If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Though the Flock is Destroyed

If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction. (Psalm 119:92)

After John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, God’s voice thundered: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” But then the Holy Spirit led God’s beloved Son into the wilderness to be tempted – the Greek word also means to be tested – by the devil. And in Jesus’ weakest moment, the Tempter said to Him, “If You are the Son of God . . . .”

Three times in this section of Scripture, Satan tempted the Lord to sin. Please notice how the Lord each time responded to the mockery: “It is written . . . (See Matthew 3:16-4:11).

Part of the devil’s strategy has always been to attack those who follow Christ at their weakest and then mock us, saying something like: If you are God’s beloved, why are you suffering? 

Most often he asks us that question when we’re suffering a family tragedy, or dealing with stark loneliness, or financial upheaval, or serious illness, or any of another dozen desperate circumstances that fall across everyone’s life journey from time to time.

But each time Satan tested Jesus, the Lord responded with Scripture because Jesus knew it to be eternal truth. So then, how should we respond to our enemy’s mockery and lies? As Jesus did, and for the same reason: we also know it to be God’s eternal truth.

Here are some of those truths to throw back into the devil’s face when he lies to us about God, when he implies our heavenly Father does not care about us:

I will “Trust in the Lord my God with all my heart, and not on my own understanding.  In all my ways I will honor Him. He will make my paths straight.” (See Proverbs 3:5-6)

Or – I will “Not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that comes to me for my testing, as though some strange thing were happening to me; but to the degree that I share the sufferings of Christ, I will keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory I may rejoice with exultation.” (See 1 Peter 4:12-13)

Or – Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”  (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

There are many other similar answers to the enemy's arrows from God’s word, and as you read Scripture for yourself you will find them. But for now, these are some of the truths from God’s Book that I fling in Satan’s face when he attacks my faith. I hope you will find them helpful to you as well.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Great News about Forgiveness

As I listened to a song sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, my mind shuttled back to my years before 1972.  Part of the lyrics of that song are these:  I won’t go back, I can’t go back to the way it used to before your presence came and changed me.”

Those words reminded me so much of my life before I met Jesus that day in December 1972.  I was 22 when I knelt beside my bunk on the Yokosuka Naval Base and God changed me. In a moment – no longer than it takes to read this sentence -- God cleansed every lingering stain of my dreadful sins. In that navy barracks God removed from His sight and from His memory every reason for my deepest shame.

And He made me His son.

Before 1972 my life was a moral mess. My sins overwhelmed me. I remembered the baby I killed in the abortion clinic, the young women I turned into whores, the drug abuse, the thieving, the lies I lived to gain an advantage. The drunkenness, the abuse, the self-righteousness…. They all stayed with me. Worse, I didn’t think my life could ever be different. I didn’t think I could ever find my way out of the hole I kept digging deeper and deeper.

And then I discovered I could have a new life. I could find forgiveness – deep, abiding forgiveness. It could be as if, in God’s eyes, I had never done the things I did.

Only those who know the deep darkness of their sins and the grace of God’s forgiveness can understand what it means to me to know that God has forgiven me. That He has cleansed me. That He has changed me.

And that is part of the good news of the gospel: We can become new.  Here’s what God tells us through St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 

Think of it! If you don’t like the person you are, you can become a new creation in Christ.

God continues in that passage to say that not only can we become a new creation, but we can be reconciled – brought into His loving arms – through Christ: Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ . . . not imputing [our] trespasses to [us]. 
So, how do we make this good news OUR news? Here is how I did it in December 1972:

I got onto my knees beside my bunk in my navy barracks and said to God: “I believe Jesus is the Messiah.”

Six words.  But in those six words God knew I meant this:

Oh, God, I am so sorry for my sins. I have done so many things wrong in my life, and I do not want to ever do them again. Please, cover me with the blood of Jesus, cleanse me. Make me a new person. And I promise I will do my best to follow Jesus and obey Him all the days of my life.

That’s how I did it. A few weeks later, I was baptized. And here now nearly 43 years later I assure you: I won’t go back, I can’t go back to the way it used to before His presence came and changed me.”
What about you? Are you sorry for the way you’re living? Do you want to be a new creation? I told you how it happened to me. It can happen to you, also. The Lord Jesus said in Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

Isn’t that great news?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Boldness for Christ

It happened during the noon hour. I was visiting a friend on board a navy destroyer and as we looked down at the hundreds of men and women milling about on the pier, I spotted Roger.

I called out to him. That was my first mistake.

When he didn't hear me, I shouted a little louder,

"Hey, Roger!" That was my second mistake. This time he heard me.

"Howdy, Rich!" he waved. 

And then he did it. In front of all those people who didn't even know I existed . . . he did it. "Hey, Rich," he shouted. "Do you love Jesus?"

I cringed. Is he crazy! There had to be a hundred thousand sailors gathered along the pier side. And now, thanks to Roger’s recklessness, every one of them stopped in their tracks and stared at me. Time stood still as they waited for my answer.

More than four decade have passed since that moment when the Lord taught me my first lesson in Christian boldness. I needed it back then, and I still need to be reminded of it now. As the world becomes increasingly resistant to the gospel, there is an ever urgent need for those who follow Christ to boldly and without embarrassment share their faith with others.

Over the years I've learned a person can be a bold and effective witness for Christ in many different and much less flamboyant way than shouting from the rooftops. Here are only a few suggestions:

1. Fall deeply in love with Jesus. We’re never ashamed of the one we love. We’re never embarrassed to talk about our beloved. Sometimes it’s all we can do to control ourselves so we do not bore others with talk about our love one. So fall in love with Jesus. Stay in love with Jesus. It will change your perspective about everything and everyone.

How does anyone fall deeply in love with Jesus? We could just as easily ask how does anyone fall in love with someone. The answer to both questions is the same: By spending time with the beloved – time in communication (or, prayer); Time meditating on His love letters to us (e.g. the books of the Bible); Time to be quiet with Him (like turning off the phone, the computer, and the television).  The more time we spend with our beloved, the deeper our love grows – whether with another person, or with our God.

2. Know what you believe and why you believe it.  This is perhaps most important for Catholics who grew up on the front pew, attended early catechism classes, received Confirmation as a teenager . . . and then set the spiritual cruise control for the next few decades.

I’ve heard it said Catholics read the entire Bible in a three year period as the Church wends its way through the Missal Years A, B and C. But the objective thinker soon realizes what we really get are snippets here and there of texts usually out of context. As St. Jerome counseled many centuries ago: "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ".

It's much easier to know your faith and to share your faith if you know the root of your faith -- which is God's word. See my 2+2=1+3 Bible reading suggestion at the end of this essay for some helpful suggestions.

3.  Walk the talk. No amount of telling others about Christ can take the place of genuine humility, love, kindness, patience, self‑control, and a holy lifestyle. If the walk doesn't fit the talk, there's little likelihood others will listen to what we have to say about our faith in Christ in the first place.

4. Invite someone to Mass with you. A casual conversation over a cup of coffee can develop into an invitation to attend Mass on the following Sunday. They may say, "No, thank you." Then again, they may say, "Sure, why not?"

5. Pray over food in restaurants. If we thank Him for our food in the privacy of our homes, why should we not thank Him in public places?  If nothing else, it is a silent testimony to others that we are not ashamed of our faith.

I made a third mistake that day. Instead of shouting, "Hallelujah! Yes I do!" I answered Roger's question with a weak, "yes." Part of me wanted to take a bold stand for Christ, but a greater part was too embarrassed to do so before all those people.

I wish I could tell you that I've never missed an opportunity since then to be bold for Christ.  But I've missed numerous such opportunities. Nevertheless, looking back with guilt is not the way to move forward. If you struggle with boldness as I sometimes still do, perhaps my few suggestions may help. We can move forward and fruitfully share the good news of Christ’s love with others.

The 2+2=1+3 Bible Reading Plan:

If you read two chapters of the Old Testament each day (it takes about 10 minutes on average) and two chapters of the New Testament each day (another ten minutes on average) you will read the entire Old Testament once a year and the New Testament three times each year. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

What Shall We Do Next?

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord . . . ?  (Isaiah 40:27)

Every now and then someone says to me: “What was once good is now considered bad, and what was once bad is now declared good. Does no one see what has happened to us?”

And I am then reminded of the history of all past civilizations, perhaps best illustrated by these two following passages of Scripture.  The first is about ancient Israel when she descended into open rebellion and rejection of God

"For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot, Israel has defiled itself. Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry is within them, and they do not know the Lord." (Hosea 5:3-4)

The second passage, this one in Romans, speaks to the history of individuals who also love to hate God:

"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools."  (Romans 1:21-22)

Neither individuals nor nations who learn to persist in their rebellion against God can understand what happens to them along the way – until it is too late. God has not changed one iota during the last several millennia. He will still not be mocked by His creatures – whose very next breath lies in His control. When we insist on ‘my will be done” instead of “Thy will be done” – He responds, “As you wish.”

And so our deeds will not allow us to return to our God.

Is there yet hope? Yes, of course there is hope. There is always hope while there is still breath. But hope for us requires we do things His way, and not ours.

What shall we do next?

Friday, August 14, 2015

What Has He Said?

You’ll run across a variety of theological opinions on social media, some of it good and some of it not-so-good. One writer I ran across on FaceBook the other day – a self-professed Christian – opined that God speaks only to and through priests. The laity can receive theological and moral guidance only from the clergy.

My knee-jerk response was to shake my head in frustration at such an immature understanding of God. My next response, when I calmed down, was to feel sorry for him. Such a view of God toward all His children is wholly and demonstrably untrue. God is love, and inherent in love is the desire to communicate directly with the beloved.

Jesus said of Himself:  . .14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me . . . and they will hear My voice . . and they follow Me. (John 10:14-17)

A few chapters later He continued: But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (John 16:13)

I am convinced that FaceBook writer does hear God’s voice. He just doesn’t recognize it – probably because like most of us, he expects it to thunder from heaven and knock him to the ground amidst an explosion of flashing lights.

But from what we find in Scripture, God rarely speaks in such dramatic tones. Most often His voice comes in the form of a gentle nudge, or a whispered, “This is the way, walk ye it”. In my experience, God speaks most often as I read His scriptures.

In his Summa, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that it was the “task of every preacher and of each believer” to teach and to lead others to Christ.” (emphasis mine). The Catechism of the Catholic Church also assures us that God speaks to and through all Christians, and not just to and though the clergy:

" . . . . [lay people] have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors . . . .  (CCC paragraph 907, my emphasis).

On the Day of Pentecost  (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit poured Himself out on not only the 12 apostles, but on 120 believers who waited in that upper room. When the crowd outside accused them of being drunk, St. Peter stood up and quoted from the prophet Joel:

‘     And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams; Even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18) 
     It is important that we note the promises the Holy Spirit gave the entire Church through Joel’s prophecy:  
     1. God will pour His spirit on ALL mankind.
     2. Their sons and daughters (the laity) will prophesy. 
     3. Their young men shall see visions of God. 
     4. Their old men shall dream dreams given by God.

The Scriptures and Church teaching are impeccably clear: God not only speaks to us (most notably through His word), but God also grants each of us the privilege to tell others what He wants them to know – so that they might be saved.

The idea that the God who sacrificially loves us would not communicate directly with His beloved defies not only Scripture and Church teaching – it defies the very nature of love.

And so, Christian, what has God said to you lately?