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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Are We Thinking?

“ . . . and you grumbled in your tents and said, 'Because the LORD hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us” (Deuteronomy 1:27).


The Israelites witnessed God’s power as He delivered them from generations of slavery. The Nile turned to blood. Frogs, gnats, boils, hail, and other disasters swarmed across Egypt.

As they fled Pharaoh’s army, God parted the Red Sea so Israel could safely pass – and He closed the sea on the chariots and horsemen as they chased after them.

Yet hardly had the mist dried from their clothes that they grumbled against God, as if He rescued them from slavery for the sole purpose of killing them in the wilderness.

What were they thinking?

Perhaps they were thinking like we sometimes think.

How often has God, through the death of His Son, rescued us from sin’s sting and ruin? How often has He comforted us, guided us, called us by name? How often has He brought us safely to the other side of our trials and taken us into His arms?

And yet, hardly does He hold us and we grumble when life’s inevitable storms surge again around us. And we look toward heaven and accuse Him of being deaf to our cries and callous to our wounds.

Oh! What are we thinking?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Choices

If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

Sometimes choices can complicate life. Eating out is a case in point. When I lived overseas, the choices were easy. Walk into a restaurant (one of three from which to choose) and the waitress hands you a menu. One page. Nothing on the back. Options included chicken, fish, and hamburger. Thirsty? Select cola, ice tea or coffee. Like some dessert? Try frozen yogurt or a fruit dish.

It never took long to decide what to have.

That all changed when I moved back to America. Walk into a restaurant (one of a hundred from which to choose) and the waitress hands you a menu. Dessert choices alone fill a page -- front and back. Dinner offerings fold out to three pages. A year after returning home I still felt paralyzed by all the choices. To keep my sanity, I often simply ordered a burger and fries.

But if you think three pages of menu choices can complicate life, consider that Jesus offers us only two choices -- follow Him or reject Him. You’d think it wouldn’t take long to decide.

And for some, it doesn’t.

But many men and women, even after years of staring at the menu, remain undecided. They're still studying the choices, front and back, looking for a better deal.

There isn’t any better deal. That’s why God repeatedly warns us to choose -- today -- whom we will serve. Choose -- today -- to follow Christ.

And Scripture makes it very clear, one day the restaurant will close its doors. When that happens, the chance to choose will disappear.

Forever.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Evidence of His Mercy

Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them. . . . Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine (Leviticus 20:23-26).

Why do I work so hard
to convince myself
I can consort with my culture
and remain faithful to God?

Why do I rationalize
the Holy One's commandment
to separate myself
from the customs
and lifestyles
of those who live as though
He does not exist,
or who pay Him lip service
instead of homage?

Is it because judgment does not quickly fall
when I turn from Him?
Do I presume He allows for circumstances
that tempt me to sin,
or that I can talk Him into a compromise?

I know better than that.

Those who befriend their culture
make themselves enemies
of God,*
and His patience
is not evidence

of His compromise,
allowance,
or indecision . . . .

It is evidence of His mercy
mercy that should lead me
to repentance.**

Surely, it is a fearful thing
to fall into the hands
of the living God.***

* James 4:4
** Romans 2:4
*** Hebrews 10:31

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Engraved Memorial

[The craftsmen made for the priest's breastplate]
. . . memorial stones for the sons of Israel,
just as the Lord had commanded Moses . . .
each with its name for the twelve tribes
(Exodus 39:6, 14).

God scripted memorial stones into the very fabric
of Israel’s worship.

Each time the high priest drew near to God,
he carried the names of the twelve tribes
on his garment
as a memorial
of the people God covenanted to love,
protect,
and make His own.

Some might think God set the stones
to remind Him of His people.

But God set the stones
to remind His people
He remembers
them.
And even so,
what more than the Cross
could God set in place
to remind you and me
He remembers
us?

I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.
(Isaiah 49:16)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jesus, Please.

Having bought a linen cloth, [Joseph of Arimathea] took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb (Mark 15:46).

My imagination took me this morning to the tomb. I sat against a tree and looked at the massive stone covering the cave's entrance. Several yards in front of me four guards sat around a fire. They joked. Told stories. Passed the time as they waited for the sunrise, and with it another squad of soldiers who would take over the watch so they could get some sleep.

I glanced at the sky. Lots of stars. I pulled a blanket tighter around my shoulders and looked back at the stone.

Then -- all at once, like an explosion -- light burst from around the edges of the boulder and shattered the darkness. The guards scrambled to their feet. One quickly grabbed his sword and held it at the ready. The others grabbed theirs.

And then, with my mind's eye, I watched the stone slowly roll to the right. I felt the ground groan and shudder under its weight. And I stood up, in anticipation.

But as quickly as the light appeared, it vanished. And a man dressed in a robe -- its glow fading even as I watched --the man walked from within the cave and stood a few feet beyond the opening. He looked at the guards, and they fell back in terror. They tossed their weapons away and fled toward the trees.

When they were gone, Jesus looked at me. His expression hadn't changed. I could see His face. Still Calm. Gentle. His eyes soft. I wondered why the guards fled.

I watched myself hesitate, and then walk toward Him. As I drew near, I bowed on my knees. It was then I saw His feet beneath the robe. And the scars. I sat on the dirt and stared at them.

And that was when I realized the Lord was bending toward me. In a moment He sat in the dirt in front of me. He took me into His arms, and held me.

And He held me.

And He held me.

Squeezing me into His chest, He held me.

I rested my head on His shoulder, and looked down His back. I could see the scars from the whip that sliced His skin at the whipping post. They covered His neck, shoulders and back as far as I could see down His robe.

Scars that should have been mine.

And I whispered, Jesus, please. Help me love You always.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Different Kind of Death

This is adapted from an essay appearing in my second book, Lessons Along the Journey.
-------------

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).


From time to time I see an elderly man who attends the same 10:00 Mass as I. I’ve never spoken with him. He sits on the other side of the sanctuary and is usually making his way toward the exit during the final song.

The first time I saw him, I thought I’d seen my wife’s stepfather returned from the dead. The man resembles Cy so closely. And because of the remarkable resemblance, my thoughts went back last Sunday to one of the last times Cy and I were together.

Cyril James Farrell died peacefully in bed on April 29, 2005, five months before his 90th birthday.

It could have been a different kind of death.

Throughout his working career, Cyril was a fiercely competitive salesman with little time for family, and even less time for God.

Quick-tempered, opinionated and a no-nonsense kind of guy, Cy told you what he thought, even if it wasn't polite or kind – and it often wasn’t. He found fault with strangers, circumstances, and family. I didn’t like being around him when he got into one of his moods.

Many of us know the passage of years often solidifies a person’s bad patterns. But for some people, life-events can have the opposite effect. That's what happened to Cy.

In his mid-seventies, his legs began to hurt so badly he couldn’t walk more than a few yards without stopping to rest. Following two fruitless surgeries, the once determined and vigorous man was forced into a wheelchair. In his last months, he couldn’t get out of bed without help.

Although baptized as a child and he attended Mass with his parents, by the time he joined the army, he’d left his childhood faith behind. It was not until he was 85 and sick did he recognize, as if for the first time, why Jesus died.

Jesus died for him.

And with that recognition, Cy surrendered his life completely to the Lord Jesus.

Imperceptibly to those who saw him every day, Cy began to change. And those who'd known him as long as I, knew the change was extraordinary. Despite his loss of health and strength, I never heard him complain or find fault, except to say about his legs, "Isn't that the craziest thing? They don't work anymore like they used to."

Judging from the remarks of those who attended his funeral, no one else heard him grumble, either. They simply remembered him as a man who always met others with a patient spirit, a ready smile, and a kind word.

More than 300 white-haired friends showed up at the church to commemorate his life. Many more wanted to come, but lived too far away, or were too frail to travel. I believe they loved the man in the coffin because Cyril James Farrell left a legacy worthy of a Christian – a legacy that attests to the grace, mercy and patience of our heavenly Father who stays with us, year after year, waiting for His prodigals to come home.

I know why Cyril James Farrell died in peace. It was because he died in the arms of his Savior.

It could have been a different kind of death.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Restoring from Captivity

Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; And they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity . . . (Lamentations 2:14).

As I meditated on my memory verse for the week my thoughts took me to the historical setting of Jeremiah's lament. Jerusalem, once the vibrant and prosperous capital of ancient Israel, lay in ashes. Its leaders murdered. Its population sent into ruthless exile.

It didn't have to happen that way. God had sent His prophets again and again to warn the nation of impending judgment for their sins. But the people preferred the gentle and soothing message of false prophets and priests to the harsh words of God's emissaries who warned against listening to falsehood.

And so, judgment fell -- swift, sweeping and deadly.

And then my thoughts returned me to the present, and to the messages I have heard from pulpits and Christian TV and radio programs which offer gentle and soothing promises, but never speak of God's justice, holiness and judgment.

I've heard the flock of God encouraged to become better people by learning about their "personality traits" as defined through psychological tests -- but rarely have I heard the flock encouraged to diligently, passionately, fervently seek God on their knees and in the words of the prophets, apostles and Church teaching.

I have heard "touchy-feelly" messages in which people are promised by their pastors health, wealth and happiness, but never have I heard them talk of Scripture's message of persecution, suffering and deprivation for God's elect -- or of how even Jesus "learned obedience from the things He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).

God's prophets have always -- always -- been enjoined to speak the truth as a fire and as a hammer that shatters a rock (Jeremiah 23:29). God has always sent His emissaries to expose iniquity among those who should know better, that they might be spared judgment, which is inevitable to the unrepentant.

"Go into all the world," the Lord commanded the Church, and teach God's truth --the full truth -- even if it is disquieting and unwelcomed. For only in so doing can we participate in the work of God to restore people from their captivity.

There is no greater call or mission a child of God can have.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happiness and Obedience

Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last (Isaiah 48:12)

Four times in chapter 48, God calls to His people to “Listen!”

I can almost hear Him sigh with remorse: If only you obeyed my commandments, your peace would have been like a river . . . (verse 18).

You’d think the Israelites would have known better. From the early days of the Judges, to the time of Isaiah’s ministry, Israel’s history ebbed and flowed with periods of peace, followed by rebellion, warning, judgment and, finally repentance.

And the cycle began again.

Do you know people today in the Church, people who should know better, and yet follow in the path of ancient Israel, moving through cycles of peace to rebellion, to judgment and – only then -- repentance?

Yet, all the while, God calls us to listen and obey.

And for good reason.

There is simply no other way to be at peace with God, with ourselves, or with others, than to listen to – and obey -- God. That is what He called Israel to do through the prophets. And that is what He calls to us to do through the words of Holy Scripture and Church teaching.

If only we would listen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Bloody Faith


“If his holocaust offering is from the flock that is, a sheep or a goat, [the priest] must bring a male without blemish. This he shall slaughter before the Lord at the north side of the altar. Then Aaron’s sons, the priest, shall splash its blood on the sides of the altar”
(Leviticus 1:10-11).


Some believe the Old Testament religion was a bloody one.

They are right.

The blood of bulls and goats
flowed from the Hebrew altar day after day

after day

to atone for sins.


Some think the New Testament religion is less bloody.

They are wrong.

The blood bath of animals
was only a shadow

of the substance

to unfold
two thousand years later

on Calvary.

There

the blood of God
dripped from His face,
His arms,
His side,

to cleanse our sins.


And

within the seamless folds of eternity

it still flows
each time
we reject

His commandments.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Even So, Sometimes I Do Have to Ask

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God . . . (1 Corinthians 6:19).

As I reflected again on the Lord's intervention in what should have been my flogging -- I wrote about it (click here) a few days ago -- this verse dropped into my thoughts. And it dovetailed with the imagery in my imagination as Jesus pressed Himself against me to shield my back from the Roman whip.

I memorized this text in 1 Corinthians years ago. Probably decades. I've written about it in published articles, referred to it during Bible studies I've taught, and cross-referenced it many times with other texts as I studied through the Scriptures.

But this morning the term Holy Spirit captured my attention. I suppose it's because I have, for a long time, referred to Him as the Holyspirit. The two words usually run together as if there is no distinction or real separation between them.

But there is a separation and distinction. And unless I clearly recognize it, the passage at the top of this post cannot impact my life as it ought.

Holy.

Some synonyms could be hallowed, sacred, immaculate, perfect, or pure. Yet, as St. Paul moaned, "In my flesh there is no good thing."

So how can it be that the Holy Spirit -- God Himself as the third Person of the trinity -- how can it be -- no, the better question is -- why would it be that the Holy, Sacred, Pure, Perfect, and Immaculate Spirit not only would come to me, but literally live inside me?

That was the question lingering in my mind as the eyes of my imagination fixated on that image of Jesus -- God in the second Person of the trinity -- as He pressed Himself against me to shield me from the whip in my earlier meditation.

And that was the question the Lord answered again when He looked into my eyes and said,

"Do you have to ask?"

Oh, but even so . . . knowing myself as well as I do, sometimes I do have to ask . . . why would God love me that much?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Whom the Son Sets Free . . .

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners . . . . Giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting (Isaiah 61:1-2).

One reason I enjoy memorizing Scripture is that once I know the text, it breathes its life into my spirit and I can more deeply reflect on its message than I would if I simply read it through.

This passage in Isaiah held my attention this morning as I related it to my recent experiences in hospitals where I've worked as a registered nurse. Most of the time nearly half (or more) of the patients on our unit are repeat admissions. They come to us several times a year with a variety of serious self-induced illnesses such as alcoholics with terminal liver disease, nicotine addicts with lung or throat cancers, diabetics who ignore their prescribed dietary, exercise and medication routines, drug addicts with skin infections, heart problems, kidney diseases or psychological changes such as paranoia and dementias.

As I thought about my experiences in light of the passage in Isaiah, I realized I usually viewed those patients as unfortunates who chose the wrong road on their journey through life. I'd not very often recognize them also as prisoners of Satan --bound with chains stronger than iron.

And that image of Satan's prisoners burdened me. Where, I wondered, where are the Archbishop Fulton Sheens of yesterday, the John Vianneys, the Catherines of Siena who each challenged and changed their culture, and in so doing set prisoners free? Where are the new Billy Grahams? The James Dobsons? The Archbishop Chaputs? The Father Corapis?

And where also are the ordinary men and women of God, men and women of the marketplace, the schools, the businesses, the university classrooms and lunchrooms who refuse to water down the "good news" for the afflicted? Men and women who will not kowtow to the culture, to speak political and social "correctness" and so lose their ability -- their God-given mandate -- to proclaim God's uncompromising truth which alone can bind up the broken hearted, give liberty to captives and freedom to Satan's prisoners?

I know where they are. They are reading these words.

You would not be a regular reader of this blog if you also did not have the same mind of Christ, the same compassion for the lost, the same heartache for those who repeat their poor choices as if they had no other choice.

This is the privilege God gives you and me . . . to set prisoners free. And we should never underestimate the importance of that privilege -- to bind up the brokenhearted, to give them hope for new life, a new journey in which old things are forgotten and wonderful new things lay ahead.

Oh, God, help us focus on that mission..

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Booby-Trapped

Abraham said to his servant . . . “[Y]ou shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my . . . relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac. The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is not willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?" Then Abraham said to him, "Beware that you do not take my son back there! (Genesis 24:2-6).


I understand Abraham’s fear for his son to return to his former land. Abraham knew Isaac’s relationship with God could be irreparably damaged if he returned to the place from which God had called them.

“Beware,” he warned his servant, “that you do not take my son back there.”

Have you ever noticed how, without warning, the lure of our old life can beckon us to return? Sometimes the attraction openly woos us with soft caresses and seductive whispers. More often, though – at least in my experience – it arrives gift-wrapped in subtle nuances, cradled in the arms of a disappointment with God, a loss, or a sadness.

Yet in whatever form it arrives, it is always booby-trapped.

And we invite disaster when we so much as toy with the wrapping.