually resonates the loudest with us.  This type of “ministry” is at the very heart of Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery programs.  Only those who have suffered the effects of drugs and alcohol addiction, and then learned to overcome that addiction have earned the right to be heard by those who are suffering.  It is someone else’s stories of triumph over the type of suffering we also experience, that  softens us enough for our “ears to hear and eyes to see” (Matt  13).

Each of us, no matter what lot in life we’ve been dealt, knows suffering and knows joy. Let us use this season of Lent to live out the faith of that cycle—suffering, joy; suffering, joy; suffering, joy—so that we may help others do the same.  Most of us are not going to live a life experience of preaching to crowds of people, true.  But each of us knows someone who may, right now, have it just a little worse than we do.  Let’s let our life be a beacon of hope to that person, and let our experience of suffering be the doorway to compassion we need in order to help them through.  That may be the closest to “ministry” most of us will ever get; but, it may also be just what we need to deliver us to eternal joy.

 

Reflect: What are the times in my life when I have suffered the most?  What/who was it that helped me through?  What was it that was so hard for me to change and/or accept that time of suffering?  How might I be able to use that experience to help others?

Pray: Lord of our sorrow, help us to know that we are not alone in our suffering. Help us to remember that you sent your Son to suffer just as we do, as an act of love for us. Help us to remember that while he suffered greatly, he was never alone;  your Spirit was with Him, as it is with us now.  Come, Holy Spirit of Love and Joy!  Lead my life towards others who may benefit from my suffering, and guide my heart to comfort them in the way they need most.  Amen

Ask and It Will Be Given

It is easy for many of us to think that somehow Jesus is lying when he tells us that all we have to do is “ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7). How can this be true? we think.  I’ve asked for so many things over the years and they were not given.  Dreams I’ve wanted to come true.  Wishes and hopes and even prayers that never came to be.

Over the years, of course, I’ve come to realize that my requests going ungranted was not so much because God wasn’t willing to grant what I was asking, as much as it was that I wasn’t willing to change to make it so.

Now, when I find myself asking for the same things again and again in prayer, wondering and doubting what power God has over the universe or what love he has for me, I find myself asking other questions.  What is stopping you, God?  Why do you not answer me?  And eventually, I come to realize that, in many instances, my asking has gone unanswered only because God is holding true to his promise.   He is bound by his one and only kryptonite: my will.

It is enough to help me realize that in that moment, I am standing at the threshold of a new opportunity:  the opportunity to change.  And it is only then that I hear Jesus answering my questions with questions of his own, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41 )  and “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).

In Three Months’ Time

It is amazing to me what can happen in three months’ time.

Which is how long it’s been since we lost our beloved dog, Baxter.

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And still how my heart grieves!

Slowly, over the three months since his unexpected departure, all the things around the house that were his (and there was literally something in every room…EVERY room!), have been packed up, put away, tucked out of sight for now.  To look around here, you would not know this house has known a dog’s love, a dog’s wet, muddy paws, a dog’s endless loss of fur.

Which makes me sad.

When will we be ready for another dog?

That’s the question on my mind today.  Especially because I was just on a field trip with my son’s middle school class (hence this late afternoon blog post) and spent the better part of the day with a teacher who had been incredibly supportive when Baxter died.  At that time,  I sent an email to all his teachers letting them know what my son would never be able to put into words–that he was grieving the loss of his first dog.  While all the teachers were supportive and kind in their replies, this teacher was especially touched–moved to tears even–by the story of Baxter.  And so today she was eager and excited to hear what we’d done “since then.”

And it was a bit awkward because I wanted to say, “It’s hardly been that long!”

But to some people, when it comes to losing a dog,  three months is three too many.

But it doesn’t help answer the question…what is the “proper” amount of time for me?

People seem to really want to know.

(Nobody wants to know more than I).

All I could tell her was, “The time will be right when my heart is ready to let the new dog be who it’s meant to be, instead of wishing it to be another Baxter.”

For some people, that is almost right away.

For me, it is…not yet.

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At the same time, I believe that the healing won’t be complete until a new dog is ours.

Somewhere in the depths of my heart, I know this.

In a way, that belief was confirmed for me this past weekend when we had the unexpected joy of having my husband’s uncle and aunt drop in on us with none other than their own beloved pup!  Such a treat!  Never have the kids been so excited to have a dog back in the house!  We got out the water bowl and all the toys (and I noted how quickly we found them all.  They are still at arm’s length, it seems.)

Of course, as soon as they left, it was hard not to run right out and pick the first dog that caught our eye.

But, no.

Still my heart is not ready. (It certainly doesn’t seem to mind taking a look on the internet for available dogs, though!)

From a practical standpoint it makes sense that we wait to introduce a new dog until we know our travels will be few and far between.  But, with summer rapidly approaching,  and a few trips planned, that is one reason why right now is not such a good time for a new pup.   Still…

When?  my heart screams.  Because I want desperately to pet a furry head, to step over a furry lump on the kitchen floor, to walk again with leash in hand.

So…when?

I knew  I’d heard some words of comfort in a poem that my good friend and spiritual advisor shared with me right after Baxter passed away.  So, when I got home from the field trip today, I searched for the words and was able to find them without difficulty.   (Thank you, internet!)

“[There are] days when you have your heart back,

You are able to function well

Until in the middle of work or encounter,

Suddenly with no warning,

You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.

All you can depend on now is that

Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.

More than you, it knows its way

And will find the right time

To pull and pull the rope of grief

Until that coiled hill of tears

Has reduced to its last drop.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed;

And when the work of grief is done,

The wound of loss will heal And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From that gap in the air

And be able to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return all the time.”

-An excerpt from For Grief by John O’Donohue

I don’t know how else to say it.

The answer to “the right time” is somewhere in these words.

All I know for sure, is this…

For me?

Three months’ time  is not enough.

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Little Rays of Light

Every once in a while we moms have a moment where we are caught off-guard and realize that maybe we’ve not done EVERYTHING wrong.

This morning I had one such moment.

Between bustling one kid off to the dentist and dragging another along who woke up with a fever, I felt like this was going to be one of those mornings where I just couldn’t win.  But then, after dropping the Middle One at school after his appointment, there I was with my Little Bean in the van when I noticed off in the distance, through our overcast, cloudy, sky a hole in the clouds where a bright ray of sun shone down.

“Look over there, Bean, isn’t that pretty?” I asked.

She looked up.  “Wow!,” she said, “It looks like Heaven!”

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She read my mind, I thought.

There was a pause.

And then, “I bet it’s Baxter looking down on us from Heaven,” she said with a smile.

“Hmmm.  That’s a beautiful thought,” I said, “I bet you’re right.  He probably dug a hole through the clouds to peak at us.”

She giggled.  “Hi, Baxter!  Hi, Jesus!”  she shouted from the back seat.  She was so happy and matter-of-fact about her greeting–so sure of herself and her faith–that for a moment, I wondered if she might actually see something I didn’t.

But then.

Then,  God pressed down on my heart real hard, and said, “Or maybe she just remembers everything you’ve taught her.”

Amen.

“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” – Mark 10:14