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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weapons -- To What Purpose?

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God . . . and your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:12-14).

Last week, as I struggled to memorize this passage in Romans, I glanced at the column in my Bible where the editors inserted an alternate Greek reading for the word instruments. It's the word also used for weapons.

That word -- weapons -- opened the text for me.

When I present (i.e. offer myself as to a king for service) -- when I present myself to Sin, I give it weapons to use against people who know me, weapons it can use to destroy the work God is doing, or has already done, in their lives.

Scripture often warns us against that. For example, May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord of hosts. May those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel (Psalm 69:6); or, You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you (Romans 2:23-24).

On the other hand, when I present myself to God as my king, I give righteousness weapons to tear down Sin's kingdom, to deliver captives from its grasp, to transform darkness to light, failure to hope, depression to peace.

Perhaps that is a reason St. Paul, who knew very well the pull of Sin and the pull of God in his own life, encouraged his readers to present their bodies to God, writing: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1, 2).

I do not think it a coincidence that I contemplated these ideas on the heels of yesterday's thoughts about gazing at the Lord, and by so doing, be transformed into His image. Nor am I unmindful of the idea that God might be trying to get my attention, to refocus how I spend my time -- waste my time, is probably a better phrase.

Once again He reminds me, there is no shortcut to becoming more like Christ. And practicing the presentation of myself to God, and my members as weapons of righteousness for His use, is integral to that transformation.

No one knows when it will be too late to do what we should have been doing all along.



Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fixed Eyes or Restless Hearts

To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. . . . All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:15-18).

I don't know why I need to be reminded so often that it is possible to read God's word every day, even to memorize it and teach it . . . and yet not internalize it so my heart changes.

I'm sure I'm not the first Christian with that problem. I suspect some of the Corinthians also suffered a similar issue -- which might be why the apostle focused attention on the remedy: Gazing . . . on the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.

There is no shortcut to becoming more like Christ. Imitating Him requires nothing less than to gaze -- to set -- my attention on Him. The writer to the Hebrews said it as clearly as I suppose it can be said: Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2). St. Peter added, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:12-14).

And that is way harder to do than it is to write about.

My human nature and inclination toward sin has demonstrated for me many times a spiritual law: What I gaze at -- what attracts and holds my attention -- is what I tend to become like. And if I am not careful, I know I can become what I never want to be again.

As long as I seek, even in the smallest measure, what can never satisfy, a veil will obscure my ability to clearly see God. That veil, St. Paul reminds me, is removed only as I turn my gaze -- with ever more frequency -- to the Lord.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Seen and the Unseen

(Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. . . . A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury." (Mark 12:41-43)

No one knows much about the widow in this text. But she's easy to imagine. I’ve met her many times.

She’s the one others walk by without noticing. She's the one who lives among other invisibles on the fringes of humanity. They perform menial jobs, honest and necessary work, but disdained by most in our culture. They’re itinerant farm-help, moving from field to field. They’re janitors in department stores, dishwashers in restaurants. They empty trash at food courts and clean toilets in office buildings. They do what they can to scrape together enough to pay rent and buy food.

I imagine the impoverished widow lived like that – working where she could to make tattered ends meet. Yet, despite her poverty, she loved God. Despite her deprivation, she felt privileged to honor Him above herself. That’s why she wove her way to the collection box through that unseeing crowd.

And that’s why the Lord Jesus noticed her.

We shouldn’t glide past this Bible text too quickly. When others receive bigger, better and more, Jesus knows our name. When others receive applause from the crowds, Jesus sees us in the shadows. He notices our loneliness, our poverty and sacrifices. He knows us when others don’t. He hears us when others turn an unhearing ear.

The widow left the Treasury unaware that the Lord had read her heart. And two thousand years later, millions of men and women still learn how to live from her example.

No one among the unseeing that day understood how great a legacy a poor widow would have. And even today, how many understand what God will do with our lives if only we are faithful?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Deceptively Subtle Difference

I always smile to myself when I read this passage from St. Matthew: But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. (8:8-10)

The Lord's response to the centurion has to be one of the most astonishing statements in the New Testament. Israel had the sacred history, liturgy, prayers, and sacrifices. To them belonged the covenants and the promises. To them God gave the distinction, "My Chosen One."

Yet, it was a non-Jew who had the greater faith.

Perhaps after 1500 years of form and rituals, Israel had confused religious practice with spiritual relationship. And that is why the Lord's praise for the centurion carries a great lesson for me.

As a member of the Church, I also enjoy a rich sacred history. Like Israel, I have the prayers, the liturgy, the rituals -- and especially the Sacraments. But I worry I might somehow get it backwards, that I might confuse religious practice with God-centered faith -- faith in His love, forgiveness, and His sacrifice on Calvary that freed me -- us -- from sin and eternal death.

The centurion demonstrated two characteristics which can help anyone avoid getting it backwards. First, he was desperate. Sometimes the best prayers are not long-winded, but three-worded: "Lord, help me."

And, he was humble. The centurion -- a leader of a hundred soldiers -- could have ordered Jesus to heal his servant, "or else . . . " But instead, he bowed his heart to Christ: "Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof."

Prayers, rituals and forms can nurture a rich relationship with Christ, or they can become a hollow substitute. The difference can be deceptively subtle.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spikes Did Not Hold Him

I often reflect on the crucifixion during my time each day with the Lord. A couple of days ago an image played in my mind, an image that has stayed very close to me since then.

From a distance, perhaps a football field away, I saw the Lord hanging by His hands and feet. His breathing was labored. He groaned each time He pushed against His feet and adjusted His position for what measure of comfort He could find as He hung there.

As I watched the scene unfold in my mind, I remembered the Lord's statement to Peter, after Peter drew his sword in the Gethsemane Garden: "Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53).

A Roman legion comprised of 6,000 soldiers. Jesus said to Peter, "I have, right now at my disposal, 72,000 heavily armed angelic soldiers who are within moments of swooping into this garden to save me."

As I watched the Lord suffer on the cross, I suddenly saw those legions. They appeared from nowhere and surrounded Golgotha. Each angelic warrior held a glistening sword at the ready. Their muscular bodies leaned forward in anxious anticipation, waiting for their Lord and King to simply look in their direction, nod His head -- and they would have overrun the jeering onlookers in an instant.

An instant.

But Jesus didn't look at the angels. Instead, I saw Him -- even though He was so far away in my mind's eye -- I saw Him as clearly as I see my own face in a mirror -- I saw Him looking at me.

Somehow, just as Satan could show Jesus, through a portal in eternity, all the kingdoms of the world "in a moment of time," in some way Jesus saw my face as he suffered on that cross.

And He saw your face.

In that moment, a truth I have always known became a little clearer to me. Those spikes did not hold Jesus to that wood. Seeing my face, seeing your face, kept Him there.

Seeing through the fabric of eternity our need for His embrace, seeing our hurts, our emptiness -- Jesus saw me and you as only He could see us.

That is what kept Him on that cross. Our faces -- the faces of His children whom He loves so very dearly . . . children He longs, even now, as I write this and you read this, even now He longs to embrace us to His chest and whisper into our ear, "I love you."

No. Spikes did not hold our king.

Seeing our faces held Him there.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where Shall I Go?

So I'm reading in St. John's gospel: Peter, turning around, saw the disciple [John] whom Jesus loved following them . . . So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (John 21:20-22).

What caught my attention was Jesus' response to Peter, which was essentially, "It's none of your business what happens to John. You follow Me."

That was not the first time I'd recognized the Lord's challenge about following Him instead of worrying about someone else. This time, however, the dialogue stopped me because I recently learned of a woman who left the Church as a result of the moral hypocrisy of some pastors she'd learned about.

But hypocrisy among religious leaders is nothing new. And many times in the past thirty-five years of my own faith journey I also have been tempted to leave the Church because of things I knew about some pastors, priests or teachers. Which is why this passage in John is so important to me. It is as if the Lord Jesus continually asks -- not only of Peter, but also of me:

"So, Richard. People in the Church disappoint you. They disappoint Me, too. And people in the Church have offended you. They also offend Me.

"But what are they to you? Will you follow them?"

"Or will you follow Me?"

To which I hope to always reply, "Lord, where shall I go? You have the words of eternal life."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Easier to Follow Rules

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" (Mark 12:28)

The scribe asked a reasonable question. Pharisees, priests, religious lawyers and teachers in Israel listed 613 laws in Jewish Scriptures – and they wrapped each one in layers of Rabbinic commentary to codify the proper way to obey each law. Jews could find answers to such routine questions as how to dress, what to eat, when to pray, how much to tithe, when to worship, and what kind of sacrifices they had to offer. No wonder the scribe asked the Lord, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

The Lord didn’t hesitate to answer: Love God and love your neighbor.

I sometimes wish the Lord had answered differently. It’s way easier to follow rules than it is to love. Over the years I've learned to pray the right prayers, genuflect correctly, mouth the Nicene Creed with ease, sing the hymns with decorum . . . But to love God more than I love myself, and to love the person in the pew beside me, or the family living across the street, or the woman working in the office down the hall . . . well, that’s a different story. Love requires I give myself. Humble myself. Count others more important than myself.

Following rules about when and how is so much easier.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Don't Call It Small

So, I'm having ice tea with a friend in a local sandwich shop, sharing our experiences with the Lord. And I tell him how the Holy Spirit got my attention several days ago about my "What's the use" question. You can reread the post here.

I've thought several times about that verse in St. Luke which the Lord used to admonish me, and I have repented of my pride and self-centeredness. I've apologized for expecting Him to do more with me than I think He is doing. I really think I am pretty much over my pouting.

I was simply telling my friend of my recent lessons from the Lord.

A few minutes later, as we walked out of the shop, Bill said to me, "Don't ever call what the Lord gives you to do, "small."

God's word through my friend didn't strike as a reproach. Rather, it came as a gentle reminder -- Whatever God gives us to do, we must never call insignificant. If He gives it into our hands to do, then it must have eternal value.

That's all I ever need to know.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunday is Coming

In my reading through St. Luke's gospel, I came to this text: Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit"; and when he had said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46). Two verses later, St. Luke adds: When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts.

Those who mourned had good reason to beat their breasts and weep. Their beloved Lord was dead. They would bury His body. He would be gone.

But as I read this passage I realized I have an advantage over those who wept at the foot of the cross. I knew Sunday was coming. I only had to turn the page and read the next chapter.

Over the decades of my life, I have had reason to mourn over many heartaches. Some have been quite significant. And each time great sorrow flooded my life, I rarely had the strength -- or the faith -- to see Sunday coming. And that is sad, because faith gives us an advantage over all things that bring us despair and hopelessness.

Faith, the "assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen" helps us see Sunday coming (Hebrews 11:1).

And with Sunday, life.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Knowing He Would Not Reject Me

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Now both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:1-2).

So I'm reading Luke's gospel, and I get as far as this passage. And my mind starts to wander.

Why did Jesus attract so many people to Himself -- harlots and thieves, tax collectors and womanizers, blasphemers and liars, murderers and adulterers? I knew the answer as soon as I thought of the question. They came to Him for the same reason I came.

They knew He would accept them. Just as they were.

And His acceptance would change them.

I remember how it was for me in October 1972. It happened on the Jewish Day of Atonement. We call it, Yom Kippur. Remorse for my sins weighed heavy across my heart -- sins I had, to that point, successfully ignored. But in that moment, alone in my room, they flooded across my mind: my baby that I sent to die in the abortion clinic, the young women I'd used, the drugs I abused, the flares of temper that sometimes frightened even me, my arrogant pride, my thefts, my deceptions . . . .

I knew I needed to change. And I knew -- Oh! how I knew -- I needed forgiveness.

Long before I understood the Biblical doctrine of forgiveness; Long before I knew Jesus died for my sins; And long before I had even heard of the Sacrament of Penance, I looked toward heaven that day in October and asked God to forgive me. And to help me.

I could only hope He would hear my prayer.

And, of course, He did. Two months later, He showed me Jesus. And like the sinners St. Luke tells us about in the passage I'd just read, I came to Him, knowing He would not reject me.

And that He would change me.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sometimes It Causes Me to Tremble

Sometimes It Causes Me To Tremble.
Tremble.

Tremble.


If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect . . . He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. He shall slay the young bull before the Lord . . . . (Leviticus 1:3-5)


What sin haunted the man
who brought the lamb
to the altar
to die
so his sin could be
forgiven?

What went through his mind
as he placed his hand
on the head of the lamb

to transfer his guilt
to the one
without guilt?

Did his heart race
as he pulled the blade across its throat
and felt the lamb
shudder?

Did he avert his eyes
with remorse
as innocent blood
spurted to the dirt
with each heartbeat –
until it slowed

and then
stopped?

I would cringe to know
an innocent lamb
had to die
so my sins could be
forgiven.


Oh!

And what sadness haunted the Father
when we dragged His Lamb
to the cross?
What went through His mind
as our hands pressed thorns on
The Lamb's head
and our guilt transferred
to the one
without guilt?

Did the Father’s heart ache,
and heaven shudder,
as our whip
ripped across His Son’s back?
Did He
avert His eyes
as we drove spikes into His hands
and feet
and His blood dripped to the dirt
and then slowed . . .

and then
stopped.


I tremble.
Oh, I tremble
to know the Lamb of God
had to die

so I could live
forever.

But [Christ] was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Something Far More Pure

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you . . . (Matthew 5:44)

If we fall for Hollywood's version of love, we'll think love is something you do in bed with whoever happens to be available at the moment. But, like most things coming out of popular culture, that version is a crass corruption of truth.

Love is something far more pure.

St. Paul's definition of love is the best we'll ever find. He tells us love is patient and kind. It's not envious or boastful, proud or rude, self-seeking or easily angered. It doesn't keep a record of wrongs, doesn't delight in evil, but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (see 1 Corinthians 13).

By that definition, it's hard enough to love those who love us. But the Lord ratchets it up a few notches when He says: "Love your enemies."

That commandment couldn't run more counter to our human nature. We usually prefer to get even. Maybe even more than even. But that's not what Christ wants for us. He set the bar at, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."

So, how can we actually live to that standard? Scripture tells us often enough. The answer lies in becoming increasingly submitted to Christ.

Sunday-Christianity is not enough. It never will be.

Through faith in His atonement, God makes us new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ now lives in us (Galatians 2:20). We increase our obedience to Christ -- to the point of being able to love even our enemies -- as we participate with integrity in the Sacraments, and daily join our hearts to Him through prayer and Scripture study -- permitting the Holy Spirit an ever increasing freedom to live - and love -- through us.

That kind of Christianity moves mountains -- and changes cultures.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Time With God

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:80)

I’ve wondered how long John was alone in the desert. A year? Several? A decade? This text in St. Luke's gospel suggests it was a lot longer than I’d like to spend away from civilization. I even take my laptop when I go on vacation for a weekend.

As I've read the stories about the Church's heroes of faith I realized there is a strict connection between the time each spent with God and their ability to serve Him well. Moses spent forty years shepherding sheep on the back side of Midian before he met God in the burning bush. David spent his youth with his family’s flock before God placed him in leadership over Israel. The apostle Paul lived three years in the desert before God sent him to the Gentiles. Brother Lawrence cloistered himself in a monastery for much of his life. St. Francis of Assisi came apart from his parents and friends to live in the solitude of his newly formed community. St. Therese of Liseux lived her short years in a convent before she died at the young age of 24.

Few of us, however, are able to seek God in such solitude. We cannot afford years away from work and family obligations. Bills come due every month. Our families need nurture and protection. Careers require focus and attention.

But what about spending thirty minutes -- or even an hour -- each day with Christ in the solitude of a prayer closet? (see Matthew 26:40).

The Kingdom message is way too important to handle lightly. The eternal destiny of those we meet could depend on how well we teach and live the message of how God gave His Son to love us, embrace us, and remove our sin, guilt and judgment.

But teaching and living His message requires of us a personal relationship with Him. And relationship requires time alone with Him, nourished by his Word and blending our hearts with His through worship and the reception of His graces through the Sacraments.

We can't share with others what we ourselves don't have.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What's the Use?

Have you ever gotten to wondering if anything you are doing for Christ is of any use? You pray. You share your faith. You read. You do. But when you look around, nothing seems to be happening as you would expect for all your work.

I’ve wondered those things from time to time over the last 34 years. And those same doubts lingered in my mind even as recently as last evening before I went to bed. I was struggling – quite significantly -- with that very question. What’s the use of writing, of praying, of teaching, of sharing my heart? Why am I wasting my time?

It was in that frame of mind that I showered, dressed for bed, and opened my Bible to the place I’d left off the night before. And a moment later I read these words of Christ: If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me (Luke 9:23).

Sometimes it surprises me – although I know such things shouldn’t surprise me at all – that, with such great love and compassion, God is able to orchestrate tens of thousands of minute details of my life, even over the course of years, to arrive at a specific moment in time to meet a specific need. Why was I reading through St. Luke’s gospel last evening, and not Romans, or 1 Corinthians, or Ephesians? Why was I on chapter 9, and not 2, or 15, or 20? Why had I decided months ago to read the Old Testament in the morning and the New in the evening? And why did those particular words ring so true to my heart, when I could have just as easily glazed over them?

If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself.

In that clause, I found one answer to my soul-searching. If I want to follow the Master, I must remind myself my life and activities are not about me. They are all about Him. In denying myself, I am to put aside my expectations and desires in deference to His. If I don’t care for that equation, then I’m the one at fault. Not Him.

And take up his cross daily and follow Me.

And there was the second answer to my soul-searching. Carrying His cross of humility, of sacrifice, of utter commitment to the will and purpose of God is not a one-time decision. It is a daily commitment. And it doesn’t matter if I understand His will and purpose. I am only required to carry my cross in the same way He carried His.

My confession to you is difficult for me to make. No one likes to bare his soul before strangers. But just in case some of you have entertained thoughts like mine, I reasoned it might be helpful to remind you, as the Holy Spirit reminded me last evening, we are not our own. We are bought with a price (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Abram Knew What to Do

The Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land." So Abram built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him (Genesis 12:7).

When God appeared to Abram, the patriarch knew what to do.

He built an altar.

Old Testament altars were more than places for animal sacrifice. They played a vital role in the religious life of God's people. When God appeared to His servants they typically built altars to consecrate the ground. Altars also provided the people opportunity to confess their sins and seek His forgiveness. At altars, Israelites sacrificed the best of their flock, counting it a privilege to return something valuable to their God. At those altars they set aside their mundane tasks and focused on the sacred. They turned from self-seeking to enter the supernatural presence of God.

The more I contemplate the spiritual significance of Old Testament altars, the more I appreciate the importance of taking time before Mass to prepare for that supernatural encounter.

On my knees in the pew, before most of the congregation arrives, God gives me opportunity to create a private altar and ask Him to strengthen my obedience. At my private altar I can lay aside my will for His will, my opinions for His commandments, my sense of self-importance for His holiness. When the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus, I have the privileged opportunity to walk toward sacred ground and offer myself to God as a "living sacrifice." (Romans 11:1-2).

Abram knew what to do when he met God.

I want always to do the same.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Powerful, Fiery and Holy Love

Taking the book of the covenant, [Moses] read it aloud to the people, who answered, "All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do." Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his." (Exodus 24:7,8).

I stopped for a while at the end of verse eight and let my mind consider an important principle of Christian faith illustrated in this text:

First comes the promise to obey God, and then comes the sprinkling of the blood which saves. As St. Peter wrote in his first epistle, "To those who . . . are chosen . . . to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure" (1 Peter 1:1-2).

I sometimes wonder if many in today’s Church have forgotten -- or have minimized -- the strict relationship between obedience and forgiveness, obedience and salvation, obedience and the Blood of Christ.

Why do you call Me Lord, but do not do what I say?” Jesus asked (Luke 6:46). And St. Paul boldly warned the Corinthian Christians, telling them whoever takes Holy Communion without first repenting of sin and promising to obey Jesus, takes the precious body and blood of our Lord unworthily and “eats and drinks judgment” to himself (1 Corinthians 11:27-31).

When was the last time anyone heard that warning prior to receiving Holy Communion?

God loves us very much. This is true. But His love is not a warm, fuzzy and doting emotion. It is powerful, fiery and holy. And He requires us to live holy lives: "You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Neither should we ever forget, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Some Things Never Change

Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place (Matthew 5:18).

Who doesn’t know life can change in a moment? A doctor explains an MRI result to a young woman. An employer hands out the proverbial pink slip. A spouse walks away from a marriage. A parent from a child. Like a train rumbling toward us, life happens. Change happens. It’s only a question of when change will arrive at our station.

That’s why this text in Matthew's gospel can be a comfort. When life quakes around us, God’s word is an immovable rock. When the runaway locomotive races at us, God stands at our side. When we doubt God will forgive sin, Scripture’s promise stops that train dead in its tracks.

As change roils through our culture -- even through many churches - the unchanging word of God provides a solid foundation of truth. In the midst of cultural and religious upheaval, where definitions of sin shift with popular opinion, Catholics can find the stability of moral certitude as the Church interprets sin and righteousness in the light of Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Through her guidance, we can know absolute and unchangeable truth from godless and deceptive error.

St. Paul reminded Timothy, the Church is "the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). And the Psalmist wrote, “Your word, Lord, stands forever; it is firm as the heavens. Through all generations your truth endures; fixed to stand firm like the earth” (Psalm 119:89-90).

Isn’t it good to know some things never change?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sealed With A Kiss

When I was a teenager during the 60s (long before email) boyfriends and girlfriends often sent handwritten notes to each other and penned these letters -- SWAK --on the back of the sealed envelope. They stood for "Sealed With A Kiss."

I do not think it coincidental that during the past several months, as I permitted myself to get spun up about the political issues facing America, a passage in Isaiah grabbed my attention, and with it, the memory of SWAK resurfaced: And He will be the Stability of your times, a Wealth of salvation, wisdom And Knowledge; The fear of the Lord is his treasure (Isaiah 33:6).

Despite what seems to be storm clouds on the horizon, and regardless of the machinations in places of political and financial power across our nation and world, God reaches toward those who trust Him, toward those who love Him, toward those who seek Him in obedience -- and Seals them With A Kiss.

Surely, our trust in God is our stability during these troubled times. And for those who believe Him, He is a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. Our fear (and reverence) of Him is our true treasure.

And that is something to contemplate.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Loops and Thread -- and Purpose

“Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman. All the curtains are to be the same size-twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide” (Exodus 26:1-2)

I admit it. Reading through the chapters in Exodus which detail the construction of the Tabernacle can be, well, mind-numbing. Loops and clasps, boards, sockets, pillars, almond blossoms, curtains, poles, pegs and hooks and bands and . . . .

It never seems to stop.

For a people who spent generations slogging through mud pits to make bricks for Pharaoh’s empire, such precision, such detail must have seemed burdensome.

Then I noticed something I’d not seen in my many times reading through these “better-than-a-sleeping-pill” chapters.

I noticed precision.

Every loop had its place. Every socket a reason. Every curtain and hammered blossom and length of thread and slice of wood, a purpose.

Sometimes I get to feeling like I’m slogging through days of fighting traffic, paying bills, and punching time clocks. I wake up, go to work, return home, go to bed, wake up and start all over.

It never seems to stop.

But as I read this text I remembered again something I always forget: In the midst of God’s plan for my life, every loop has its place. Every socket has a reason.

And just as the Tabernacle of loops and sockets and wood and thread was the place God met His people, God meets me – He meets each of us -- even as we slog through traffic jams, punching clocks, and paying bills.

If we wonder about that -- and I have -- we should quiet ourselves long enough for His glory to have a chance to settle into our tabernacles.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Manipulating Pharaohs and Kings

I'm sure the Holy Spirit tries to get my attention every day about this matter. Most of the time I hear Him only once or twice a month.

Or less.

So, there I was reading Exodus this morning, and He caught me with this verse: "But I will harden Pharaoh's heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt" (7:3).

Then my thoughts turned to the words in Isaiah: "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust . . . All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless" (40:15-17).

And finally, this passage from Proverbs: "The king's heart is as channels of water in the hands of the Lord. He turns it wherever He wishes" (21:1).

I know I wouldn't get nearly as spun up as I get about current political issues if I was truly confident in the absolute, unequaled and transcendent sovereignty and power of God. If all the nations on earth combined are as specks of dust on God's scales -- then how much less are those who lead those nations?

God remains on His throne. His plan for the redemption of humankind has not been sidetracked. It is precisely on target and on time. And, as He manipulated pharaohs and kings in the past to accomplish His purpose, so He still does today.

My challenge is to more fully trust Him, and "lean not unto my own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).

That's something worth contemplating.