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

Monday, June 29, 2009

All That Works for Good

I just finished re-reading the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29-30), and thought again of the rejected sister -- and the message her story holds for us about the compassion of God. (BTW, this is excerpted from my second book, Lessons Along the Journey).

Leah lived in the shadow of her younger sister's beauty. When Jacob visited the family, Rachel's beauty captured him – so much so, he agreed to work her family's farm for seven years as payment to marry her. But on the eve of the seventh anniversary, Rachel's family pulled a classic bait and switch. When the new groom awakened the next morning, he found himself lying next to Leah. If Jacob still wanted Rachel, he'd have to work another seven years.

He did, but it's not difficult to imagine how Leah felt – unloved, unattractive, unwanted, knowing her family had to trick Jacob into her marriage bed.

Yet, the story grows more poignant. Scripture tells us: “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb . . . and [she] gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, ‘It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now’" (Genesis 29:31-32, NASB). I can almost hear the wistful yearning in her voice, "Now my husband will love me."

But Jacob’s feelings toward her did not change.

Yet, ever the optimist, Leah conceived again. And then, again. "Now at last my husband will become attached to me," she said, "because I have borne him three sons."

Yet even after six sons, it was Rachel who remained the proverbial light in Jacob's eyes. Leah hungered for her husband's embrace. She longed for his touch, a kind word and to know in the core of her being she was loved. Yet, Jacob was deaf to her heartache and blind to her sorrow.

God, however, knew it all – and that is the wonderful message of this story.

I had read these chapters in Genesis dozens of times, but a few years ago my eyes froze at the list of Leah's sons -- and then refocused on two.

Levi and Judah.

Not only was Leah unaware that God was with her in Rachel's shadow, but she didn't know eternity would measure life and death through her offspring – and not Rachel's.

Levi and Judah: ancestors of Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Ezra, Ezekiel, Zechariah. All of Israel's religious and political leaders would spring from her womb.

Including Jesus the Messiah.

"For I know the plans that I have for you," God tells us through Jeremiah, another of Leah's descendants, "plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11, NASB).

Hope. St. Paul tells us the things written in Scripture are for our benefit, and that through the encouragement of God's word we can have hope (Romans 15:4). That's what Leah's story is all about – great, ineffable hope. It’s about God in our shadows, about God who loves us, and who knows our deepest hurts.

And it’s the story of how God can turn the rejection of others into something of immeasurable value for those who yearn to be touched by God's love.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

If Only . . .

After Rebekah convinced her son, Jacob, to deceive his father for the blessing, Essau (Jacob's brother) was enraged. And so Rebekah said to Jacob: Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! Stay with him a few days, until your brother's fury subsides . . . and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?

It's not like Rebekah didn't already know God's promise to her about Jacob. This is what God said to her a few chapters earlier: Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body . . . and the older [e.g. Esau] shall serve the younger [e.g. Jacob].

Yet Rebekah thought she needed to help God fulfil the promise He made to her many years earlier -- even if it meant using ungodly methods of deception.

The sad story grows even sadder. Rebekah sent her beloved son away, hoping to see him in only a short few months. Jacob was gone for decades. Rebekah never saw him again.

Oh, if only she had trusted God to keep His word. If only she had not taken matters into her own hands.

How much like Rebekah are we?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Capitulating

I read this passage this morning in Genesis 24: Then the man bowed low and worshiped the Lord. The text is part of the story in which Abraham's servant comes across Isaac's future wife, in direct answer to the servant's prayer for guidance. With gratitude toward the Lord, the man bowed to the ground -- right there in broad daylight, in the open for everyone to see -- and he worshiped.

I stopped reading as I considered the scene. And I felt a little uncomfortable.

I am often reluctant to say out loud in public (how much less, bow the knee!), "Praise the Lord" when God answers one of my prayers. And I know Christians who won't even bow their head in a restaurant in thanksgiving for their meal. Some won't even genuflect in Church.

Why is that? Do I think, in the deep recesses of my mind, the answer to prayer could have simply been a "coincidence"? Or am I embarrassed to give praise to God aloud in the presence of friends or strangers because I fear what they might think of me?

It is true, Abraham's servant lived in a culture in which people did not think twice about worshiping openly. Is that my excuse, that our culture has degenerated to a place where worship is something we do only in private, so I capitulate to my culture instead of to my God?

And I can't help but think of the words of Jesus: For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sunday Religion

Then Balak sent other princes, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said: 'This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.' " (Numbers 22:16-17)

I've thought a lot lately of the many modern Balaks who make similar promises: Do what you want, when you want, and with whom you want. Don't take your Sunday religion into the rest of the week. It'll spoil your opportunities for advancement, wealth and fun.

But when I read the rest of the story in the remaining chapters of Numbers (and into Joshua and Judges), I discover what God thinks of Sunday-only faith. And it's not pretty.

Doing as modern Balaks suggest cost a lot more than any sane person should be willing to spend for what is promised to be advancement, wealth and fun.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Bottom Steps

During Mass the choir sang a hymn based on these words from Jeremiah 29: For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

That last statement, “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart” stuck with me, and I realized the more I seek Him, the more of Him I find. The less I search for Him . . . well, you get the point.

We get what we pay for.

Truth is, until I’m willing to pay the price of time -- and obedience -- Christ will meet me just where I want to meet Him. And I am growing restless meeting him at the bottom steps of a long ladder reaching toward heaven.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Presumption

Then [God] said to Moses, "Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance . . . Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel . . . and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:1-11, NASB).

Not only were Nadab and Abihu priests, and sons of the high priest – they also received an invitation from God to dine with Him. Yet, not many days later, God killed them when they performed their priestly office “with strange fire” (See Leviticus 10:1-2).

We can’t know for certain what the strange fire was, but I infer from the context that Nadab and Abihu had treated God with neither obedience nor reverence. Perhaps they presumed on their relationship with God because they had eaten with Him. Perhaps they believed they no longer needed to act as reverently or obediently toward God, as He required of others.

Presumption toward the Almighty is a perilous attitude.

At each Mass, Catholics have the privilege to dine with the Lord and receive Him in His most Holy Eucharist. And we are also at great risk if we presume the Lord does not require we treat Him with obedience – and reverence.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

More than we know

Scripture uses images for God that we can understand: Father, Son, (Holy) Spirit, King, Lord, Bridegroom. But do those concepts really describe God?

I thought of that question when my wife and I were discussing why our Bridegroom permits horrible things to sometimes happen to His bride, or why our Father sometimes permits terrible things to happen to His children. After all, I would do my best to protect Nancy from harm, even at the cost of my life. I would do the same for our children. And yet, we all know very bad things happen to Christians -- even those whose lives are exemplary for faith and holiness.

I've concluded much of the answer lies in our understanding of who God is. He is Father, but at the same time so much more than Father. He is Bridegroom, but at the same time so much more than Bridegroom. He is Lord, but yet so much more than that.

God Himself told us through the prophet Isaiah, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways above your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts"(Isaiah 55:8-9). Many centuries later, St. Augustine wrote, "If it can be understood, it is not God;" To which, St. Thomas Aquinas added, "We cannot grasp what He is, but only what He is not. Whatever can be understood or thought of, is less than God."

When God permits tragedy into our lives, He is acting like a loving Father or affectionate Bridegroom. We just don't understand all there is to understand about His relationship with us as Father or Groom.

We do not understand because we are so terribly limited by our humanness. But in our humanness, through His supernatural grace, we can still learn to place ourselves in His care when He says, "I love you. Trust me."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sitting in His Lap

I remember when our children were toddlers. I often pulled them into my lap to snuggle with them, to hold them to myself. To smell their hair, to feel them breathe against my chest. Sometimes, though, they didn't want to stay in my lap. They wanted to get down too quickly and play. And I, very reluctantly, let them go.

I have discovered what is for me a new way of prayer. Remembering how disappointed I felt when my children squirmed in my arms, I quiet my mind as best I can and, in my mind's eye, see myself crawling into my heavenly Father's lap . . . my Daddy. When I start to ask Him things, to pray for people, I hear Him tell me, "Hush. Just sit here and be still." And I quiet myself again.

And I just sit. For the first time in more than 35 years of praying, I just sit with Him. Quietly.

I can almost feel Him smelling my hair and listening to me breathe.

Is God Good -- all the time?

Is God good all the time and in all circumstances? Or is He good only most of the time and in most circumstances? If the latter is true, then how can we every really trust Him? If the former is true, then trusting Him is as natural as breathing.

St. Therese of Lisieux accepted the first premise, which is why she wrote:

"Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our father's love — difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs — everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness — Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events — to the heart that loves, all is well."

I wonder which premise I really accept.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Walk with the Wise

Walk with wise men and you will become wise, but the companion of fools will fare badly. (Proverbs 13:20). Now compare that with Proverbs 14:7 -- Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge.

Solomon was referring to establishing friendships with people. Or, as St. Paul said centuries later, "Bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33).

But I think argument can also be made from these two proverbs to avoid companionship with godless or immoral ideas. If we spend time garnering worldly attitudes popularized through television, the internet and other media, we will have less desire for God's wisdom. We will be less able to discern "words of knowledge" if we are companions of ideas which God calls folly. Again, as St. Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

7 out of 10 Faith

To hear some people say it, God doesn't intervene for us unless we have sufficient faith. Not just faith, but sufficient faith. Like 7 out of 10. Or maybe a 6.5. Anything less than that and, well, "come back when you trust Me more."

But St. Mark tells this story: Then [Jesus] questioned his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" He replied, "Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus said to him, " 'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith." Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (chapter 9)

I think the father's faith was hovering around 3. Maybe less. But he responded to the Lord the way I believe the Lord would like us all to respond . . . "Help my unbelief."

St. John tells us, "God is love." Love does not require 10 out of 10 faith from us. Not even 8 out of 10. Instead, Love stoops to our level, wherever we are . . . even if it's at 1.

And He brings with Him the answer to our needs according to His grace and purpose for us -- and for His kingdom.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blood, Sweat and Tears

A friend of ours recently gave birth to her third child. Doug sent me a photo of mom and baby. What struck me about the photo were the beads of sweat covering Peg's face as she cradled her son. They were evidence of how hard she labored to give birth to him.

And then, in my mind's eye, I saw Jesus. His face beaded with blood as He hung on that cross -- evidence of how hard He labored to give me new birth.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Time to Eat. Time to Pray

Fr. Jacques Philippe, author of Time for God, writes:

"I would like to pray, but I don't have time." This is an often-heard excuse. In a world that is overwhelmed with activity, there is real difficulty finding time for everything. Nevertheless, time is not the real problem but recognizing what matters most in life. As one contemporary author observed, "No one ever died of hunger because of not having time to eat."

I confess, for years I have been starving within reach of the banquet table.

In the beginning . . .

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said . . . . "

Often, in the midst of my own darkness and formlessness, I've wondered if God was absent. The silence only deepened my confusion and, to be honest, my depression. And I understood a little of what St. John of the Cross called his "dark night of the soul."

It was the same dark night that Mother Theresa endured. And St. Therese of Lisieux. And so many others of God's children.

"Then God said . . . .

He spoke a word during my time of prayer, or reading Scripture, or hearing a homily, or lyrics of a song -- God said: "I will never leave you, or forsake you." He said, "I have called you by name; you are Mine."

If God is for us, who -- or what -- can be against us?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Praying for our Priests

As I read this section of Exodus 17, "Moses' hands were heavy, so they put a stone under him and Aaron and Hur held his hands up . . . and Israel prevailed," I thought of the Church

We are embroiled in a terrible spiritual war, a war that becomes more deadly as the months go on. If we ever needed to support the hands of our Pope and our Bishops, it is now. For some, tomorrow may be too late.

As early as April 24th 1994, Pope John Paul II recommended the prayer to St. Michael be used by all Catholics as a prayer for the Church when he said:

"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: 'Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world."

The Prayer to St. Michael:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host
-by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

And amen.

Psalm 23

"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . . Thou art with me."

How conforting it is to know God walks beside us, even through the valley of death. And so, if He is with us through that valley, is He any less at our side as we walk through other painful places?
I am reminded of what St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NAB)

Jesus, lover of our soul, abide with us.