“You therefore must be perfect…”

Gerontissa Gabriella.2I am so distressed today.  There are a lot of words being said, back and forth, across the social media sites today about the lack of media coverage of the abortionist who is being tried for murder.  One of the nurses testified that at least one infant screamed as the doctor severed its’ neck with scissors.  That in and of itself is a horrible thing to testify to, to witness, and to have done.  Wanton-less killing is evil; pure and simple.  And I am a pro-life person through and through.  I have learned, through the years, that being pro-life does not just mean that you are anti-abortion.  It does mean, however, that you believe in the sanctity of all human life, from a natural beginning to a natural end.

And the rhetoric that is being flung against this man, and against the mainstream media, is pretty strong.  I was invited to participate in a tweeting meeting…I have no idea what exactly that is, because I really haven’t figured out tweeting.  I guess it’s like instant messaging a whole bunch of people, all at the same time?  I am unclear on the concept or the need for it.  But I digress.  Part of this invitation included lots of comments from the pro-life contingency.  And that is where my upset stomach comes in.

We cannot say the sort of things that are being said about this man and consider ourselves Christians.  It is one thing to believe that someone is guilty of a heinous crime, and I in no way believe this man is innocent, and it is another to speak with such hatred and vitriolic commentary.  How can someone say they are pro-life and Christian, and wish upon a fellow human being the same atrocities they have committed against these babies?  One commentator said he thinks this doctor should be killed by scissors, without anesthesia, piece by piece until he is dead.  There were so many comments about an eye for an eye and so many Biblical quotes from the Old Testament.  The one most used is: “If two men are fighting and they strike a pregnant woman and her children are born prematurely, but there is no harm, he is certainly to be fined as the husband of the woman demands of him, and he will pay as the court decides.” (Exodus 21:22).  For one thing, this verse is talking about a woman being an innocent bystander when two men are arguing; they accidentally hit her and she miscarries.  Her husband can then demand recompense for the loss of her child.  This is not about abortion.  In the case of abortion, the mother is complicit with the decision to kill her child; she is no innocent bystander, but an active participant.

Christ came to change the world.  Yes, He came to cause division.  Yes, He certainly stirred the pot in the ancient world and tried to change how people viewed themselves and their neighbors.  He instructed us to, above all, love our neighbor and pray for those who persecute us.  He also taught us the value of life…of all life.  We are not to sit as judge, jury, and executioner; that is God’s prerogative.  Certainly, this doctor deserves to be punished by the law.  Pope John Paul II said that the death penalty is just in a just society.  Is the society we find ourselves in right now, a just society? I think not.  We have all sorts of standards, in all sorts of situations.  Very few people believe our judicial system is actually working.  We have more people in jail in America than total populations in some countries.  We house more criminals than any country in history.  But does this system work?  Recidivism, that subconscious desire to return to the world of the prison system, pulls hard at so many of our convicted. They prefer life on the inside versus life in the streets.  We have raised a generation who believe the world owes them everything and they don’t need to do a thing to earn it.  We have one of the most severely under-educated populations in the world, and yet we spend more per pupil than any other nation.

Most of the commentary about this doctor is so hateful and spiteful, and supposedly said by Christians, that it is frightening.  Now be prepared, because I am a person of eclectic tastes.  One of my favorite TV shows is called Supernatural.  The premise is these two brothers, working with angels, are trying to stop the apocalypse from happening. There is a lot more to it than that, but that is the basic idea.  In one episode, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are slowly escaping (the explanation for the whys of that take an entire season) and War has made himself known in a small town in Colorado. When one of the brothers is chatting with War, he asks him why is he poisoning the people?  What is he doing? Is it an incantation, a spell, a drug?  War simply answers that he needs none of that.  Lovely, complacent, Christians (many of the scenes take place in the Catholic church’s basement Hall, where a stunned priest asks, “Wait, you mean the Apocalypse?) can turn on their neighbor when you simply introduce doubt and suspicion into their minds.  He goes on to say that being War is one of the most simple things to be because humanity itself can war on itself, with nothing more than a little nudge from him.  That got me to thinking about the reaction to this doctor.  Hateful.  And the reaction in politics – it is frightening how our hatred spews from the same mouths that proclaim Christ as King.

Today, the vitriol made my stomach just churn in knots.  I grabbed a tums and sat down to write.  What we say and how we act shows where our hearts truly lay.  If we can so easily turn on another human being with such hatred, is it any surprise that things like the holocaust could happen in those quiet, German, suburbs?  Is there any surprise that Planned Parenthood can operate in our towns and cities with no reaction?  Where is the surprise at what a late term abortion entails?  Babies are born alive and then they are killed.  When my sons were born, they were crying almost right away.  Of course a baby will scream when you cut its neck with scissors.  What did we think happened?  But do we really want to impose that same thing on this doctor?  What happened to us that we think that is justified, while decrying ourselves as Christians?  Christ told us, quite specifically, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)  The fifth chapter of Matthew contains the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ exhorts us to behave above and beyond what our culture expects of us. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5: 21-26).

St John of Kronstadt.love others

It frightens me, how easily the hatred and frustrations people bear towards their neighbor comes to the surface.  How can we possibly attract people to Christ when we behave like that?  If someone from the pro-abortion side were to read the comments made on this pro-life site, they would feel even more justified in their position.  They spew things about pro-life supporters, calling us names and telling us how false we are.  Perhaps if we show our underbellies like this, there is some truth in what our naysayers actually say about us.  I stopped reading the sites and went to prayer for these people.  We need to love the sinner, but hate the sin.  It is stated this way in Scripture: If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? (1 John 4:20)  St. Augustine is thought to have expounded on that with the love the sinner but hate the sin statement.  There is more evidence that we should not judge our brothers: “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, `Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eyes; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).  Furthermore, Christ instructs us: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

In no way do these statements of Christ I have opted to quote, nor my commentary, undermine or reduce the crime this man has committed.  In no way do I condone his actions. I believe abortion is evil and wrong, and a choice of convenience. In our hedonistic society, we are all about serving ourselves and not looking out for our brothers.  We think that we have the right of death over life, when in fact, that belongs to God alone.  My point is that the words we use do remain until eternity.  And because eternity is never-ending, our words are never-ending as well.  Do we want to be known for the vitriolic hatred spewed about this man, or would it be better to calm down this hateful rhetoric, push for a life-long jail sentence, and see to correcting the societal ills that approve of abortion in the first place? Let us not sink down into the miasma of hatred from which the desire to kill the unborn sprang.  Let us instead approach the situation with the love of Christ.  He quietly stood among those in a small community, calling for the stoning of the woman accused in adultery.  He alone caused that community to calmly walk away, by asking those without sin to cast that first stone. We can do at least that.  We can put down the stones and allow the man to spend his life in repentant jail time, and try to change the world that caused him to abandon his training as a doctor who saves lives, to one who takes life.

St Silouan the Athonite2

“…but to be silent;”

I have been stimulated to place words down here again by something someone said, and something I heard and/or read.  For me, blogging about things is a way for me to communicate with myself, my husband, family, and friends.  More often than not, my stimulus to write is because I am reading or listening to someone, and it gets my mind reeling with possibilities.  Today is no exception.

I read some articles yesterday about the Pope’s resignation and how the world, most especially the mainstream media outlets, do not get Catholicism, or organized religion, at all.  The other things were an article by an Abbot I love and the introduction to St. John Climacus,’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” which is my other reading for Lent this year.  All of those combined, in odd, very odd, ways to bring me to write.

Very few in the western mindset of democracy understand those of us who opt to unite our journey towards God with an organized religion.  Most of the world (especially the western world and most especially, America) has listened to soundbites throughout history and has allowed those limited words to explain 2,000 years of history and tradition.  In my own family, I am the sole practitioner of organized religion.  Quite often, even among friends, I am the die-hard of Byzantine practice and that is rarely understood, as it differs so much from Latin or Roman Catholicism, as well as most Protestant denominations.  In the forward to the “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” the author explains that most western eyes look to monastics as “different” and even the words surrounding monasticism as “different.”  There are a few Roman Catholics who have discovered the wealth contained in monastic orders and they flock to the monasteries for Mass and prayer, even confession, whenever they can.  In the Eastern side of the Church, we breathe with our monastics; we turn to them as friends, as confidants, as Spiritual Fathers and Spiritual Guides.  One of the incredible gifts of being Byzantine is that we are generally a part of either a monastery itself, or we attend quaint little parishes.  The priests and monks are not strangers; they know us.  One of the great joys I experienced was attending a conference on Byzantine spirituality of some sort (it may even have been a Melkite Greek Catholic conference…I am not certain and that part of it did not resonate with me) and the most important thing that came out of it for me was the camaraderie that developed within the small group we came to associate with.  My husband, being an ordained Melkite deacon, immediately congregated with his fellow deacons.  We wives also congregated together. With us, we added a coupe of priests, an archmandrite, and a Bishop.  We had the most amazing dinners together and ended up, all of us, in our hotel room, gabbing the night away.  I was in awe of the level of intelligence, humor, and love for God and His Church that surrounded me that night.  The other deacon’s wife and I huddled in the corner and we whispered together about how cool it was, to witness the repartee that was taking place and the amazing thing (for women) is that neither of us felt the need to speak; we just drank in all the wonderful conversation around us. It is very rare for something like that to occur within other denominations.  The priests, Bishops, and other clerics are just not that available to their people.  And because I have barbequed, fed the poor, prayed, and worshiped with priests and deacons, I feel so close to my Spiritual Fathers, and so do my children. It is a blessing.

This morning I read an article that explains why we women love to talk.  Well, it is not something new under the sun, but scientists can now explain it – biologically and chemically!  I feel so much better about myself! Ha-Ha!  But I point this out because one of the issues I struggle with is keeping silent.  Sometimes silence gains you so much more than chatter.  The noisiness of this world can cramp our relationship with God so very much.  My son and I were sitting in a parking lot last night, waiting for someone to open the gates for our entrance onto a small, local, military base for his CAP meeting, and he made the most interesting observation: “Mom, have you noticed how much noise is all around us?  Did you notice the sounds of all those cars and trucks as we drove here on the freeway?  Even here, up on this hill, you can still hear the sound of all those cars!”  And we chatted a little bit about how very noisy our world has become.  He even said that he cannot wait to get out into the wilds when we move, to experience the quiet of nature.  And I believe that part of the misconception about monasticism and keeping Holy Silence is due to the fact that we rarely are in a position of total silence; there is always a gentle humming of background noises, even in the quiet of our homes.  And people are very uncomfortable in total silence.

St Ambrose

As we enter more fully into Lent, I am pulled to “withdraw” more and more from contemporary noises.  As a chatterbox most of my life, being silent is something very few expect from me.  Many years ago, a friend of mine who was also known to love talking, asked me to attend a weekend “Silent Retreat” at a monastery.  I was scared to death – because I had never been quiet that long, and I was not sure I could do it.  The first few hours were especially difficult, as my friend and I were roommates!  They asked us to not converse – at all!  We did talk over details about rooming together, but then we split up, in order to not talk, each of us exploring the monastery on our own.  There were lectures off and on throughout the day, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in a side Chapel all day and we could go there anytime we chose, and there were priests available all day for confessions, as well as all the regular prayer times throughout the day, common to monastic life.  Where did I find myself?  Well, I did not stroll the wonderful gardens, nor did I take advantage of the wonderful views, nor did I spend much time in quiet adoration; I was inexplicably drawn to their amazing two-storied library.  Up in the rafters, a rickety “third” floor that was more like scaffolding, they had all the books they were getting rid of.  For a book lover like me, I was delirious!  I lost track of time, finding all these wonderful treasures to bring home!  The smell of a library filled with old books is something only a book lover would treasure, and I did.  I found a niche by a rounded window that I cracked open for the slight, warm, breeze and set to reading books by the Church fathers, some old priests, and even books of prayers. I found myself startled by the sound of the dinner gong.  And I had not spoken a word in an entire day.  It was actually miraculous.  My weekend flew by and my friend and I scheduled that same retreat for several years in a row (until we had just too many children to leave our husbands alone for that long! Ha-Ha!) and we both marveled at how silence was something we both looked forward to each year.

Now that I am older and my home is less chaotic than when all my sons were running through it, I find that keeping quiet is not that difficult.  And I have, on occasion, answered a phone call with a cracked voice, realizing I have not spoken in hours.  And you know what? I have learned more and heard more in silence that I ever have in noise.  The Lord, it is said, comes in a “whisper.”  We have, jokingly, said many times in our family that God needs to use a 2 x 4 so we are sure we get His messages!  But I am learning that in the stillness of my heartbeat, and in the quiet of breathing, God is more present to me.  I am learning to control my thoughts (thanks to Elder Thaddeus and his book, “Our Thoughts Determine our Lives”) and keep my life from becoming too much about all the stresses that assail us on a daily basis.  I find myself reciting the Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart, more often during my day (“Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) and will often stop to place my mind fully on the prayer.  It is amazing when you have these little prayers you can offer all day, how settling they can be.

Abba Agathon

God is pleased when we give all that we are and all that we do, over to Him.  After speaking at length with a friend experiencing a crisis last evening, I shared how much we can change a situation by turning things over to God.  There is this amazing book, which I have quoted before in my posts, called, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Heaven, but Never Dreamed of Asking,” by Peter Kreeft.  In that book, he wonderfully speaks about truly giving everything over to God.  He describes a closet in our hearts/minds that we dedicate to God.  In that closet are shelves, with shoe boxes lining them, each with a label on it.  Each box is labelled for that particular thing or issue (or person and personal relationship) that you cannot handle on your own.  You place that thing in the box, giving it over to God, and close God’s closet door.  You truly have to picture yourself giving this thing to God.  I have all sorts of things in God’s closet.  Because I have that wonderful gift of free will, I will often yank that thing out of God’s closet and think I can handle it on my own.  Once more, God, Who is ever patient with us, will show me that I cannot handle this on my own.  He gently opens that door and I see quite clearly that box, with its lid askew, asking for my “thing” to be put back inside of it.  God is more faithful than any friend we have, who offers to help us out.  God will always come through for us.  His method, His time, His way…but He always answers our prayers.  And sometimes praying can be the single most difficult thing we do.  We also will, more often than not, forget to pray for ourselves.  We always pray for our husbands, children, friends, community and country; but most of us forget to ask God for something.  In the season of Lent, boy oh boy, do I seem to dump everything into God’s boxes!!  His arms are full of all the verbalized shortcomings I have come to own.  But the funniest things is, He already knows all of that about me.  He knows where I am weak and where my strength lays.  He is just waiting for me to humble myself, realize that I can do NOTHING without Him, and to simply implore Him for His intercession in my life.

St. John Climacus’ book, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,”  is the other book I am trudging through this Lent.  He addresses our incessant need to talk in his book, as so many scholars before and since have done.  One of the messages that came to me was my tongue praises God; my tongue receives God in Holy Communion; my tongue shares my faith with others.  My tongue is a holy instrument. How can I defame myself through my words? How can I defame my Lord and my God through profanity?  How can I allow negativity and strife to surround me and those near me, through my words, said with my tongue? There was a joke emailed to me this week, about a police officer who came up behind a woman who was gesticulating at an intersection, and yelling and screaming, at the car in front of her.  He pulled her over and arrested her.  She was brought to jail, fingerprinted and photographed, and left in a holding cell; she was hysterical, not knowing why.  He later came to her and apologized, saying that he thought she must have stolen the car because she had bumper stickers like “WWJD,” and “Pro-Llife” and “God Saves” and many more on the back of her car and so he thought that her behavior must have been that of a thief!!  We are all tempted to stray; we are all fallible; we are human.  The point is to get back up, dust ourselves off, and re-start on the journey we have begun.  For me, when my mouth gets tired and I realize I have been talking too much, too long, over trivia, I will quite often stop mid-sentence and sit back, realizing I have not only broken with my efforts at “Holy Silence,” I have outdone myself in the chatter department!!!

St Anthony the Great

As St. Anthony the Great tell us, it is not impossible to reach a virtuous life, but it certainly is not easy!  I take great comfort in his words, because I know that God expects a struggle.  Christ told us: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36).  And because He promised us struggles, even in our own families, why would we expect Lent to be easy?  The purpose of these 40 days is to struggle.  We are supposed to work towards becoming better at day 40 than we were at day 1.  At the very least, if we spend Lent wisely, we should know more about ourselves at the end of it.  And perhaps we will have picked up some new, positive, habits along the way.  I propose to become a more centered, loving, quiet woman by the time I am praising God on Easter Sunday, for His gift to me of “Eternal Life.”  A gift that I am praying I will become more cognizant of, and worthy of, through this struggle we call Lent.

Blessed Seraphim

“…like the flame of a candle…”

elder epiphanios2

True love is something we all aspire to find in our lives.  We experience so many different types of love.  My first “crush” was a boy named “Armando” when I was twelve.  He had a crush on me, too, and used to walk me home from school; but we did not even touch! No hand-holding permitted!  He was allowed on our doorstep, but no further.  He dedicated a song to me on the radio (something that used to be a regular thing when I was a kid) and I thought I would burst with joy. I often think of that time of my life and cringe a little bit, but also smile.  It is amazing how many twists and turns our lives take, in pursuit of “true love.”

Throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood, I was dedicated to the ultimate search for “true love” and I realize now that it was nothing more than me, trying to fill a hole that only God can occupy.  In this noisy, confusing world, we try to cram as much into living as we possibly can.  Life is lived at breakneck speed and we most often leave a wake behind us consisting of poor choices, questionable decisions, and often, broken hearts.

“In the Christian life, temptations and tests or trials of our spiritual condition are necessary; and as our life, like the furniture of a house, becomes covered with various stains, it is necessary to cleanse it. As for testing objects made, for instance, of silver, instruments are required, so likewise for testing the state of the soul, men are required, like for like, who, willingly or unwillingly, intentionally or quite unthinkingly, show us by their conduct in relation to us, in a manner apparent both to ourselves and others, whether we are obedient to God’s commands, declared to us in the Gospel, or not–whether we live according to the spirit, mortifying in ourselves the desires of the flesh, or according to the flesh, being obedient slaves to the will of the flesh and to carnal thoughts and passions; so that we, recognizing that we are not living in accordance with the will of God, not in accordance with the commandments of our Sweetest Savior, but in accordance with our own sinful and blind will, may speedily amend and zealously follow the commandments of the Divine Gospel.”  (St John of Kronstadt)

And thanks be to God, my experimental lifestyle came to a crashing halt when I met my husband, over 30 years ago.  He was a breath of fresh air and a light for my life.  His faith was a beacon to me, and I was drawn to it almost as much as I was drawn to the man.  I recall kneeling next to him in prayer at Church, while I was still exploring my own faith, and glancing over at him and realizing that his faith was so deep and so intense, I know I could have stood up and left at that moment and he would not have noticed I was missing, until he had finished his prayers.  He pursued his love of God throughout our marriage and eventually entered the Diaconate, where he found his ultimate joy, serving at the Altar.  And his faith radiated out to others who witnessed his love of God, most especially when serving.  Once his vestments came on, he became a Deacon first and foremost, and all the other roles in his life became secondary.  It is a wondrous transformation to witness.  Our journey together has brought us to many highs and many lows….that pretty much describes marriage for most people.  Along the way we have become a part of a community, and we have departed communities.  We have made and lost friends, we have created life and mourned death.  It is a wondrously-intertwined experience and I relish the memories of it all.

crown50_view1_lg

As we vowed to remain together for life, it also was a vow to live a life of faith, together.  The crowns we wore symbolized the nature of married life and the nature of how we treat all those who come into our circle of married life.  Our children have found wives that enlighten their lives and they are blessed now with children of their own.  It was my distinct pleasure to spend a week with our eldest son on the occasion of his son’s first birthday. It was the first time I have been in their home, as they live in Alaska and he has spent most of their marriage deployed in war time.  The week I spent with them was my first chance to see their marriage in action, in their own home.  I cannot express the joy I felt at seeing how much they love one another and as a mother, I was overjoyed at the love his wife has, for my son. It is all a mother wants for her son, to find a wife that will enrich and bless his life.

Our middle son and his wife are expecting their first child in a few months and they know already that it is a girl.  We are so excited, already referring to her by name, and already loving her so very much.  They have been married 8 months now and their lives are very fluid and flexible, with their futures still undecided.  It was a joy to spend a week with them prior to their wedding, in preparation for their vows.  The mother of my daughter-in-law and I were friends through our homeschooling group and we commented once that we should set them up – we were successful!  We did not realize what a great fit they would be for each other and both families were overjoyed at their engagement and marriage.  I don’t think my friend and I ever envisioned being grandmothers together, but it is an incredible feeling.

It is amazing how far our love can go, how stretched we can be to include others in our lives.  The amount of love you have inside of you is infinite, because God will assist you in loving the seemingly unlovable.  We throw away people in our culture in so many ways.  We have abortion readily available and becoming even more the norm than it has been – what a tragedy! We have homeless people who do not belong on the streets for a myriad of reasons (mental health being just one); we throw away so much of humanity without a second thought, and that is just so very sad to Our Lord. Each and every life is precious and each and every person deserves our best, as a culture, and as individuals.

ElderAM.2

We are all created in the image and likeness of God and if we allow ourselves to love with that “Agape” type of love that only God can share with us, it is amazing, truly amazing, where that love can take us.  Our circles grow and grow, and encompass more and more people, with the type of love that God shares with us.  We can love people through prayer and through participation in worship.  We can add names to prayer lists without even meeting the person.  Each time we are asked to pray for someone, even if we just stop for a moment and whisper, “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…and I hold —- up to you in prayer.”  It is a simple way to expand our circle of God’s love for others.  We need not feel that we are bound to take in every homeless person we see, nor are we obligated to feel guilt at passing by that person standing by the freeway exit with a sign declaring they are homeless.  We can, however, pay attention to the homeless shelters in our area; we can volunteer at soup kitchens; we can extend ourselves in so many ways to show our love for our fellow man.  As the quote at the top of this post states, each time we light another candle, that original candle’s flame is not diminished.  I often feel that the more we show the love of God to others, the more God’s love grows in us, and the more we give to others, the more we are given by God.  It is amazing how good it feels to clean up a kitchen after feeding the homeless.  Exhausted? Yes.  Stinky with food and sweat?  You bet.  Happy and satisfied?  Most definitely.  At our parish where we used to live in SoCal, we would feed the homeless and then walk over to the Church for Evening Prayers.  And my heart would be soaring over the people we had touched and having served the poor of our area.  It is an incredible feeling, to help others.  And all of this I experienced (and continue to experience) because I searched for, and found, the love that would fill that hole within my heart.  We are capable of more loving in this life than we can imagine; we just need to trust and love as easily and simply as Jesus Christ instructed us,

A new commandment I give you, to love one another; that as I have loved you, you also may love one another.” (John 13:34)

“…he has light continuously….”

“…and the more resolutely, the more constantly, your heart is turned towards God and His saints the more it will be enlightened, purified, and vivified”.  “Be true in heart always and everywhere, and you will always and everywhere have peace, but especially be true in your converse with God and the saints, “because the spirit is truth.” St. John of Kronstadt

Today is the March for Life in Washington, D.C. and I was glancing through the morning shows on TV and while I was looking, at least, not one announcer or news reporter mentioned it.  To give them the benefit of a doubt, I did not watch every channel, all morning long.  But as I was surfing channels, no one said a thing about it.  Oh, they discussed whether or not Beyonce lip-synced the National Anthem at the Inauguration, but not one word about the March for Life.

It is becoming more and more obvious that the media chooses to ignore things that are not on their own agenda.  I found one channel, and only one, that was running coverage of the March and it was EWTN – the Catholic channel.  As St. John said above, “be true in heart always and everywhere…” and I think that the public arena is being true to their misguided hearts. And it makes me sad.  I read today some statements from the various Orthodox Fathers on abortion and it has been clear, since the Didache itself, that all life is precious.  (The Didache (pron.: /ˈdɪdək/; Koine Greek: Διδαχή) or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didachē means “Teaching”) is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early second century).  You shall not slay the child by abortions.”

Many of our Church Fathers addressed abortion in the centuries leading up to the Modern Era, but people are just not in tune to the fact that all life is precious. I know there will be many people who do not want to deal with this issue, and I may get bombarded with comments because of my pro-life stance, but for me, this issue tugs at the core of our character, as a culture.  If each and every pro life person did just one act to save one life, then perhaps the millions of babies killed each year would be much less.  The very least those of us who are pro life can do is pray.  And prayer is a major portion of every war we face – and like it or not, the battle for life is a war, not just a battle.  The reason I say this is because we have a generation raised since Roe v Wade who have no concept of living without abortion and see it as a normal choice of birth control.

One of my favorite movies is Cheaper by the Dozen, filmed in 1950, and starring one of my favorite actresses, Myrna Loy. In the movie, she stars as the wife of an efficiency expert and mother of 12 children.  At one point, a woman from Planned Parenthood comes to see her because she has heard about her and her work, not knowing she is also mothering 12 children.  The scene devolves into laughter as her husband and their children make their entrances and the PP rep realizes that it is not a home for wayward youth, but rather, a family. She is horrified and leaves the house rather rapidly.  That scene has stayed with me my whole life.

Sanger quote about lg family

And to think that most people believe that Margaret Sanger had their health concerns at the forefront.  She most certainly did not.  She is one of the reasons abortion is so wide-spread and so accepted.

Sanger statementThe antithesis of what the Church teaches in regards to the sanctity of life is what Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are all about.  She was a devotee of Adolf Hitler…

Sanger speech

That one woman did more for the downsizing of races, other than white, than any other single human being has done.  Our Lord spoke to having the “faith of a mustard seed” and that if we just believe, we can change the world.  As much can be said for people like Margaret Sanger – one person has indeed changed a culture and a world view.

We need to begin, once again to turn our hearts to God, to stop this awful assault on humanity, to inherently change the way we all view life, and to turn our culture around before we value just things, with no regard to humanity.

John of Kronstadt

Once again, St. John Kronstadt tells us what we need to do, and to do it “henceforth.” The fight for the unborn is just symptomatic of what we have devolved into.  My mom, who is 83, taught me how to love as a mother loves. I have no doubt that my mother would die for me…she dove into a brawl when I was attacked at just 13 years old! All 4’10” of her!  She is brutally defensive and protective of her children, even now.  But she also believes that women have the right to “control their own bodies” and this is where she and I differ.  And it is endemic of how the vast majority of people in our country must believe, or Roe v Wade would be an historical event, not something we live with.

So as a devout Christian and pro life Byzantine Catholic, I choose to light a candle of faith and pray that flame will be spread to others, and then others will spread their flame. I think it is time we just said “no” to the many promptings of evil in our culture and stood for the faith Christ has passed down to us.  Pray…be a prayer warrior for those who cannot care for themselves and are the most vulnerable among us.  This is a gift, this faith we share.  And it is our privilege and our duty to share it with others.  Today, as millions march on Washington DC to share this love of life, let us all join with them, at least in prayer.  Let us share our light of faith and perhaps we can change history.

St Gregory Palamas

A winter’s quiet reflection…

Jersualem in snowThis is a photo of Jerusalem covered in this winter’s snow.  For me, it is a scene that renders me quiet and contemplative.  Once again, entering into the “Silence” that is so necessary for our minds and hearts and souls to connect with Our Lord.  When we become more “silent” and “hold things close to the vest” as my grandmother would say, noises seem to come at us from all directions.  “Stop the world, I want to get off” is the title of a play from the early 60’s that told the story of a man who opted to partake of relationship outside of his marital vows, seeking the fulfillment he could not somehow grasp.  The gist of the story is that he realized, as an old man, that the fulfillment he sought walked right next to him, his entire sordid journey, and that it was in the love from his wife.  Sometimes things we seek “outside” are with us, all along.

I have often spoken to others about stuffing themselves with the things of this world, trying to fill the place in their hearts, minds, and souls that only God can fill.  I see so many people reaching for physical perfection, often resulting to surgery to obtain it, and they are still left contemplating their reflection in the mirror. “Who’s the fairest of them all?” was the question the Queen asked in a famous story we often read to our children.  We are sharing with them, at a young age, that the physical is far more important than the people we are. And we will quite often seek the physical, rather than spiritual cure, for our ills. We buy bigger houses, newer cars, ridiculously expensive purses and shoes, and we still are not satisfied.  Some friends are always changing to a different color of hair, rather than dealing with the changes aging brings along with it.  Botox and eyebrow-lifts, collagen treatments and smile enhancements.  It seems that everywhere you turn, advertisers are trying to get you to buy something else that will “improve” you.  And that sets up a mindset that is often in direct opposition to a life of contemplative prayer and reflection.

As Abbot Tryphon wrote today, “Heaven and Hell are a condition of relationship with God that is either theosis or perdition. The lake of fire and heaven occur within the same realm, both being not about places, but about relationship. For one who hates God such a place as in the presence of God, will be eternal suffering. The Orthodox Church teaches that Heaven and Hell are in the same realm, and that Hell is not separation from God symbolically or physically, Hell is a place chosen.”

I was trying to explain to a loved one the decision-making process my husband and I are going through and he just could not grasp the why of it. He thought in a completely different way than I do.  His perspective is very worldly, in that he has no formal religious affiliation and has often stated things like, “Religion is for weak people.” In this conversation, I resorted to a “silence” and let him rant away, because I realized that no amount of explaining on my part would enable him to see things from my perspective. It was healthier for our relationship to just remain silent.  I do not seek after the “almighty dollar” in my life; neither does my husband.  And to someone who lives for financial achievement as their sole source of recognition and confidence, it is inconceivable that someone would opt to choose family over location, job, or income levels.  And comfort is one of the top items on the list for accomplishments. So for our relationship to remain intact, I chose to keep my silence.  And it was the perfect choice, because at the end of the conversation, we were able to express our love for one another and choose to speak at another time, with depth and thought, as well as the love we bear one another.

St Ambrose

When we are faced with choices and there are decisions before us, later in life, they quite often involve more than just “self.” At these critical times, I believe that silent reflection and careful conversation goes much further in reaching a right decision, than constantly talking about it to everyone you see. And let’s be honest, we cannot please everyone and life is not about pleasing “anyone” in any way. Life is about “theosis” or the goal of being God-like to be with God in Heaven; seeking eternal perfection in the Presence of God.  When Christ admonished us to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) and that we are to “do for one another as I have done for you,” (John 13:15) “for whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me” (Matthew 25:40) He was admonishing us to care for each other as God cares for us; that all-encompassing, Agape expression of pure love.  And we should be admonished enough to know that our devotion, outside of our devotion to God, should be for those He has entrusted to us.  For me and my family, that encompasses our children, our parents, siblings, grandchildren, and the like.  Caring for those God has entrusted to us is a far more important an edict that chasing the “almighty dollar” and also chasing a lost youth.  I enjoy, more than anything in this life, hearing my little grandson run around looking for me, calling, “Ga-Ga, Ga-Ga.” It makes my heart sing.  I would prefer chasing a grandchild around any day, than chasing monetary or physical “perfection.”

A perspective that is based in the love of God, before the love of self, is something that is becoming more and more foreign in our culture. I was astounded to read so many articles in today’s news about people choosing self over others. It is endemic to a culture that is becoming less and less recognizable as one that is based on faith, the faith our Founding Fathers intended we should have.  When we look around the world, living a life based on belief in God is becoming more and more scarce, and the ability to declare it, becoming often, more deadly.  Our country is drifting more and more towards a socialistic state and socialism has no room for God. Our culture is money- and youth-driven, with less and less emphasis on intact families and the love for one another.   And to reach others around you, who come at life, charging their way through the “ranks” with a ungodly perspective, is becoming less and less possible. When we “come at life” from a Godly perspective, we need to “stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:14-16)  Because, as Abbot Tryphon stated today, “Hell is a place chosen.”  As we silence the world about us and enter into a deeper communion with God, each decision and each choice before us, will be a choice and decision steeped in the love of God.  It may not reflect the standards of the world in which we live, but it will reflect the eternal standards of God.

My prayer is that we can all become reflective as this cold weather takes its last bow during our winter season: that we will all try and learn in the silence of the heart and the silence of your home, even the silence of your car on the daily commute, to become intuned to the Word of God, and to listen to what He has planned for you, rather than the plans of men.

“I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jer 29:11)

Lighting Candles

“Lifeless things….”

Monastery Icons

GUARDING THE HEART
Lifeless Things Offer no Satisfaction

The lifeless things of this world offer no spiritual satisfaction, yet we often sell ourselves off to things or people by giving them power over our hearts. It is easy to feel abandoned or hurt by those to whom we’ve given power. If we need affirmation from others we take the chance that we empower demons who would use our personal needs to keep us from focusing on that which is eternal.

Our need for affirmation from others can distract us from focusing on God. Ownership of our heart should be reserved for God alone, for evil spirits use whatever means they can to make us feel abandoned, discounted or unloved by anyone we’ve allowed to own our heart. We can easily be distracted from our service to God if we allow ourselves to become envious of the recognition others receive. Recognition for a job well done can be nice, but not if it comes at the price of having lost our soul.

God’s love must be sufficient, for only our relationship with God has lasting and eternal value. Sometimes we have to pull ourselves back from others and enter into The Silence. This self imposed exile is the spiritual retreat that helps us focus on what we have in God. Then our relationships with others become healthy, fulfilling, and life giving.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon – All Merciful Savior Orthodox Christian Monastery – Vashon Island, WA

Abbot Tryphon is such a wise man and I quite often quote him; I know I read what he has to say, or what other saints he quotes, daily.  It has enhanced my life immeasurably and I thank him for his prayerful insight.  He wrote this on January 14th, 2013 and I cannot help but note its impact on my current life situation, and the impact it should always have.  When we mull over choices and options before us, the material should always take last place in our consideration and in our deliberations.  As I reiterated my experiences and personal “a-ha” moments on my journey to Alaska last week, I profoundly realized that things, and the accumulation of them, are false gods.  I watched an interesting You Tube video this morning of a man in Canada addressing their governmental body and his referencing America and Americans, along with Europe and the European Union.  He was discussing our incessant need to accumulate things, even when we cannot afford them. He mentioned that the interest alone that the Chinese collect from us each year pays for 100% of their military budget; he went on to add another 8-10 countries and noted that not only do we pay enough in interest to fund China’s military, but all the others he listed, combined!  All the sub-prime loans through Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac that are now bust…it shows that people were loaned money on homes they could not afford – ever.  And the government knew that and did it because it was another way to control our flailing economy!  And, it shamed me, in a way. What a poor example we are, as a consumer-driven culture, to the world, but most importantly, to our children.  Why does a 10-year-old need an iPad?  Who says 12-year-olds need iPhones and Macbooks?? Why does a pre-teen have a Twitter account? (I still don’t fully understand what Twitter is or how it all functions, although I do understand it has to do with accumulating “followers” or “fans.” For a 12-year-old? Really??!!). I was at a well-loved bookstore (Barnes and Noble) for lunch recently (yes, they have a cafe there) and my daughter-in-law pointed out to us a young mother (in her late 20s or early 30s) sitting with her young son (3 or 4 at the oldest) at a table.  She had a latte, he had a drink box; she was reading a stack of magazines; he was playing on her iPhone.  (And he was good at it, too).  But here we were, in a bookstore, and this little boy was playing on an iPhone; books all around him and he is on electronic media. (Expensive electronic media, I might add!!). How very sad.

We have been unfortunate in our married life, and we have been very fortunate.  We have lived in large homes within well-planned and nice neighborhoods, and we have lived in relatively poor farmhouses that have motorcycle-stained carpets.  We have had housekeepers to clean for us and we have had to buckle down (like now) and do for ourselves. We have lived from one extreme to the other in the 28 years we have been together.  We have accumulated a lot of “things.”  This summer, we purged much of that (600 books to our local library, alone!).  And now we are considering a deeper, and more thorough purge.  We long for “simple and humble,” and before us lay some interesting decisions.  In our past, we did allow people power over us, both personally and in our working lives, as well as our spiritual lives.  We have been deceived and let down in horribly professional, spiritual, and personal ways.  We have, however, learned from those experiences. Ownership of our Hearts does belong solely to God.  We need to keep our eyes focused on eternal truths, rather than how many parking spaces our garage has.  We were looking at houses and neighborhoods in Alaska (I am a woman! C’mon!  I love to drive by houses, just enjoying the drive) and each home I commented on, and liked, seemed to have a 3-car garage.  My daughter-in-law quickly pointed out to me, “Mom, you are a grandma now, you can really, really downsize! Why do you need 3 garage doors?”  And she is right; I don’t need that. It is simply a way for things to have power over me.  I need small and I need simple; guardianship of the Heart.

As we face decisions before us, and choices we need to make, I will be retreating into “The Silence,” which is a Byzantine/Orthodox way of intimating the type of quiet Monks and Cloistered Religious keep.  Not just intimating, but also imitating!  A personal, spiritual retreat right where you are.  I plan to enter into more contemplative times throughout my day in order, to order, my thinking in a right way – Guardianship of the Heart!!  We are striving to put off the shackles of our “stuff,” all the noise of life around us, and look to a life-change that is significant:

Where do I want my front porch to be facing when I sit in my rocking chair, with my husband at my side?  What do I want to be looking at and have close to me?  Who do I want near me; close to me?  What do I need to be doing to make these things I am thinking about real?  How do I make the things I want to be living and the way I want to be living, and the “where” of my life, become a reality? I will enter into “the Silence” of my heart and pray Our Lord reveals His will for my life, and the life of our family.  As my eldest son likes to say, “I firmly believe that God uses 2 x 4’s when we need them, and that He has no problem using them!”  I pray that God uses His 2 x 4 on me and my husband soon.  His will is what I seek; living a simple life of grace through work and through loving our family and friends, which is a way of living a life of continual prayer.

St Maximos the Confessor 2

I quoted St. Maximos the Confessor during this past holiday season, but I believe we need to listen to this all the time, not just in moments of proposed excess.  I am prayerful that the “guardianship of my heart” will lead me into more and more of the mindset that “lifeless things offer no satisfaction.”

“….as I have loved you….”

Girdwood

I just returned from a week in Alaska with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. It was the highlight of my life, so far.  I mean, there have been some incredible moments and I will treasure them always – my wedding day, the birth of my children, the weddings of my sons, and the birth of my grandson, as well as moments celebrating the passing of a life – my grandmother dying while holding my hand; the death of my father-in-law…moments of living and life, and death. “All of that being said,” as that trite saying goes, there was nothing that has come before to prepare me for the floodgates of emotions I experienced in spending a week with a one-year-old grandson.

When you are a parent, you experience the joys of that child.  You have concern for your child, and you feel responsible for all aspects of their life.  As they mature and move on to their own, separate existence, that tends to ease off a little bit, but never goes away.  In my mid-50s and married for 28 years, my parents still exhibit concern for me and the life I am living.  I love that about being a family – that circle of love expands and grows, and is stronger and stronger.  I treasure the life I had under my parent’s roof.  Some of the most amazing moments happened when I lived as their daughter.  And now I have passed some milestones in my own life; having two of my three sons married and parents is a huge thing!  Our middle son’s baby is due this spring and she is already loved so very much, it is almost fantastic in the sense of it being “other worldly.”  We think of her or say her name, and our hearts just melt.  A lot of it, I am sure, has to do with the idea that she is a girl…we have only ever had sons. My husband melted when they told us she was a girl and said, “Thanks be to God we had sons, because I feel so in love with her and protective of her already, and she is not even born yet! I know she will wrap me around her little finger, and I am just the grandfather!” Ha-Ha.  The profound joy we have experienced in becoming grandparents is almost overwhelming in its intensity, and its simplicity.

61HAZ8mlLFL._AA1366_

My grandson loves his trucks.  Almost anything he plays with makes a truck sound. It was so much fun to be around a little boy’s toys, again.  And his joy was infectious.  This trip was a pivotal trip for me.  My son lives very humbly, in a very modest neighborhood. They have four rather large, and rambunctious dogs, who are everywhere all at once, adding to the chaos and the joy of living.  They have, although small, a home filled with love.  And as I sat in their very comfy living room, surrounded by their dogs and listening to the truck sounds coming from my grandson playing on the floor, I was overwhelmed.  I felt such an overabundance of love and peace and contentment…and it did not matter where we were.  Nothing mattered, other than we were all together.  My daughter-in-law works so hard to keep their space clean and organized and I admire her so much!  She has poured herself into being a wife and mother and it was wonderful to see.  They are deliriously happy, and so in love with each other, and their son.  I loved being there and seeing how their relationship has grown over the years, and how much they’ve grown as people since becoming parents. it was a joy to witness.  And they were a witness for me, even though they probably don’t realize it.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jn 13:34-35

I did not realize, fully, all the different kinds of love we can bear for one another. I re-checked my Greek, and Biblical definitions of love, and this is what I found:

(1) Mania – this is the strangest, sort of sickest type of love, and it involves more of an obsessive sort of love; a desire to own.

(2) Storgy – this is often referred to as ‘motherly’ love and is completely wrong in a marital relationship. It involves loving a dependent person; once they become independent, just the emotional vestige of love remains, which is proper in parental relationships to children. Once they are grown and on their own, that overwhelming desire to mother lessens.

(3) Eros – yes, this is where the word “erotic” comes from, but it is not just sexual love.  This sort of love is also very emotionally based and is integrally tied with Agape in marriage.

(4) Phileo – this is also known as ‘brotherly love’ and is the root of the name for Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. This love is the love we bear our friends, and those around us.  This type of love cares for neighbors, sets up soup kitchens, and volunteers to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

(5) Agape – this is the purest form of love because this requires no action or involvement from the receiver of the love. This form of love enables us to truly “love your enemy” because it does not require our enemy to return that love.  It is also the love we can feel for others, when they do not know us or realize that we love them; we are satisfied with just loving them and require nothing in return. This is the love God has for us.

I think that the word, “love,” is overused and misused so much.  It is not possible to “love” our car, “love” our shoes, “love” that steak we just ate. Those are inanimate objects and we cannot love an object.  We don’t love our phones or love our homes, we love the people we speak to over the phone and the people who live with us in our homes.  We need to emphasize this with our children…they need to realize that love is reserved for the people in our lives and it can be expressed in many ways.  We can love in a phileo way our dear friends, and we can pray for them and do good for them and it stops with that.  Our eros love is reserved solely for that one person in our lives we are bonded with in Holy Matrimony.  The eros form of love should be reserved for what I refer to as the “marital embrace” and should not be squandered in sexually rampant couplings that not only damage our bodies, but can often damage even more keenly, our souls.  The obsessive, or mania type of love, is something that occurs when our lives become disordered and we have no sense of purpose guiding us.  We obsess over objects, people, things…but that sort of love is sickly because we want to own that thing or that person and value them or it solely because we own it.  There is an important aspect of love missing from a mania style of love…the agape portion.  To love someone in a motherly, or storgy, style of love means that you love someone when they need you. If they stop needing you, you only experience a slight emotional remnant of the love you had for them.  And again, that important aspect of agape is missing.  When we love selflessly, and live for that other person, we experience the type of love that Christ was talking about when He instructed us to “love others as I have loved you.”  Christ did not expect our love in return; He loved us with a pure love.  His love is what we need to love others with, regardless of how or if they return our love.  And I experienced that with my grandson. I felt the gates of my heart just flood with love for him, with absolutely no expectations of love from him.  And I witnessed something else, too, that moved me….

While I was there, sitting in their little home, surrounded by love, I realized that nothing, absolutely nothing, else mattered. It did not matter where I was, my things certainly held no sway over me, and my world had contracted to just those people in that little room.  How profound it is!  I do not require anything else in this world but to be surrounded by my loved ones.  My home does not matter; the type of car I drive does not matter; the “friends” in this life do not matter – only love of family matters.  As to friends, we have very few, truly, in our lives. We have acquaintances that flitter in and out when God wants them a part of our lives, and I can count on one hand my true friends.  So when I say that friends don’t matter, I am not including those very few, but rather, all the others who are in my life for now, but will not remain with me over time.  The other truth that came to me was that it also truly does not matter what you do all day long for a living, it is what you do and how you spend your time when you are NOT working that counts.  So many people, mostly men (and it is just how men seem to express this, more so than women, in a general sort of way), so tightly associate who they are with what they do.  You are not an accountant; it is what you do.  You are not an engineer; it is what you do. You are, however, a father, a son, a mother, a daughter, a grandmother.  Those are the important roles in your life – your career is a paycheck and should not define WHO you are.  You are a child of God first and foremost.  And if you only identify yourself as an engineer or a doctor, and realize all your satisfaction from that, you are missing the agape in your life; the emotional or eros love is also absent, which God ordained as part of our human love.  And I now know that all I require for satisfaction in life is my loved ones to be near me.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor 13.

I am so blessed to have my little grandson show me how to love in a pure, Agape, sort of way. It opened my heart and showed me the inherent goodness in people…God gives us all we need to find Him when we are born.  It is our duty and our job to seek Him, and along the way, to learn to love Him through loving others.  I am blessed with an inordinate and overwhelming sense of love and family and the bonds we share, and I pray everyone can experience this blessing, too. If there is something in the way, or something that hinders this relationship or this bond, do away with it immediately.  In the end, all we have is family.

St Silouan the Athonite

“…I will begin to do so henceforth.”

My normal routine is to carefully walk down the stairs, grab some coffee (thank you, sweetheart, for starting that pot), read my normal religious stuff, check all my “words-with-friends” games, and then check email and Facebook stats.  This morning was no different, other than I moved very slowly because my arthritis is in full swing.  Mornings are very slow for me, until the joints get warmed up.  By 10am, I am usually my normal self.  Thanks be to God that our situation allows me to stay home and school our son! I can move sooner, but it hurts and Tylenol is usually called upon.  But I digress as to why I am sitting at my desk, in my unheated office, before 8:00am!  Ugh!  After reading my Facebook posts, I came to one that I had to respond to, and because it was a wall post, for those of you familiar, I did not have a lot of space and wanted to say so much more!

There is so much going on in the world, and in our country, that some days, my head just spins. My husband went on his business trip and when he got in the car at the airport in my rush to get him, I was on a roll about the day’s news.  It continued with CAP personnel at the meeting we rushed off to, because there are so many like-minded people there.  My husband sighed and said, “I was on a business trip, just got back, and you know what? I didn’t look at the news the entire time! It was a mini-vacation!”  And we have done that over the past few years; we’ve ignored current events and just busied ourselves with our own little world – our comings and goings, ups and downs, are enough to fill our days.  But we, as Christians, are called into community; we are called to be “our brother’s keeper” in the sense that those around us matter.  How life affects each of us, well, it matters.  We are called to “love one another as I have loved you” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Those are some pretty drastic instructions and I believe, from the bottom of my toes to the crown of my crazy gray hairs, that if we all, each of us did that, this world would be vastly different.  But it is not that way, and in this country, we are spiraling downward at a rapid clip. Today’s comments on Facebook made me realize something that is very important, at least it seems to be important to me, and so I am blogging on it.

Paul Ryan ran for Vice-President with Mitt Romney.  Now, there was a lot of funny stuff uncovered in the electoral results, but let’s not get into that discussion!  Mr. Ryan is a devoutly pro-life Catholic man.  And he ran on a pro-life plank. I loved that about him! He is also a very intelligent, fiscally-oriented man.  He has put forth legislation in the past few days, that delineates a basic, pro-life fact – life begins at conception.  Now, this legislation is going to rankle a lot of people, especially the pro-choice crowd.  But it is rankling even the “pro-life” crowd.  People are opining on Facebook today that “Hey, let’s back off and agree that Roe v Wade is bad.  But we can’t un-do that.  So let’s just chip away at it.” They feel that Paul Ryan has made a gigantic mis-step in focusing on this issue when there are so many other problems facing our country.  And I realized, as I read some posts on this particular wall, that so many people who claim to be pro-life are just, in fact, anti-abortion.  They don’t like the thought that women use abortion as a means of birth control, but they also do not believe it is a baby, yet, either. The particular page I was reading supports the morning-after pill, the IUD, and other abortafacients, because they do not believe it is a human life until the heart beats, at about 5 weeks gestation.  They call the embryo a “blastocyte” and say it is not human, just a conglomeration of cells.  The posts on the site were interesting and ran the gamut from one end to the other; some were angry and vowed not to support this page any longer, etc.  while others were disappointed to learn the writers were not pro-life, but in fact, anti-abortion (which was me). And I learned how many people really are not pro-life, who claim to be.  And it is a huge differentiation…huge.  It is a “chasmatic” leap to go from anti-abortion to a truly pro-life stance.  Because someone who is pro-life supports the idea that all life is precious and all life is from God, and all life deserves to be protected and nurtured.  Those of us who are pro-life believe that life begins at the moment of conception.  Those “conglomeration” of cells will evolve, over a few hours and days, into the beating heart of an infant; an infant who is developing in a symbiotic relationship with his mother, unable to survive without her loving care.  And life continues until the beating heart naturally reaches it’s last beat, and a person inhales that final breath, naturally. Those of us who are really pro-life also happen to be anti-death penalty and anti-euthanasia.  Today there was an article in the National Catholic Register about Terri Schiavo’s death.  For those of you not familiar, she died after being euthanized through a court order. Her husband wanted to disallow food and water through a feeding tube and her parents wanted the feeding tube to remain. The court ordered it removed; she died of dehydration and starvation. The article focused on an interview with her brother-in-law, who sided with Terri’s parents, against his brother. It was a wonderful article.  And it brought out the other end of the pro-life stance…the right to die in a natural way.  If you believe yourself to be pro-life, in line with the Catholic view of life, from a natural inception to a natural death, this article will only further your resolve.  If you do not believe in the pro-life stance as stated above, I hope you think and pray about it, and reconsider your belief.

The reason for the blog today started with these Facebook posts and it got my brain reeling.  I realized that our cultural collapse is giving us “death signs” and the pro-life issue is just one of them.  The critics who feel that resolving the pro-life issue is a waste of time when we have so many other “important” issues facing our country, are missing the point.  Yes, we are all flailing as we crash from this “fiscal cliff” and yes, we are all reeling from the recent deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and yes, we are all trying to figure out how we can live with Obamacare and the increase in taxes.  Mr. Obama also came out this week with legislation to end term limits for the president, and is pushing for the confiscation of guns…complete and total.  As a student of history, I know that disarming the people is a step towards a more socialistic state, and that ending term limits for a president indicate a move towards a dictatorship, and that making the state the only saving grace in a culture is a sign that freedom is being eclipsed by governmental, powerful, take over.  I get all of that.  And still, I see where Mr. Ryan has the right idea, because I see all of these things as endemic of a cultural collapse.

As a student of history, when we look back at the era Christ was living in, we can note so many parallels.  One blatant thing that always strikes me is that we value the wrong people, for the wrong things.  They did that in the gladiator-oriented, horrific environment that citizens of Nero’s Rome found themselves.  And we are right there, along with those earlier Roman citizens.  Why do I say that? Well, in Nero’s Rome, the gladiator was the hero.  Gladiators lived their short lives in splendor and excesses. They were given their heart’s desires in payment for laying their lives on the line in the arena. Today, we have professional athletes that receive the glory and the lion’s share (pun intended) of the salaries being paid these days.  Teachers? Near the bottom of the pay scale.  Why is our country now rated something like 23rd (or worse) worldwide in our educational performances?  It is all endemic of a culture about to crash, just as Rome crashed and fell apart into dozens of smaller cultures and countries. Nero was an ego-maniac who ruled with an iron fist. He wanted to expand the area of the government, and wanted to add on to his palace.  But he could not get the financing for it.  So, he had some paid assassins set fire to the area of Rome he wanted to rebuild, kill a few Christians and other citizens, to get what he wanted.  Why do you think he “fiddled while Rome burned”?  It was his remodeling project!  Instead of getting financing for it, he just burned it down and made the way for reconstruction, his way, blaming it on that new “sect”, the Christians.

There are some wonderful Facebook pages that give me courage to keep on going, and who also give me so many amazing quotes!  One is called, “Holy Fathers,” another is called, “The Brotherhood of the Holy Cross.”  Wonderful Facebook pages called, “Facebook Apostles,” and “St. Peter’s List” and “Mark Hart (The Bible Geek),” and “All Merciful Savior Orthodox Christian Monastery” –  to name just a few that keep me grounded and going!  Anyway, I notice that the quotes I am drawn to seem to always be St. John of Kronstadt.  Lately, the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross site has been quoting him more and more.  And I am so thankful for it, because among all the talking heads there are out there, it is nice to see that a Saint I really like, who lived in Russia during the last days of the last Czar of Russia, knew what he was talking about when it comes to a cultural collapse, and what he had to say then is oh, so appropriate now!

John of Kronstadt

When we look around us and see all this chaos and all this unrest, at least for me, I need to just sit quietly, breathe, and contemplate the Word of God and where I am in this mess.  Am I an example to my neighbor?  Do I care about my neighbor?  We need to start now, and start small, and start close by our own front doors, to stop this madness; to slow the dissolve of the “Great American Experiment.”  Our forefathers in the Faith, such as St. John of Kronstadt, exhibited for us Holy Grace in situations much like ours. Their way of life was being threatened, their very existence in jeopardy.  The lesson we can take from them is they did not waiver in their faith.  St. John of Kronstadt told those around him that they needed to pray, to ask “fervently and instantly” for the faith that they would need to sustain them in a world that was falling apart.

None of us may be able to stop that headlong fall off that fiscal cliff, we may not even be able to slow or stop the collapse of a free country as we now know it, but we can influence our own hearts, our own families, our own neighborhoods.  It is within each of us to make a change, a change that will become a ripple effect in our worlds.  Do not forget that when Christ instructed His Apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Mt. 28:19) and further He instructed them, “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) that they did just that! They went out into the world, baptizing and instructing as they traveled.  They were only 12 men; Christ was embodied as just one man, the very Son of God!  But the world has been changed because God gave each of those Apostles enough faith that unquestioningly, they traveled to lands they did not know, bringing the Word of God with them. And because they were true to their instructions, we now have this glorious faith to hold us up “in times of trouble.”

Paul Ryan did something incredible in Congress…he stood for the unborn at a time when guns and money and power, control and greed, rule the day and the airwaves.  He took a stand, in faith, for those who could not take a stand for themselves.  We are called to be “our brother’s keeper” (Gen 4:9) and we are called to reform the world around us, just as the Apostles of Christ did…just 12 men changed the entire world.  I think that standing in unison with the unborn is an amazing place to start.  And I vow to never, ever, accept anything less than a completely pro-God, pro-life country and world.  It can be done!

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20).

mustard-2509-13dec05-399w(Mustard Seeds around Mustard Powder)

To end my rant today, I pray that each of us will take a moment to breathe, to enter into the Divine Presence and, while “Walking, sitting, lying down, conversing, or working, at every time, pray with your whole heart that faith and love may be given to you.” Because “You have not yet asked for them as you should ask–fervently and instantly, with the firm purpose of obtaining them. Say now, “I will begin to do so henceforth.” (St. John of Kronstadt)