Today Rosemary Molinaro (Sunday School Superintendent), speaks about her faith journey: growing up in church, away from church, and coming back home. She finally formed a new relationship with God and Jesus saying, “God and I are partners in contract. Jesus and I are friends to the end.”
Following is a summary of her sermon:
Sunday School Sunday – January 25, 2015
Good morning and welcome to Sunday School Sunday. Today both services, as well as fellowship Coffee Hour are hosted by our Sunday School children, their families and our teachers. I ask you to keep the children and their families in your prayers as we have had so many of them out sick with the flu or bad colds.
Each week at Sunday School we meet in the Sanctuary for a few minutes before class time to come together to talk about how our week went, or about something special that may be coming up, we celebrate birthdays and also spend time in prayer. We usually have a short lesson and since there is no class today, we will use this morning’s service as our time together.
As Pastor Choi has announced, 2015 has been dedicated as the Year of Getting to Know Jesus. So when I was praying for an idea of what to talk about, Jesus reminded me of my relationship with him over the past how many years of my life. So I thought I would follow Pastor’s lead, and tell about my personal journey in getting to know Jesus. Not that my journey is over – far from it – but about what I have experienced along the way so far.
My Journey began when my parents had me baptized into the Catholic Church soon after I was born. I had no clue what was happening at that time and probably cried throughout the ceremony. But when I became ready for school, in my Italian Catholic neighborhood, all the kids went to the Catholic School. All the good kids anyway – I say with tongue in cheek!
I began my very formal religious education at the hands of the Felician Nuns. We had our catechism books that we memorized, word for word. Who made me? God made me. Why did God make me? God made me to show forth his goodness and bring me to everlasting life. There was a question and an answer – and that was it. We either never thought to, or were not allowed to ask our own questions.
When it was time for First Communion, we had a list of questions to memorize. I remember very clearly kneeling at the altar practicing for the big day, and when the priest came to me to ask me a question, before I could even answer he said “if you don’t know the answer, I am going to cut off your braids.” I remember crying at the thought of losing my braids, and luckily he didn’t wait for an answer and just moved on to the next poor victim.
Confirmation was another set of questions and answers to be memorized, this time to be answered to the Bishop. I remember there were fifty questions and since we didn’t know which ones he would choose, we had to memorize them all. And when the big day came, the Bishop chose about five.
Talk about instilling the fear of God. Speaking of which, the motto of our School had to be “God is going to punish you” because everything we did was followed by that statement. Believe me when I say, I went to confession every week and confessed the weirdest stuff just to avoid God’s punishment.
We were told the only reason you could miss Mass on Sunday was if you were near death. So if for some reason I did not go to church, I stayed in bed all day so God would think I was dying! I might have even prayed that I would, just so I didn’t have to tell the nun I missed Mass.
Another drawback to my learning about Jesus was when I was in school, the Mass was in Latin.
I was in the Choir, and all the songs we sang were in Latin too. More memorizing, without knowing the translation and what the words meant.
It was not a very healthy start to knowing God and Jesus. I feared God with all my being. Anything I did or didn’t do was out of fear, not out of love for Him. And in the Letter of Paul First Corinthians, 16:14, it states, Let all you do be done in love. Many years later, during an adult education class, an assignment was given to describe how we see God. Here is my description: Picture this – the clouds would drift apart and the sky would crack open. Out would come God, growing taller and taller like a giant out of heaven. His face was very angry and his long arm was out-stretched and his finger was pointing –I was sure it was pointing at me. This was the vision I had for a very long time.
Then there was my understanding of Jesus. To me, for whatever reason, Jesus was only a symbol – represented of course by a baby. We would put out the manger at Christmas and I would play with the figures of Mary and Joseph and Jesus as if it were a toy. We would hide Jesus until Christmas day and then put him in the stable.
Palm Sunday was making sure everyone in the family exchanged palm – no reason why. And Easter Sunday was all about the hat, the dress and the shoes.
Then there was the Bible. I know we had this huge book in our house because on Saturday morning when I dusted for my Mom, I remember dusting it. When my Dad passed away, the company he worked for gave our family a Bible as a gift in memory of my Dad. I was 20 years old. Because it was a sad remembrance of why we had it, nobody wanted it around. Too bad we didn’t think to actually read it.
Now believe me, I am not placing blame on my parents, maybe some on the priests and nuns, but that’s the way things were then. Fear was the way to raise good kids. But fear was not the way to learn about God and boy did I miss out on a lot not knowing Jesus as a child.
Well I grew up and thankfully had not been brainwashed beyond repair. When I had my own children I did not want them to have the same experience I had. Actually, I remember my mom saying to me when my son was a little boy “Don’t ever tell him God will punish him.” Hmmmm….. I guess she had an epiphany as well! Thanks, Mom.
But what also forced me to see God and my faith in a different way was when I volunteered to teach Sunday School at my church. I knew I could not teach what I had learned, so I made the effort to learn all over again. Through reading, teaching and listening to what the children had to say, I found a whole new vision of God and His most wonderful son, Jesus. They became so real in my life. Not a giant in the sky pointing at me, or a baby doll that came out at Christmas. They were there, day after day. And I was able to make choices out of love, not fear.
I realized I was forming a very real relationship with God and Jesus. And as a mother, I also looked to Mary as a role model for myself. I knew she was a better mother than I was and always prayed that she would watch over my kids.
So like any good relationship with someone, you begin to trust them, depend on them, love them, and ask them for help. You have conversations with them and of course, you invite them into your home. And for the most part, things go pretty well. And that’s how my relationship with Jesus was moving along.
And then it happened. My family was turned upside down. All I will say is that an evil came into our lives in the form of a friend and betrayal, that we could never have expected and in a way we could never have imagined. I could not understand why my journey with Jesus had taken such a wrong turn. Always praying to keep my children safe and to watch over them – had those prayers been ignored or just not heard. Did I not pray the right way? And Mary, where was she? Did she not hear my prayers either? Was this the punishment I was warned about as a child – would God punish me through my child? What did she have to do with it?
Well, that was it. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was just plain mad. What kind of a friend are you, Jesus, I asked. I love you so much; I trusted you to help me. Where were you when all of this was going on? Why didn’t you tell me? Most of all, why didn’t You stop it?
So I decided to end that relationship. I stopped going to church and the only conversations I had with Jesus were when I broke down and cried and kept asking why did you do this?
In the beginning, when Sunday came, I felt a kind of revenge towards Jesus in thinking that he would get the message if I weren’t in church.
As the months went by, and Sundays passed, I felt no remorse for not going to church; in fact, I was happy to have a day to sleep in or to do things. My relationship with Jesus was truly disappearing.
This went on for about four years. Life was moving along, not getting much better, in fact, it was getting much worse. Days were filled with all kinds of problems, physical and emotional distress, illness and a hole in my heart that I just could not fill.
I knew I was missing my relationship with Jesus, but I didn’t know how to get it back. What was worse, I didn’t know if He would take me back. I began looking for a new church where I could find a new understanding of Jesus.
A co-worker of mine invited me to her church on Palm Sunday, in 2003. I was very hesitant to go, especially because it was a special service for Palm Sunday, and since it was outside of my Catholic upbringing, I didn’t know how they celebrated it. After all, it was a Methodist church and who knows what those people did! But I had to stop making excuses and take the first step.
The significance of going back to church on Palm Sunday was my Alleluia moment. When I walked through the doors of Wesley UMC, in Bethlehem, PA, I knew I had found a new home. Holy Week – re-living what Jesus went through, what Mary went through, and seeing that God did not stop that, how could I think my life, my child, was any different. Mary was a good mother, and still she had to bear her child’s pain. Jesus Himself asked God to take this cup from Him, but what was to be, was to be. And as with Jesus, His resurrection will be my resurrection as well.
So I was welcomed into my new church family and began finding ways to learn about Jesus and to build our relationship again. It wasn’t easy, because as a human, there were still things I found hard to let go of and to forgive. I realized at this point, I had exhausted most of the professional help within a 100 mile radius of my home. In addition, all the professional counseling, therapy and medication that was being given to me, were no longer helping. I needed something else – something much more powerful.
So I started going for spiritual counseling. The first question I was asked was “What do you feel got you through all of your problems? How did you come this far?” The counselor told me I could think about my answer and let her know during our next session. But I immediately answered her. “I know you want me to say God, but honestly, it was medication.“ Her response to me was “Don’t you think that was a gift from God?” Yikes, I never thought of it that way.
After several months of spiritual counseling, and finding amazing support at church, I was finally beginning to feel that my relationship with Jesus was growing and thriving again.
I began to see that when life goes terribly wrong, it is not a punishment from God, rather it can be the unfortunate results of another person’s poor choices. God has given us the wonderful gift of free will, which means we can choose how we want to live our lives, what we will do and say and how we will treat others. To go with that gift, God gave us the ability to think, to reason, make decisions and especially to know right from wrong. So how we use these gifts, and the choices we make, certainly affects other people – sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a very bad way. In my journey to know Jesus, I found that people hurt each other, it is not Jesus who hurts us.
Many years have gone by, and today, at this very moment, standing here with all of you, I can say with overwhelming confidence, that Jesus loves me and I love Him, and we are friends to the end. Oh I still have lots of bumps in the road on my journey to know Jesus better, but what has changed is the way I handle those bumps, and I now use those bumps to bring me closer to Jesus, not pull me away. I learned that talking to Jesus must come from your heart, not from something memorized.
So to the children here today, my prayer for you is that you have a friendship with Jesus; always stay close to Him, learn about Him, ask lots of questions about Him, love Him, even get angry at Him, He can take it. But don’t be afraid of Him, because He loves you very much. Use your gift of free will to make good choices. It’s not always easy; sometimes we are faced with very tempting or difficult choices to make. When you are not sure, ask yourself WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? And always make a choice out of love, not out of fear.
Back in the day, whenever you were going on a trip, you would depend on a large paper map to find the roads and directions to get to where you were going. But we have a come a long way from the paper map and are now using electronic systems called GPS. Pretty amazing little gadget! However, Christians have had a spiritual GPS in their journey with Jesus since the beginning of time. GPS in this sense is God’s Path to Salvation, and is found in the Bible. Unlike the global positioning systems, our spiritual GPS has only one set of directions – Earth to Heaven. So to the adults, who are already well on the journey to know Jesus better, I say program your spiritual GPS and have an awesome trip!
Finally, like many of you, Bob and I have a mortgage on our house and for the past several years, the bank has been allowing us to live in it! And we are waiting for the day when we can walk out of the bank and say “it is finished” and the mortgage contract is stamped “Paid in Full.” But also, like everyone here, I have another home, which is Heaven. I’ve always felt that when we are born, we enter into an unwritten contract with God that says you didn’t ask to be here, but you are, and whatever happens in your life, for however long I have given you that life, you must deal with it. But remember, we are partners in this contract and together we will get through it.
And I realized that even though I never actually signed that contract, Jesus did – in blood. According to John, Chapter 19, verse 30, the last words Jesus spoke on the cross were “It is finished.” And when Jesus uttered those words on the cross, God stamped my contract “Paid in Full.” God Bless you all