While We Still Can…

The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor any who go down into silence – Psalm 115:17

senior woman praying looking up on black backgroundYesterday, while my husband and I were singing hymns before the close of our weekly Sabbath worship, it hit me that when you are dead you can’t praise God anymore.  And I was so thankful that I’m still alive to be able to sing of His love and His goodness.

Perhaps this is why we are encouraged to praise God and give Him thanks.  David declared, “While I live I will praise the LORD;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being” (Psalm 146:2).

While we still have life, we ought to praise our God.

Carmela’s Story

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Carmela sat in the empty church which was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  She was on her way home from the salon where she worked when she decided to stop in and pray for her brother, Guido who died five years ago from a heart attack.  She hoped and prayed that he was no longer in Purgatory because of all the prayers she and the rest of the family had made on his behalf and that he was in Heaven now.  Still, it didn’t hurt to still say prayers for him.

“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.”

After she finished praying, she said this prayer for her deceased parents whom  she knew were in Heaven.  “O God, Who hast commanded us to honor our father and mother, look in the tenderness of Thy mercy upon the souls of my father and mother and forgive them their sins, and grant unto me the joy of seeing them again in the glorious light of everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

She hoped that one day soon, Guido would join them. She remained kneeling for a while longer and then she made the sign of the Cross.   She rose to her feet went to the front and lit three candles, said a prayer and then left.  Outside it was a bit nippy and drizzling slightly.  She stopped at the supermarket to pick up a few items and then went to the modest apartment she shared with her teenage daughter, Maria.

The place was quiet when she opened the door and went inside.  Maria was still out with her friends.  She said that they were going to hang out at the mall for a while and she should be home by seven. The clock on the wall in the living-room struck five.  She went straight into the kitchen and set the grocery bags on the counter before she removed her jacket and hung it in the hall closet.  She washed her hands and got busy making her famous Manicotti Italian Casserole.

While the Casserole was in the oven baking, she went and took a quick shower.  By the time she was done, the Casserole was ready.  She removed it from the oven and shared it out.  She waited until the oven cooled a bit before she put the plate with Maria’s food inside the oven to keep it hot.  She sat down at the kitchen table and ate hers.  She hadn’t made it since Giuseppe died.  It was his favorite dish.  He always used to boast, “I got lucky when I married you.  You make the best Manicotti Italian Casserole on the planet.  Even better than Mama’s.”

Carmela smiled.  He was such a good husband and father.  It was hard to believe that ten years had passed since he died.  She visited his grave every week and put fresh flowers on it.  And she prayed for him every night.  She couldn’t imagine marrying again.  Giuseppe was her first and only love.  She wanted to remain his wife for the rest of her life.

After she finished eating, she got up from the table, washed the plate and the dirty things in the sink.  She fixed herself a cup of a cup of coffee and took it into the living-room.  She turned on the television and watched the local news.  When it was over, she turned off the television and went to the kitchen to wash the cup and saucer.  It was Friday so she went to get the dirty laundry.  She went to Maria’s room first and as she was about to pick up the laundry bin to take it to the washer, her eyes fell on a booklet lying on top of the bed.  On the front there was a picture of a man stooping down in front of a grave with a woman dressed in white standing behind him.  Over his head were the words, Are the Dead Really Dead?

Heart pounding, she dropped the laundry basket on the floor and picked up the booklet.  She sat down on the bed and began to read it.  She was half way through when she heard the key turn in the lock.  Maria was home.  Closing the booklet, she hurried into the living-room.  Holding the booklet up for her to see, she asked, “Where did you get this?”

Maria looked at the booklet.  “I got it from Anna who got it from her cousin, Lucy.”

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“Is Lucy the one who is a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I want you to take this and give it back to Anna.  I don’t want this kind of literature in my home.”

“But, Mama, I read it and it makes so much sense to me.  I never believed that you can talk to and pray to the dead.”

“All my life I have been a Catholic and I believe what the church teaches.  The dead are in Heaven or Purgatory or Hell.  They are not sleeping in their graves as this claims.” She shoved it at Maria, shaking her head.

“They use scriptures to back up what they are saying.  Why is it such a bad thing to believe that the dead are in their graves?  Would Heaven be a happy place for them when they see their loved ones suffering?  Take Amy’s mother for example.  Would she be happy in Heaven if she can see Amy’s brother, Michael getting bullied at school because he has a learning disability?  What about Grandpa and Grandma?  How would they feel if they saw Uncle Guido struggling with alcohol addiction or how painful it was for us when Daddy died?  I thought Heaven was supposed to be a happy place but how could anyone be happy there when they can see so much suffering here on earth or their loves one burning up in Hell?  No, Mama, I can’t believe that God who is love would have people burning in Hell forever or stuck in limbo in Purgatory, hoping that the prayers of their loved ones will get them into Heaven and afraid that they might end up in Hell.  I believe what this Study guide says about death.  It is more in line with God’s loving and compassionate character.  I am going to ask Anna for more these study guides so that I can learn more of what’s in the Bible.”

Carmela stared at her.  “So, you’re going to turn your back on your Catholic faith?”

“Mama, I was never a devout Catholic like you and the rest of our family, except Uncle Guido.  I never felt an emotional connection to the traditions and teachings.  I went to Anna’s church last week Saturday and I felt so connected to the people and was so moved by the sermon that I was sorry when it was over.  I felt this hunger to know more.”

“You went to a Seventh-day Adventist Church?” Carmela demanded, incensed.  “How dare you go there without my permission?”

“Would you have let me go if I asked you?”

“No! And for good reason.  Maria, they teach all sorts of negative things about our church such as the Papacy is the Anti-Christ and that the church is the whore of Babylon mentioned in the book of Revelation.  They claim to be God’s remnant church because they keep the Ten commandments which were nailed to the cross and because of some woman named Ellen G. White whom they say is a prophetess.”

“Mama, I really want to go to Anna’s church this Saturday.  The youth are doing the worship service and afterwards there’s a lunch and–”

Carmela’s mouth tightened.  “Forget it.  You’re not going.”

“But, Mama–”

“You heard me.  Now finish taking up your dirty laundry and put it in the washer.  When you’re finished have your dinner.  It’s in the oven.”  She turned and walked out of the room, livid.  “Ragazza sciocca. Tornando indietro alla sua fede. Beh, non ce l’ho. Non finché vivi qui.”

Maria didn’t go to church on the Sabbath but she watched the service on line the next day while her mother was at Sunday Mass.  She did that every Sunday and when she turned 18, she decided that she wanted to be baptized and be a member of Anna’s church.  When she broke the news to her mother, she yelled, “Se ci riesci, voglio buttarti fuori da questa casa” before she stormed out of the apartment.

After she left, Maria went to her room and knelt beside her bed and prayed.

Carmela took the bus to the cemetery and she hurried towards Guiseppe’s grave, tears of anger streaming down her face.  When she got there, she knelt down.  “Oh, Guiseppe, your daughter will be the death of me.  Do you know what she is planning to do?  She’s going to get baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church, of all the churches.  I warned her that if she goes through with it, I will throw her out on the streets.  I don’t know what else to do.  Guiseppe, what do I do?  How could I let her turn her back on our faith?  No one in our family is a Protestant.  Per favore, caro mio, dimmi cosa devo fare.”

She waited for a reply, her hands clasped tightly in front of her and her eyes squeezed shut.  There was silence and then she heard a male voice ask, “Why do you seek the dead on behalf of the living?”

Her eyes flew up and she looked wildly about her but she was alone.  No one else was there.  Trembling, she asked, “Whose voice did I just hear? Was it the Lord’s or an angel’s?”

“It is I, Jesus.  Maria has chosen a good thing which will not be taken away from her.”

“What should I do, Lord?”

“Do not cast her out.”

Carmela made the sign of the cross and stood up.  She went away, her heart racing and the words of the Lord running through her mind.  When she got home, she called Maria.  “I’m sorry about earlier,” she said.  “If you’re serious about getting baptized and joining Anna’s church, I’m not going to stop you or kick you out but I won’t be there.”  And she walked past her and went to her room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Maria raised her eyes heavenward and gave thanks.  A couple weeks later she was baptized and Anna’s parents invited her to their home to celebrate.  Maria became a member of the church and involved in the Youth Ministry.  She even taught Sabbath School sometimes.  She became a literature evangelist and handed out tracts.  She became a vegetarian much to her mother’s chagrin but there was no opposition.  Maria cooked her own meals.

Carmela saw how happy her daughter was and she stopped lamenting about her leaving the Catholic church.  She continued to attend Sunday Mass.  One Sunday after Mass, she was talking to Father Ricci and she mentioned something about Eve.  One of her regular customers at the salon had lent her the movie, Genesis: The Creation and the Flood which she watched on Saturday.

Father Esposito’s expression changed and he said, “Mrs. Romano, the story of Adam and Eve was not to be taken literally.  It was merely a story in the Bible and should not be taken as fact.”

She stared at him, stunned but didn’t get into any further discussion with him.  “Thank you, Father,” she said.  “Good-day.”  She turned and hurried away, her mind reeling from shock.  She went home and opened her Bible to Chapter Three of the Gospel of Luke where the the Genealogy of Jesus was.  There was Adam’s name and he was called the son of God.  How then, could Father Esposito claim that Adam was not a real person?  And Jesus Himself alluded to both Adam and Eve when He said, “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”

She closed the Bible and sank heavily down on the sofa.  Why would Father Esposito claim that the story of creation was just a story?  What else in the Bible should not be taken as fact?  She went into the den and logged on to the computer.  She did several searches until she came across a site called, Steps to Life and a book called, Is the Virgin Mary Dead or Alive by Danny Vierra.  At first, she didn’t want to read it but she felt strongly impressed to.

She read the first chapter and her heart lurched when she read the part about the priest who taught his religion class telling him the same thing Father Esposito told her about the story of Adam and Eve.  Heart racing, she continued reading.  She read a few chapters that evening and every evening until she was finished reading the entire book.  Afterwards, she did the online Bible Studies by Marshall Grosboll

By the time she was done with the Bible Studies, she knew that she had a choice to make.  She could remain in the church that she had been born and raised in or she could leave.  As she prayed earnestly about it,  the words, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” came to her.  She had discovered God’s truth and she had to embrace it.

She told Maria everything and her daughter was thrilled.  Together they went to Anna’s church and one Saturday, Maria watched with tears in her eyes as her mother gave her life to Christ.  The following month, on Carmela’s 45th birthday, she was baptized.

Carmela thanked Jesus for talking to her that day in the cemetery and her customer for lending her the movie about Genesis.  Those two events changed her life.  And she was proud of Maria for choosing that “good thing”.

The way to God’s truth is always there.  Some find it sooner and some later.  The important thing is to find it.  And when you do, it will set you free.

Sources:  Our Catholic Prayers; Town and Country; Catholic News Herald;

Compassion

Shortly after Jesus told the Pharisees that God desired mercy not sacrifice, He went into the synagogue.  There was a man with a withered hand.  Instead of being stirred with pity for him, the religious leaders asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” so that they could accuse Him.  Whenever they engaged in dialogue with Him, it was never to learn from His teachings.  It was always to challenge Him and find reasons to accuse Him of being a Sinner.

It must have grieved Jesus to see the lack of compassion among men who considered themselves to be holy and righteous and children of God.  When He looked at them, He saw hypocrites.  And He addressed it.  “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Then how much better is a man than a sheep? Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

He told the man to stretch out his hand and He restored it whole like the other.   The Pharisees were angry and they left, plotting how they would kill Him.  They failed to see that the Sabbath was not just a day of rest but it was an opportunity for helping people.  They had turned God’s holy day into a day of dos and don’ts.  Jesus showed them that there was a different type of work to be done on the Sabbath.  It was community work–reaching out to the needy and the sick.  He showed them that if it was lawful for one of them to pull a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath, then it should be lawful for a man to be healed.  A human was of greater value in the eyes of God than an animal.

This man was in the synagogue and he had a need.  Jesus saw it and addressed it.  Are there people in our church like this man who has an obvious need but like the Pharisees we see it but will do nothing about it?  Do we resent those who reach out in love and compassion to this person in need?  Do we grumble and complain?  Would God be happy to accept our worship or our offerings when we are not generous toward that person in our midst?  Jesus brought joy to the man.  He brought healing and wholeness and showed him that the God he worshipped cared about him.

Just as Jesus valued this man, we should value those around us.  Sabbath-keeping does not mean that we should ignore the needs of those around us.  The Sabbath is for doing what is good and showing the love of God for His creation.  When we do what is lawful on the Sabbath, we are honoring God.

I Will Lift My Eyes

This evening I listened to a beautiful song of praise by Karen Davis.  I used to play this song every Friday evening because it put me in the mood for worship.  Watch the video.

It sometimes brings tears to my eyes when I sing this song.  Jesus is worthy of our praise and adoration for who He is and all that He has done.  He left the glory of Heaven and came here to earth in flesh to live among fallen mankind.  He didn’t come to be served but to serve.  He came to give His life as a ransom for many.  He came to teach, heal and lift people’s hopes and change their lives for the better.

He broke down so many barriers.  He treated women with respect.  He had women followers and some of them funded His ministry.  He spoke to a Samaritan woman and didn’t condemn her for being married five times and living common law with the sixth man in her life.  In fact, He offered her a life of change and hope.  He spoke kindly to the woman who had the issue of blood after she touched His robe and was healed.  He called her “Daughter” and sent her away with the knowledge that her faith had made her well.  She had spent so much of her money and none of the doctors was able to help her.

Jesus was gracious to the woman caught in adultery.  He exposed the hypocrisy of her accusers and they went away in shame.  Jesus didn’t condemn the woman.  He sent her away in peace and told her to stop sinning.  He welcomed the woman of questionable character who entered a pharisee’s home to anoint his head and feet with expensive oil.  He forgive her sins even as those present condemned and scorned her.  He healed a woman who was bent over for many years on the Sabbath.  He brought joy to the parents of the sick twelve year old girl when he brought her back to life and the widow who was one minute crying because she was on her way to bury her son and the next rejoicing because he was raised to life.

Even as He hung on the cross, He asked His Father to forgive those who wanted Him dead and placed His mother in John’s care.  Jesus was always putting the needs of others before His own.  And this is why it is not surprising that He was willing to lay down His life for His friends and offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  He was the King of kings and the Son of God but He didn’t come to this earth in glory.  He was born to a young virgin in a manger of all places.  He was wrapped in swaddling cloth.  He was humble at birth and throughout His life.  He worked as a carpenter until it was time for Him to begin His ministry.  He didn’t have a place of His own.  He was always on the go, preaching and ministering to many.  He chose ordinary men to become His disciples.  He didn’t stop loving Peter because he betrayed Him.  He didn’t stop loving the other disciples because they deserted Him.  He appeared to them so that they could see that He had risen as He said He would.

He appeared first to Mary Magdalene out of whom He had cast seven demons.  What a life she must have had before she met Jesus.  The other day as I read the Bible I realized that Jesus affects people in three distinct ways after He changes their lives:

1.  They tell others – e.g. the Samaritan woman

2.  They follow Him – Mary Magdalene

3.  They serve Him – Peter’s mother-in-law (soon after Jesus got rid of her fever)

What about you?  What effect does Jesus have on you?  Have you told others about Him?  Are you one of His followers?  Do you serve Him?

This weekend, reflect on Jesus and what He did for you.  Think about the great sacrifice He made for you so that you would not perish but have everlasting life with Him.  Share His story with someone.  I personally will lift my eyes to the Lord on high and praise Him.  I will thank Him for loving me so much that He endured the indignity of the cross.