The Word Became Flesh

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14, NIV

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God, the Son and the Word who was with the Father in the beginning became flesh.  He came into the world as a newborn Babe to live among men.  He was raised in a Jewish home to Jewish parents in the town of Nazareth.  He became a carpenter like Joseph before going into ministry.  As Man, Jesus experienced the things we experience such as hunger and thirst, tiredness and grief.  He was tempted like us but He didn’t sin.  He prayed daily to the Father.  He had friends and He socialized with different sorts of people, some of whom were treated as outcasts.

The glory John saw was the transfiguration of Jesus when He took Peter, James and him up to the high mountain where He communed with Moses and Elijah.  They were not to mention anything to anyone until He was raised from the dead (Matthew 17:1-3, 9).   Peter later wrote, “For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’  And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:17, 18).

Jesus came from the Father to bring grace and truth into the world which was steeped in sin and darkness.  His grace was shown in his healing of diseases, the casting out of unclean spirits and in his interaction with tax collectors, sinners, the woman caught in adultery and the Samaritan woman.  He shared moral and religious truth through parables and the Sermon on the Mount.  He taught people how to live in relation to God and to people.  Jesus placed God’s truth which was found in His Word above the traditions of men and the lies of Satan.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, reflect on the amazing reality that Jesus, by Whom all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, set aside His majesty and glory and came in the form of man to tabernacle among the people (Colossians 1:16; Philippians 2:7).

Thank You, Lord Jesus for becoming like us, so that in the flesh You could save us.

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;

Love vs Tradition

“You’re such a hypocrite, Kaito” Hana told her brother.  “You object to my relationship with Danny because he’s not Japanese and yet you’re sleeping with Duana, my African American friend.”

Kaito looked up from his laptop, his expression darkening as he met his younger sister’s incensed gaze.  “I don’t have to explain myself to you,” he retorted.  “After our parents died, I became responsible for you.  Danny may be a nice guy but he’s not the right one for you.  You should be with someone like Riku.”

“Riku?  You know very well that I’m not in love with him.”

“That could change.”

“It won’t,” she insisted.  “I’m in love with Danny and he’s in love with me.  I don’t care what you say.  I’m not a child.  I’m not going to marry Riku or anyone else for that matter.”

“Has Danny asked you to marry him?”

“Not yet but when he does, I will say yes.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it.”

“You’re my brother not my father.  You being responsible for me doesn’t give you the right to dictate who I marry or who I love.  Riku is a nice guy. We’ve known each other since we were children but I don’t love him.  I’m not going to marry someone I don’t love just to please you and your love for tradition.  I hope Duana does the smart thing and dumps you.”

His mouth tightened.  “I don’t want to discuss my relationship with Duana with you.”

“You won’t have a relationship with her much longer.  I will see to that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Tonight, we are going out on a date with Danny and his friend, Deshawn.”

What?” Kaito rose to his feet.  His eyes flashed and his fists clenched.  “How could she be going out with someone else while she’s still in a relationship with me?”

Hana watched him.  She never saw her brother act like this before.  He was always so calm and reserved which sometimes annoyed her.  Nothing seemed to faze him and here he was now, like a volcano about to erupt.  “You made it clear that you didn’t want there to be anything serious between you.  You were fine with the way things were–purely physical.”

He dragged his fingers through his hair.  “This guy she’s seeing tonight, has she been out with him before?”

Hana shook her head.  “No, this is the first time and I hope it won’t be the last–”

“Imaimashī!”  He grabbed his keys off the desk and headed for the door.

“Where’re you going?”

“Where do you think I’m going and why do you care?” he retorted before he stormed out of the room.

As soon as he was gone, Hana picked up the phone and called Duana.  “Kaito’s on his way over.  He’s as mad as hell.  I’ve never seen him like this.  I think he’s jealous.”

“You told him about Deshawn?”

“Of course.”

“Oh, Hana.  I didn’t want him to think that I was interested in Deshawn or anyone else.”

“Well, maybe you ought to be.  You can’t continue hoping that things will change, Duana–that Kaito will change.  He’s set in his ways.  He’s been a bachelor for so long that marriage isn’t a possibility right now and if he did get married, it would be to a Japanese woman.  You’re better off moving on.”

“I wish I could but you know I love him.”

“Yes, I know.  He’s my brother and I love him too but I think he’s a jerk.  You deserve better, Duana.”

“Right now I can’t imagine being with anyone else but Kaito.  Thanks for calling, Hana.  I’ll see you later.”

“All right.  Call me on my cell if you need me.”

“I will.”

Hana hung up the phone and left the study.

Duana was about to change out of the white dress she had worn to church when the doorbell rang.  Her heart began to beat faster.  It was probably Kaito.  It was and Hana was right.  He looked furious.  As she slid the latch back, she asked herself why she had allowed her friend to talk her into to going on a double date tonight.

“Hello, Kaito,” she said when she opened the door.  Giannina Oteto

“Don’t hello Kaito me,” he snapped as he brushed past her.  He swung round and faced her as she closed and locked the door behind him.  His eyes were blazing with anger and jealousy.  “How could you go out on a date with another guy when you and I are in a relationship?”

“It–it was Hana’s idea and–”

“I know it was her idea but you didn’t have to agree to it.”

“She called me and told me that you were coming over.  She warned me that you were very angry.”

“Don’t you think I have reason to be?  How would you feel if I were going out for dinner with another woman?”

“I would be angry and jealous,” she admitted.

“That’s how I feel right now, Duana.  The thought of you going out with another guy is making me crazy.”  He reached for her hand.  His expression was drawn and tormented.  “Don’t do it, please.  Don’t go out for dinner with this guy, please.”

She swallowed hard.  “I won’t,” she promised huskily.

He released his breath in a shaky sigh.  “Thank you,” he muttered.

“Why don’t you spend the night?” she asked.  “I didn’t make any dinner because I was going to eat out tonight but we can order in.”

He nodded.  “Yes, I’ll spend the night.”

She smiled.  “Good.  Let me call Hana and tell her that I won’t be joining her and the guys for dinner tonight or any other night.”

He nodded again and removed his jacket as she called his sister.  As soon as she finished the call, he took her into his arms.  “I’m sorry for the way I’ve been,” he said.  “I grew up believing in family traditions and determined to honor them at the expense of Hana’s happiness and my own.  I love you, Duana and tonight when I realized how close I came to losing you, it opened my eyes to what really matters.  When you meet that special someone, making a commitment to him or her is more important than holding onto tradition.  Tomorrow, I will let Hana know that I no longer object to her relationship with Danny.”

Duana put her arms around his neck. “She’ll be happy to hear that,” she told him.

“Yes, she will be,” he agreed.

“I love you, Kaito.”

Kaito lowered his head and kissed her.

“Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.”Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

Sacred Vows

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His strategy for forgetting Justine Samuels was to keep busy with his work as the local parish priest but his efforts failed miserably.  No matter where he was or what he was doing, he couldn’t stop thinking about her and wishing that he could see her again.  He missed her terribly.  Against his better judgment, he had continued to see her even after he realized that he was in love with her.  His excuse was that her grandmother was one of his parishioners and it was his duty to visit her especially since she was unable to attend church.

On several occasions, he visited the elderly woman and prayed for her.  Then he would spend a few minutes in the living-room talking to Justine.  It was during one of those times that she broke down and confessed that she didn’t know how much longer she could continue to care for her grandmother on her own while worrying that she could lose her job because the company might be downsizing.  Her job meant a lot to her because she was able to work from home.  She had moved into her grandmother’s cottage after the elderly woman had fallen ill.

Touched with compassion, he offered to counsel her.  They met once a week in her grandmother’s bright and airy sun room and the sessions lasted for an hour.  Sometimes he would stay afterward and have a cup of tea or he would leave immediately after.

Soon he found himself dropping by even when they didn’t have a counseling session on pretext of checking on her grandmother.  Afterwards, he would feel guilty and go to the chapel and pray for forgiveness.  Try as he did, he couldn’t stay away and during the summer when the weather was pleasant, Justine and he would sit outside in the garden while her grandmother was taking a nap in the living-room.

One afternoon, they were out in the garden, sitting on the bench, talking.  Behind them was a climbing rose bush winding its way up the side of the house to second floor window.  He got up and went over to it.  “Whenever I see a rose, I can’t help but marvel at its beauty and intricacy.  Have you ever heard the quote:  Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns.

She shook her head, getting up and going over to him.  “No, I’ve never heard that quote.  Which of the two categories do you fall into?”

“The second.  I praise Him for putting roses among thorns—beauty among the ugliness that exists in this world.”

“For me, the roses represent God’s grace among the thorns which are the trials in life.”

He reached out to pluck a rose from the bush and winced when its thorn pricked him in the palm.  As he reached into his robe for his handkerchief, she took his hand in hers and gently turned it over to examine the wound.  The touch of her fingers stirred feelings in him and mortified, he pulled his hand away.  She looked startled and when she would have reached for his hand again, he stepped back, putting some distance between them.  He pressed his handkerchief into his palm.  It wasn’t bleeding much.  The wound was the size of a needle prick.  “I must be going,” he said tightly.

“But you only got here ten minutes ago,” she protested.

“Yes.  I have matters I need to attend to.”

“Will I see you again tomorrow?”

“No, Justine.  We can’t see each other anymore.”

“But why not?”

“God help me, but I love you.”

Her eyes widened.  “I love you too,” she confessed.  “I’ve wanted to tell you that for such a long time.”

He dragged his fingers through his hair in agitation.  “There’s no future for us.  I’m a Catholic priest and I adhere to the church’s teachings.  I made a vow of celibacy that celibacy so I could identify with Christ who was celibate.   In an act of sacrificial love I vowed to give myself completely to the service of God and His church.”

“But where in the Bible does it say that priests aren’t allowed to fall in love and get married?” she asked, looking confused.  “Aaron and Caiaphas were high priests and they were married.”

“A Catholic priest follows the example of Christ who is our High Priest and He wasn’t married.  His gave His life completely to serving His Father and shepherding His church.  It was Christ who said in Matthew 22:30, ‘In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.’”

“But how do you explain what Paul said about some people forbidding others from marrying, teaching human doctrines and putting traditions above God’s Commandments?”

“Paul made it clear that being single allows a person to give his undivided attention in serving our Lord.  He recommended celibacy because he himself was celibate.”

“But wasn’t it Paul who said ‘let them marry for it is better to marry than to burn with passion’?”

“He was talking about those who can’t exercise self-control.”

“Tell me, Father Montgomery, how do I stop myself from burning with passion?”

“Marry Robert.”  Robert was a member of the church she used to attend before her grandmother became an invalid.  On a few occasions he had stopped by the house to see how she and her grandmother were doing.  “He cares for you.”

“Is that what you want?” she demanded.

His face went pale.  “It’s not a matter of what I want but what must be.”

“So, this is goodbye.  I’m never going to see you again.”  Her voice trembled and he could see the beginning of tears in her eyes.   “This is so wrong.  You and I should be together.”

“What would be wrong is for me to turn my back on my faith, my church and God because I love you,” he muttered between clenched teeth.  He reached out and his hand trembled as he touched her face.  She caught his hand and pressed her lips into the palm where the thorn had pricked him.  Groaning, he wrenched his hand away and bolted from her.  That was the last time he saw her.  He stopped visiting her and sent the Vicar in his place.

Now he was faced with a dilemma.  His love for Justine was affecting his life and his work.    He had to do something about it, but what?  He went into the chapel and spent the next few hours in prayer, pouring his heart out as he sought God’s guidance.

Where is he?  Justine wondered as she sat there in the pew, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.  He wouldn’t be pleased to see her, she knew that, but she had to come, if only to see him once more and to tell him that she had employed a live-in caregiver for her grandmother and that she had left her job for a better one.

As soon as the service was over, she went up to the Vicar.  “Excuse me, Vicar” she said.  “Where’s Father Montgomery?”

“He is no longer with the church.”

Her heart sank.  “Did he transfer to another parish?”

The vicar shook his head.  “No, he left the priesthood.”

She stared at him, in shock.  “He left the church?”

“Yes.  Everyone was shocked except me.  He had started to question the teachings of the church and his heart was no longer in what he was doing.  I suspect this had to do with a woman although he never said anything.  He was unhappy and I told him that whatever he decided to do, make sure it’s a decision he can live with.  After much prayer and fasting, he decided that the best thing for him to do is to leave the priesthood and the Church.  I wished him well.  Perhaps God will lead him in another direction where he can serve Him as faithfully as he has served him all these years.”

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Justine thanked him for his time and left.  She walked out of the church in a daze.  Father Montgomery had left the Church.  Where was he?  “Oh, Lord, You know where he is.  Please lead me to him.” As she got into her car, she got a strong impression to go to the park opposite where she lived.   After she parked her car in the garage, she crossed the quiet street and went into the park.  About ten minutes later, she spotted him sitting on the bench facing the duck pond.  Heart thudding she approached him.  “Hello,” she called.

He glanced up.  “Hello,” he replied, quietly, rising to his feet.  His expression was serious as he met her gaze.  “I was coming to see you.  Your grandmother’s nurse told me where you lived.  When I got here, I decided to come to the park first.”

“I heard that you left the Church.  What should I call you now?”

“John.  You can call me John.  How have you been, Justine?  I think about you every waking moment.”

“I’ve been miserable,” she told him.  “I missed you so much.  I went to the parish today just to see you but you weren’t there and the Vicar explained what happened.  Why did you leave, John?”

“I left because I had too many questions about the church’s teachings which contradicted what was in the Bible and—because of you.  I couldn’t hide from my feelings.  It’s funny.  I believed that the robe I wore would protect me from feelings I believed that I shouldn’t be having.  I realized that underneath the robe was a man—a man who desperately loved a woman who was right when she said that it was wrong for us not to be together.  Will you forgive me for running away from a love that no sacred vows could quench?”

She nodded, reaching for his hands.  “There’s nothing to forgive.  I know that it must have been hard for you to leave an institution you have known and served for most of your life but I truly believe that God has a great plan for your life.”

He pulled her closer and bent his head so that his forehead was resting against hers.  “Yes, I believe that He does and you are a big part of that plan.”

She closed her eyes as they stood there in the sunshine, silently thanking God for granting her the desires of her heart.

 

 

Sources:  American Magazine; Catholic Answers; Vox; EWTN; Catholic.com; Diocese of Trenton

Saved by Grace

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God – Ephesians 2:8

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Scala Sancta (Pilate’s Staircase) in Rome

Years ago I stood watching people ascend what is commonly known as Pilate’s Staircase.  Just today my family and I were talking about it and I got emotional as I thought of the people I saw going up the stairs on their knees just as Martin Luther did in 1510, probably repeating as he did the Our Father on each step.  It was said that by doing this work one could “redeem a soul from purgatory.”  It is believed that this staircase, Scala Sancta, that was used by Jesus in Pilate’s Judgment Hall in Jerusalem was, according to legend, supernaturally transported from Palestine to Rome.

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Figures of Pilate and Jesus at base of Scala Sancta

At the base of the staircase are the statues of Jesus and Pilate.  Pilate is introducing the King of the Jews to the people and saying, “Behold the Man!”  This reminded of what Jesus said to Nicodemus.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14, 15).  By beholding the serpent, the people were saved by faith.  Likewise by beholding Jesus and believing in Him, we are saved.  

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Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther in the movie, Luther

It was here on the Scala Sancta that the unexpected happened for Martin Luther.  It was where his eyes were opened to the truth that salvation comes by the grace of God and not by works.  One day, “he was devoutly climbing these steps, when suddenly a voice like thunder seemed to say to him:  ‘The just shall live by faith.’  Romans 1:17.  He sprang to his feet and hastened from the place in shame and horror.  The text never lost its power upon his soul.  From that time he saw more clearly than ever before the fallacy in trusting to human works for salvation, and the necessity of constant faith in the merits of Christ.  His eyes had been opened, and were never again to be closed, to the delusions of the papacy.  When he turned his face from Rome, he had turned away also in heart, and from that time the separation grew wider, until he severed all connection with the papal church.” 

Before his revelation, “Luther was still a true son of the papal church and had no thought that he would ever be anything else. In the providence of God he was led to visit Rome.”  However, once he received the unvarnished truth, Luther could no longer remain loyal to the church which promised indulgences to those climbing the staircase on their knees or whose clergy he found profanation instead of sanctity.  His disillusionment with the church led to his part in the Protestant Reformation.  He was declared a heretic and excommunicated from the church.

In Jesus’ time, the religious leaders trusted in the traditions of men instead of the Word of God.  Today, where are you placing your faith?  In the teachings of men or in the teachings of God?

Sources:  Bible Gateway; Great Controversy; Wikipedia

A Mother’s Hidden Legacy

Naomi was a Christian.  She grew up praying to Jesus as a Friend and reading the Bible so that she could get to know Him better.  So great was her love for God that it was natural to believe that when she had children, she would pass on her faith to them.  However, things didn’t turn out quite as she expected.

Naomi’s parents arranged her marriage and although the wedding was held in the church and followed all the Christian traditions, her husband was of a different religion.  Can you imagine being in Naomi’s shoes?  You were raised to love the Lord.  You look forward to going to church and worshipping Him in His sanctuary with others who share your faith.  Then, one day, you are forced to stop going to church because your husband won’t allow you.  And to make matters worse…your husband is an alcoholic.

Shortly after the wedding, Tarak’s alcoholism reared its ugly head.  He had a steady job as a truck cleaner but spent the money he earned on drinks or cigarettes.  As a result it was a struggle just to have the bare necessities.   The struggle only increased when they had Oppilmani and Sadhya, born two years apart.  Now Naomi had two growing children to feed not to mention providing them with clothing and education.   Overwhelmed, she was compelled to reflect on her life before she got married.  With a penitent heart she began to pray.

She didn’t tell Tarak that she repented of her neglect of God or that she was praying for the family’s restoration.  She didn’t tell him that she was praying for him–that he would stop drinking.  Can you imagine how hard it must have been for Naomi to keep these things to herself?  How she must have longed to tell her family about Jesus and how only He could help them.  Then, hope came in the form of Gospel for Asia Pastor Zaafir when  he came to their village.  God heard her prayers and He sent help.

Naomi began to speak to Pastor Zaafir frequently and began attending church again.   As she grew in the Lord, Pastor Zaafir helped her to enroll Oppilmani and Sadhya in the local Bridge of Hope center.  This proved to be a blessing for the children.  They excelled in their studies and learned about Jesus.  How it must have brought joy to their mother who had dreamed of telling them about the Friend she had since she was a child.

The joy was short-lived, however.  Tarak’s animosity returned and he began to verbally abuse his wife when she attended church and insisted that the family follow his religion.  In the wake of this new wave of opposition Naomi attended church less but refused to stop going altogether.  All the while she continued praying for her family even as they were about to face a crisis…

…pray without ceasing – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Tarak’s years of drinking and smoking finally began to take a toll on his health.  What began as asthma quickly turned into something very serious and unmanageable.  How terrifying it must have been for his family when he began vomiting blood.  He couldn’t eat anything.  However, the waves of nausea and the vomiting didn’t stop Tarak from continuing to drink alcohol.   Within a few days, he was taken to the hospital where doctors determined that he had a serious lung infection.  If he didn’t have an operation he would die.  What was the family to do?  For years Tarak had spent his income on alcohol.  There wasn’t enough money for the operation.

Naomi and the children, went home, bracing themselves for a future without her husband.  The children continued to attend the Bridge of Hope center but it didn’t take long for the staff to notice that something was wrong.  When they inquired, Oppilmani told them about his father’s condition and that the family couldn’t pay for the surgery.  The staff offered words of encouragement and hope.  They assured the boy that Jesus could solve his problems and then they decided to visit the family.

The coordinator of the centre went with two social workers and GFA’s pastor Bahurai to the family’s home where they saw an alarmingly thin Tarak who looked much older than his age of 35 years.  The group shared God’s Word and encouraged the family to ask for His mercy.  The Lord spoke to Tarak’s heart and the father confessed his wrongdoings to God.  From that moment on, there was a transformation.  Naomi no longer faced opposition from her husband and she was free to regularly attend prayer meetings.  She, the pastor and other believers prayed for Tarak’s healing.  He began to recover slowly and he opened his heart to the God who was healing him.

Tarak no longer insisted that his family worship his god or protest his wife’s church going.  Instead he brought the children to church.  It took a life-threatening illness for Tarak to know the true God.

God had answered the prayers of a mother who had known Him all of her life.  She had turned back to Him after she was forced to neglect Him–knowing that He was her only Source of comfort, hope and deliverance.  God heard the prayers of a wife who wanted her husband to stop drinking.  He heard the prayers of a mother who wanted her children to worship the true God and go to school.  He heard the prayers of a woman who wanted to free her family from their struggles.

The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective – James 5:16

What a wonderful end to this story.  A man once opposed to wife’s God had embraced Him.  Oppilmani and Sadhya who once worshipped a traditional god was now worshipping the Creator.  They will continue their family’s legacy by raising the next generation to serve the God who had brought them hope amidst adversity.  As for Naomi, she watched the Lord do amazing things for her family.  “Jesus turned our trouble into happiness,” she said, “and we are ever thankful to Jesus.”

You can help to do amazing things for other families like Naomi’s by sponsoring Bridge of Hope children.  Your sponsorship will open the door for children to share Christ’s love with their families.  If you are interested in learning more about Bridge of Hope visit this link.

I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, For You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities – Psalm 31:7

 

 

Source:  Gospel for Asia