Tag Archives: Christianity

Good Friday Is Good Indeed

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Good Friday Is Good Indeed

03.29.2013

By Zara D. Garcia / @ZaraAlexis

While the worldly tradition has commercialized Easter to represent confectionary in the shape of a bunny and the fun, children’s activity of hunting for pastel-coloured eggs during nothing more than a long weekend — Good Friday commemorates what is at the center of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ’s crucifixion on the cross.

It is the act in which the Son of God, Himself, is first judged and then mocked by the very people who He wishes to save:

Jesus Is Mocked

27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. – Matthew 27: 27-31 (The Holy Bible, NASB).

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And then the Holy Son of God, Jesus Christ, is crucified.

When in fact, as God, Himself, He could have at any time resisted and saved Himself from such mortal suffering and death. Instead, in His perfect obedience to God, the Father, He humbled Himself and accepted His Father’s will for His life to be used as a sacrifice and offering in answer to God’s wrath on the sins of all humankind:

The Crucifixion

33And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, 34they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.    35And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots. 36And sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 37And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”

38At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying,

42“He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43“He trusts in God; Let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

44The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.

45Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” 47And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48Immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. 49But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” 50And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. 52The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:33-54 (The Holy Bible, NASB).

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It is with unfortunate, recent events that I was unexpectedly sent to hospital in emergency due to severe, undiagnosed migraines, persistent nausea and vomiting, which led to three emergency hospital visits in five days, a CT scan, a spinal tap, and two spinal blood patches — surgical procedures in which one failed due to the inability to find veins that would support enough of my blood output required for the surgery’s success. So, not only did I have to endure one stressful surgery, I had to repeat the very same one under duress.

During one of the surgeries, I was poked by needles in my arms, my hands, my wrists, and my feet in a desperate act to find enough of my own blood to support the spinal blood patch that was occurring on me simultaneously. At the same time, I was fully awake, aware of the procedure, the doctors’ stressful panic, the sight of my own blood, the urgency in which my blood was needed, and also asked to keep absolutely still because one move or error on my part or the doctors’, could have caused nerve damage and a number of other complications in my spine and in my back.

My thoughts at the time in seeing all of my blood drip down my arms, my wrists, my hands, and my feet, while battling migraines, nausea, stress, physical pain in my back and other body parts as I was poked with needles, and trying to actively and consciously keep absolutely still in fear of having another failed surgery was:

This IS suffering. Was this how Jesus suffered? Please God…please God…save me!

And in my suffering—in that absolute dark and desperate, unyielding moment of pain and fear—who was it that I  was left to turn to?

Jesus. God.

My husband couldn’t save me. He was in the waiting room, anxiously waiting for the unknown outcome.

The doctors couldn’t give me a guarantee on the health and safety of my spine or my back.

My children were with my parents while I was in hospital, oblivious to my suffering.

And no amount of money or worldly power could buy away my pain.

It was God who comforted me in my fear, pain, and isolation.

In my mind, Jesus had suffered so much more on my behalf when He was crucified on the cross. And while I did not willingly endure suffering, but instead begged for help and ease, Jesus willingly gave Himself up to worldly authorities and the very people He meant to save to those who would mock Him, torture Him, and eventually crucify Him—because of His love not only for us as a flawed people, but because of His perfect love and obedience to God, the Father.

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That is sacrifice.

And it’s this very sacrifice that Christians commemorate today on Good Friday.

And it’s Jesus Christ, whom we honour as our Saviour because of this very act.

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I have nothing against bunnies, nor chocolate. I’m even for fun treasure hunts. But, as a Christian, Good Friday and Easter is much more than that. It is the commemoration of the act of complete humility, obedience, and sacrifice by God on our behalf. This is at the center of our Christian faith: the cross. It is more than a trinket to wear around our necks or hang across our car mirrors or dashboards. It is the symbol in which Jesus Christ was made to suffer and die in His holy perfection, for our sins so that we may be forgiven and have eternal life.

Good Friday is good indeed, for it is on this day that we remember and honour Jesus for His selfless love towards us and His ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.

If a Christian, let us remember this gift in an all we do today (and forever); and in reverent prayer and in thanksgiving—and let us not forget the holiness of our Lord and the depth and passion in which He loves us.

And then three days later, on Easter morning, we can, together, rejoice in honouring Jesus Christ and remembering His holy resurrection!

It’s surely a gift worth being grateful for. (Grateful enough to also be able to enjoy the pleasure of confectionary bunnies and children’s egg hunts.)

the cross

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May your Easter be a blessed one!

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If a Christian, where are you now in your walk and relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ?

Why not spend some quiet time in prayer and thankfulness today  for the gift we have received through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross?

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The White Smoke Has Cleared! We Have a Pope!

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The White Smoke Has Cleared! We Have a Pope!

03.28.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I was born and raised by two devout Roman Catholic parents from the Philippines and so it was natural for me to witness the decorative altars in our home as I was growing up.

My mother and father, both had personal rosaries from which to pray with, and one each for every car we owned as a talisman to the Catholic faith.

My first memory of my experience in the Catholic church was climbing the marble steps of St. Catherine of Siena Church to reach the main sanctuary, holding my father’s hand as we walked quietly to a middle-row pew.

I was, as always when we went to church on a Sunday, well-dressed, obedient, and watchful—mindful of how to follow my parents’ lead in the sign of the cross, when to kneel, shake hands, and learn the church’s holy prayers: the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Apostle’s Creed.

Unsure of myself, but willing and ready to learn, I had devoted my skill in remembering the order of the liturgy, in awe at the beauty of the priest’s vestments, the pristine glow of the chalice, and my favourite part of the mass: the prayers spoken before the Eucharist is raised to the sound of chimes signifying not only the Body of Christ, but for me, His death and resurrection.

I loved the solemnity of the weekly service, the ability to know, follow, and participate in the acts of its prayers and communion and to feel absolved after communion and mass.

I come from a devout Catholic family who’s always been interested in spirituality. My father as a young man had considered becoming a priest. And I, in his footsteps, had seriously considered entering a nunnery after my religious studies at Holy Name of Mary and my relationship and peer ministry with the Felician Sisters.

And though I would later leave the Catholic institutional church later on in my life, having converted to evangelical Christianity, it was with great pride that I was able to witness the election of a new Pope this past Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

While my theological views have somewhat altered and my religious practices differ from my religious upbringing, I have and do hold the Roman Catholic church up in respect and tenderness because of that very history and of course, their reverence to our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Religion is not an event, nor a labelling discourse of theological beliefs, but a spiritual outlet in which to express and experience one’s faith in community.

And so, it is with great joy I was able to celebrate with my brothers and sisters in Christ for the naming of the new Pope on Wednesday on behalf of the Catholic community.

While I don’t revere the man himself, as his role as pontiff does not replace nor rise above God’s own and true authority, I do hope and pray for his spiritual wisdom, obedience, and servitude to Christ and Christ’s teachings.

I did not witness the white smoke which traditionally announces the conclave’s conclusion in its decision in naming a new pontiff, but I was made aware of it the moment it happened, believe it or not, on Twitter!

Which led me to turn on the television and search for live coverage of this historical event. The amount of people not only gathered around the Vatican at St. Peter’s Square that day, but also the multitude of people listening in on radio and watching the news all at the same time in anticipation of this news, made the camaraderie and unity of Christian faith even more intense and prevalent.

I watched nuns in prayer, clutching rosaries, their eyes closed in hopeful reverence. I watched men waving their countries’ flags in excitement. I saw young children on the shoulders of their fathers, waiting for their Catholic blessing from the new pope. I listened to the crowd of patrons chanting in unison, “Viva il Papa!” which means, “Long live the Pope!” in Italian.

From news.yahoo.com
From news.yahoo.com

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The fervour of the crowd was infectious. The anticipation of this historical change, obvious. And then the drapes on the Vatican balcony stirred.

The announcement of the new Pope was made! And out came this simply dressed man in white with a humility and thoughtfulness that addressed the world:

Pope Jorge Mario Begoglio Francis I

pope francis I
From Wikipedia.org

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Pope Francis I’s humility precedes him in his choices to live a simple, unadorned life. As an Archbishop, he was known to take the bus rather than taxi and would walk among the people. He even turned down the opportunity to live in the palatial Archbishop’s residence, but chose to live in a small apartment instead.

This seems right, indicative, and reflective of Jesus’ teaching in the Bible:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-25 (NIV)

His humility and acts of servitude is also evident in his visit to a hospice of patients afflicted with HIV/AIDS in 2001 when he washed and kissed its patients’ feet.

This is reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching and own act of humility and servitude in washing His disciples’ feet even though He himself is God.

The pope, too, has been known to literally take the “back seat” when gathering with cardinals, often opting to sit at the back during conferences.

This, too, is reflective of the attitude in which Jesus advises the invited guests to a gathering of the Pharisees:

“But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” – Luke 14:10-11 (NASB)

What is also inspiring about Pope Francis I is his outspoken stand for righteousness rather than legalism in his decision to baptize children born out-of-wedlock and his admonition to those that would deny children this sacrament.

It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching and welcome of little children when He said,

“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” – Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

While he’s been criticized in North America for his conservatism: matters in which he is against birth control, abortion, and same-sex marriage; he stands as one would in representing and following deeply embedded Catholic beliefs and doctrine.

And he is well-versed as he is well-educated. Before becoming an Archbishop, he taught literature, philosophy, theology, psychology and holds a master’s degree in chemistry. He also knows a number of languages: Spanish, Italian, and German.

But, it is his humility that is most striking; his spirit of servitude that is most impressive; and his theology alive in action as well as his sensitivity to the poor.

You’d also be surprised to know that under his pontiff hat, he’s also got quite a wonderful sense of humour! It was reported by The Toronto Star that during the dinner after the Pope’s election, the cardinals made a toast to him in which he responded, “May God forgive you.” (As shared by Cardinal Dolan.)

Christians will easily understand the humour in this as what is implied by it: It is considered a “sin” to practice drunkenness as it removes form of reason and clear thinking as it is a sin to commit acts of idolatry since Christians are called to love God with his or her entire being as commanded in the Holy Bible:

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’”   “’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” – Mark 12:28-30 (NIV)

—which I believe (and hope and pray) is something Pope Francis I will continually obey in an act of service to God, God’s glory, and His Church.

The Associated Press quotes the Pope Francis I as saying,

“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.”

This is the call of every Christian — Catholic, Evangelical, or not. And a hopeful message to share with the world: A hopeful message because it comes from the Catholic’s new spiritual leader—and a hopeful message because it is true.

And in this, as in all things, may God be glorified.

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Did you withness the announcement of the new pontiff this past March?

What do you think of Pope Francis I?

What do you hope for the Catholic Church after the election of its new spiritual leader?

What are one of Jesus’ teachings do you find wonderful and something you aim to subscribe to in your own life?

If a Christian, what ways do you actively try to live out your faith?

What is your favourite verse in the Holy Bible?

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Book Review: Sweet Jesus by Christine Pountney

Book Review:

Sweet Jesus by Christine Pountney

09.19.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Christine Pountney

Format: Hardcover, 312 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-7123-2

Pub Date: September 11, 2012

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Sweet Jesus by Christine Pountney is a book about three siblings, who in their distinct personalities come together in a road trip towards a mega-church in Wichita, Kansas, where their mother once had a powerful faith experience, and where they, too, must come to terms with their own form of spirituality, for or against what is known to be the evangelical right.

There is Connie Foster, the eldest of the siblings who struggles not only with the recent news of her husband’s bankruptcy after a comfortable life of independent business and wealth, but also with her own fears of failure in motherhood and pious, spiritual authenticity.

Hannah Crowe, liberal both in thought, tradition, and sexuality, is desperate to have a child  with Norman Peach, the man she loves, but who is determined to resist her desire for parenthood. She must confront her feelings of insecurity with her family and her own childlessness.

And Zeus Ortega, their adoptive brother from New Mexico who works as a therapeutic clown in a children’s hospital responds to the loss of his boyfriend by planning to meet his biological family for the first time since his adoption.

While the clarity of the language of the novel attributes to it being easily readable, it is also written in a way in which the characters themselves feel distant from the reader and become performers rather than characters with whom the reader can fully empathize. Aside from a few tender and authentic connections, the characters can sometimes come across as almost too self-absorbed.

And rather than take the opportunity to write with grace to show an authentic spiritual struggle like Anouk Markovtis does in her tender and more complex book, I Am Forbidden, the novel, Sweet Jesus, is quite opposite in its view of the evangelical right as would suggest by its title.

Which is unfortunate since its intended message of religious and cultural inclusivity instead comes across as a blatant attack on conservatism, Christianity, and the evangelical movement, thought process, and way of worship as depicted in the described “circus” of the Global Kingdom of Salvation Center in Wichita, Kansas.

The book in its narrative, superficially observes and sheds in a poor light, the evangelical movement, its thought process, and style of worship as an extreme example found in a “weekend service”  without the thoughtful consideration and explanation of its theology, significance and translation of its unique worship style, and potential faith experience.

It’s rather a sad statement to yet again see a novel so easily ridicule, mock, and target the Christian evangelical right more so than any other Christian denomination and/or other religion without a backlash.

It seems to be an easy route, one in which in my mind, is too often accepted, abused, and ignored. While readers, writers, and fictional characters are privileged with the freedom of thought and entitled to disagree on various issues, the care needed to divulge and discern discussions that are meant to enlighten and advocate inclusion and community, especially on such topics as religion regardless of their foreign, elusive, and what can be sometimes deemed as “different” or “strange” practices, deserve at the very least. mature understanding and respect.

This is especially true due to the sensitive nature of the topic of religion as in its discourse, theology, and its practices, regardless of what religion it may be. This is especially true because the heart of religion is in its very nature, not merely and simply about a set of ideology, but a personal, spiritual discourse in which real people of various beliefs ascribe to and find, if not “Christian redemption,” an alternative understanding, direction, comfort, and faith.

Aside from its religious argument, a tender connection is found in the book that I not only enjoyed, but was thoroughly  moved at that I cried at its reading. It  was the well-written and authentic voice of the love letter received by Zeus Ortega from his boyfriend, Fenton Murch, before his personal loss.

If only the book as a whole was written with such openness and tenderness, the inclusivity and religious freedom and respect everyone deserves and aspires to would some day come to fruition, both in literature and in life, in which literature often reflects. If only.

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Zara’s Rating

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 A special thank you to McClelland & Stewart and Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

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What ways do you suggest you can act as an individual to further advocate the inclusion of  freedom of thought, freedom of religion,  and authentic encouragement of personal growth and community?

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