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

Monday, February 8, 2016

When Praise is Impossible



“Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Psalm 147:1)

Yes, it is good to praise the Lord. But when life flings us to the ground our heart often catches in our throat and chokes the words before they can cross our lips. How can anyone praise God when a spouse suddenly ends a marriage? Who can give thanks when the physician says the word, ‘cancer’? Is it possible to praise God at the freshly dug grave of a child?

When any of a hundred things turn our stomach to concrete, how can praise ever hope to slip past a shattered heart?

Why do bad things happen to God’s children?  I don’t know. No one knows the mind of God at every convulsion that spreads through anyone’s life. But what we can know, what we must know to answer the ‘why’ question – at least in part, is rooted in sacred Scripture. What the Holy Spirit tells us through that precious text is something we so desperately need to hear again and again.

That unerring message is this: God is never unjust, unkind, or capricious. There is never a time He is unaware of our heartbreak. There is never a time He is unwilling to touch us with hope, with encouragement, with a gentle hand on our shoulder and strong arms to enfold us.

God’s passionate love toward us never wavers a hair’s breadth from any of His children. Here is what Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write in one of the chapters of that precious text we call the Bible: 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . .  But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

When tragedy rips the flesh from our heart, when we are paralyzed with grief and angry at God, how is it possible to praise Him?

In those circumstances and in our own strength praise is impossible – without His grace that helps us in our time of desperate need. And it is precisely His grace that has met every need and comforted every man, woman, and young person through the millennia who so desperately needed God’s touch.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask those around you whose lives in Christ you admire. Ask them if God has borne them in His arms through their difficult times. Ask if the words of St. Paul have not repeatedly proven true in their own lives:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:3-5)

The One who cannot lie told us more than once He will never leave us or forsake us (e.g. Deuteronomy 31:8; Matthew 28:20; John 14:18; Hebrews 13:5). And so He is with us when the spouse leaves. He is with us in the doctor’s office. He is with us at the grave site. And in time His grace will help us find words and reason to praise Him, even from the depths of our sorrows.

That is His promise.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why Else Would He Say It?



Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness. (Joel 2:13)

Sometimes I think many think God is quick tempered, impatient, and intolerant of our moral failures. Sometimes I think they think God stands with clenched fists ready to strike those who turn aside to the right or to the left. 

But what is the mission and the message of the most sacred heart of Jesus? Is it not to demonstrate by His sacrificial death for us the immeasurable promise that God is slow to anger, that He overflows with mercy – and that He stands with open hands, ready to sprinkle cleansing and restorative blood from Christ’s wounds on every prodigal who returns from the right or the left? 

Why else would Jesus have said: Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)?

So . . . won't you come home to Jesus?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ladies, Please . . .

I wrote this several years ago when my wife and I regularly attended Protestant worship services. I revised it only a little after we began attending Catholic Mass. I feel I ought to reprise it once again.

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I serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in our parish. One Sunday as men and women approached to receive the Body of Christ, I did an involuntary double-take when a young woman stepped up to receive. She wore  skin-tight flesh-colored leotards and a see-through blouse that looked remarkably like a negligee. I almost forgot I was supposed to say, “The Body of Christ” as she held out her hands to receive.  

Unfortunately, she is not the only woman seductively dressed in our church. It seems the norm rather than the exception to see women wearing form-fitting slacks, or jeans, or blouses which leave very little to the imagination. 

It’s not something Christian guys usually talk about. We aren’t supposed to have these thoughts. But when I approached a friend from church, his answer encouraged me to poll another friend. Then another. Then another. Age doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the same for all of us – teens, college age and older. Even much older. Everyone I spoke with grapples with the same temptation common among many Christian men.

I don’t know much about women’s struggles with their sexual nature, but I sure know about men's conflicts. Society bombards us with sexual images. Billboards, photos in weekly news magazines . . . even some lingerie advertisements in local newspapers can rival centerfolds in earlier era Playboy magazines. Short hemlines can fuel a man’s imagination to full throttle. Tight clothes that accentuate every nuance and curve can drive us to distraction. Plunging necklines and unfastened blouse buttons – ladies, let me be completely honest. We need your help. 

At work, at play, even at church – most Christian guys wage nearly constant battle with their thought-life. Sometimes we win the skirmishes. Sometimes the battles rage so fiercely we not only lose, but we feel wounded even after bringing our sin to the confessional. 

Yes, we understand the desire to look attractive. Who does not care about personal appearance? The multi-billion dollar weight-loss, clothing, and grooming industries give evidence of that basic need in each of us. However, when our Christian sisters adopt the world’s definition of attractiveness they often become, instead, seductive.   

We don’t deny responsibility for our own sins. We don’t rationalize God’s commandment to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). But we do ask you, please be considerate of our conflicts and, in Christian love, don’t add to our sensory overload. 

St. Paul said he would never again eat meat or drink wine, if doing so would cause a weaker brother to stumble (Romans 14:1-23). “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (verse 20). I don’t think it misses the Holy Spirit’s intent to add, “or for the sake of fashion.” 

Ladies, when it comes to sexual thoughts and lust, we are indeed your weaker brothers. So we plead – be beautiful. Be graceful. But also seek God’s view of beauty and grace. And seek, too, Biblical standards as to how to dress in public. 

We will be very grateful for your loving response.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Not Even A Mother Theresa



Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from somewhere how Trump or Cruz or any of the other GOP candidates will save America – or destroy it. And not to be outdone, the other side trumpets that Clinton or Sanders will save us – or destroy us.  

Well, here’s a news flash – and this principle comes straight from God’s word: America could put a Mother Theresa into the White House, but without a change in the American soul, our nation will still and surely experience God’s impending judgment.

Anyone who knows Biblical history will recognize America stands at the same precipice as ancient Israel just before God sent His chosen people into Babylonian slavery. We forget – or have not been taught – what God said to Ezekiel about Israel: Even though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst . . . . they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14).

We forget – or have not been taught – God warned His chosen through another prophet, Jeremiah: “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence . . . Those destined for death, to death; And those destined for the sword, to the sword; And those destined for famine, to famine; And those destined for captivity, to captivity.” (Jeremiah 15)

No, it no longer matters who next fills the White House. So the critical question before us now is: Christian, what can you and I do to prevent a complete meltdown of the America built and sustained on Judeo-Christian values?

That’s easy to answer. We can take our guidance from Scripture. For example, 2 Chronicles 7:14 - “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

What can we do?

Humble ourselves before God. Confess to Him our personal and our national sins. The prophet Daniel did it (Daniel 9). Nehemiah did it (Nehemiah 9). And Ezra did it (again, Ezra 9. Isn’t it interesting how the Holy Spirit makes it easy for us to remember where to find those prayers?).

And pray. How often do we pray before and during the Mass or church service that God give us a Holy Spirit driven revival in our family, in our Church, and in our nation? Catholics, how often do you pray the Rosary, specifically asking intercession of the Blessed Virgin that God will hold off His judgment on us? When have we last fasted and prayed and wept before God for our national sins?

And seek His face. How often do we even attend Mass or church service? How often do we study and meditate on His Scriptures, letting His word guide our lives? How often do we quiet ourselves with him for more than a few fleeting moments during our day?

And turn from our wicked ways. How often do we bring even our most seemingly trivial venial sins before God, asking that He purge them from our lives? What secret sins do we nurture? Do we refuse to live according to historic Church teaching? When was the last time we said to God from our heart – Your will be done, not mine?

No, it does not matter who is elected next to the White House. Unless Christians of all labels and positions stop putting our hope in our politicians and fall to our knees before God, then not even a President Mother Theresa can save us from God’s slow moving but inexorable judgment.

Christian, what shall we do next? With God a little is a lot. Jesus changed the world with 12 followers committed to Him, His lifestyle, and His message. We can change the course of our American culture – but only if we do what Christ-honoring and faithful Christians have always done.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hidden



I’d just brushed my teeth and they looked clean when I examined them in the mirror. Then I grabbed the floss. By the time I moved from the top molars on my left to the other side, I’d pulled free enough bits of food to provide myself breakfast the next morning.

The Psalmist wrote, “Who can detect their errors? [O Lord] Clear me from hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12) And his son, Solomon, observed, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12).

There is not a mature Christian on the planet who does not know sin is sometimes so subtle, we easily – and often willingly – fall for its deception. Likewise, there is not a mature Christian on the planet who would not quickly tell anyone who would listen, only the light of the Scripture can illuminate for us the darkness hidden in the crevices of our hearts.

Over time, hidden food will cause significant health problems, the least of which are horrible breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. But sin that remains hidden from us will over time do much worse. It will devastate our lives, ruin our relationships, and result in unremitting heartache, loss, sadness – and ultimately eternal death.

Because of God’s passionate love for us – let me repeat that phrase because I don’t want you to miss it – Because of God’s passionate love for us, He tells us again and again how important it is to let His Word shine its light into the furthest shadows of our souls. Here are some examples:  

"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight . . . . (Hebrews 4:12)

And: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105). 

And yet again: Your testimonies are wonderful; Therefore my soul observes them.  The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:129-130).

From the first verse of Genesis to the last verse of Revelation, God implores us to read His word, to meditate on it, and to obey it. Hidden food between our teeth is one thing. Hidden sin in our life is something else entirely.

Christian – make it your practice to prayerfully read God’s word every day. There is absolutely no other way to see the sin that so easily hides itself within.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Naomi or Mara?

Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Ruth 1:20).


Tragedy. For some, it seems to always lurk in their shadow. Naomi's story is one of tragedy. It is also one of God in those shadows. I wrote this essay about her several years ago, but story is worth retelling.

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Naomi – her name means “pleasant” – and her husband left Israel during a famine that swept across the nation. They settled in Moab, their two sons married Moabite women, and the family worked hard to provide for their needs. But over the course of the next several years, Naomi’s husband died. Then her two sons died, and Naomi was left alone and devastated by her triple tragedy.

When she and Ruth – the wife of one of her deceased sons – arrived back in Israel, the people of her hometown greeted her with unmuted excitement. But Naomi, her grief still raw, quieted them and said, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [which means, ‘bitterness’] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:19-21).

It’s not hard to empathize with Naomi’s despair. Life picked her up, threw her to the ground, and then kicked her in the gut as she lay in the dirt. And she did what so many of us are so often quick to do.

She blamed God for her tragedies.

Who doesn’t understand Naomi? Deep and gut-wrenching loss. Death. Debilitating injury. Chronic and life-altering illness. Financial disaster. It is a rare, rare person who gets through life unscathed by heartbreak. And it is little wonder that so many people – even those of us in the Church, children of God as we are, who’ve heard about faith and trust for years in homilies, who’ve read the books and sang the hymns extolling God’s love – it is little wonder that even those of us in the Church can find ourselves embittered about life.

And even about God.

Naomi didn't know it – in fact, she never discovered it – but through her tragedy, her daughter-in-law married a man named Boaz. Their son, Obed, had a son named Jesse. Jesse had seven sons, one of whom was named David.

David’s distant offspring was named, Jesus.

Naomi didn’t know – as many of us today don’t know, especially when we are in the throes of our bitterness – that God really does know what we go through. And He really is able to orchestrate events and people and circumstances in and through our lives to ultimately give birth to a wondrous beginning.

And – and this is important – God really is able to cause all things to work together for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (see Romans 8:28).

Life can be full of pleasantness, or full of bitterness. But circumstances themselves do not have the power to decide which of the two will rule us. Only our trust in the trustworthy God – or our lack of it – will determine what we call ourselves. Naomi . . .

Or Mara.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

All of Them!


Oh, Death! Where is Your Victory?



My wife created this piece about 10 years ago. She focuses our eyes on the object overlaying a skull. The flesh-colored image represents a broken consecrated Host. Blood oozes from His body. It is that very Blood and Body of Jesus that causes death and the grave to explode into small chunks and slivers quickly disappearing to dust.  In the lower right, a crucifix. The upper right, a gold crown of thorns.

Nancy reminded me this morning of an essay I wrote shortly after the sudden death three years ago of our good friend, Yukiko Howell. We'd seen her just a few nights earlier at our Monday night Bible study. A massive stroke took her from us two days later. 

I decided to repost what I wrote three years ago in hopes that it might now also comfort any of you who have buried someone very close to your heart.
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In Honor of Our Friend, Yukiko



O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
(1 Corinthians 15:55)


What is more powerful than death?
It is final.
Complete. Relentless
Unchanging.

But what is more powerful than even death?
Jesus the Christ,
who splintered death 
into so many slivers
it will never
be put back together
again.

Never.

When Jesus led captivity captive,
He broke death’s grip,
Shattered its chains,
And set His children free.
Every one of them.
Free.

Forever.

Jesus said:
I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in Me will live
Even if he dies.
And everyone who lives and believes in Me
Will never die.

And then He asked:
Do you believe this?