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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Remembering Lot's Wife

As soon as they had been brought outside, [Lot] was told: "Flee for your life! Don't look back or stop anywhere on the Plain. Get off to the hills at once, or you will be swept away." . . . . But Lot's wife looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:17-26).

Why did Lot’s wife turn back?

We can only speculate.

Perhaps she didn’t want to leave her parents and family. Maybe she wished to remain with her friends. Or she longed to keep the familiar and avoid the new.

Whatever the reason, her fate became a teaching point in St. Luke’s gospel. While talking about His second advent, Jesus cautioned His disciples against double-mindedness, of wanting a relationship with God while at the same time being unwilling to give up the familiar . . . even family and friends if necessary.

“Remember Lot’s wife” Jesus said (St. Luke 17:32).

Those words should strike like a hammer.

Remember Lot’s wife.

What prevents us from fully obeying Jesus? Why do we so easily hesitate when He calls us to a deeper devotion to Him? Why do we so tenaciously cling to the old in favor of the new?

Perhaps for the same reasons Lot’s wife turned back.

Perhaps for a few more.

Or perhaps we simply do not recognize the danger.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Going Out of His Way

They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him . . . (Mark 5:1-2)

As I'm reading through chapter 4 of St. Mark, and then into chapter 5, I mused over the scene in my mind. In verse 35 of chapter 4, the Lord tells the disciples: "Let us go over to the other side." From the details here in St. Mark's gospel, and the parallel accounts in Luke and Matthew, there doesn't seem to be an apparent reason why the Lord decided to cross the Sea of Galilee.

But we know what happened when He arrived:

When [Jesus] got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him,and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.

I saw the man in my imagination. Dirty. Reeking with dried urine and feces. Filthy beard and hair. Wild look in his eyes. His face contorted with fear, or rage, or helplessness . . . or maybe all three.

The text continues: Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him . . .

If you remember the story, you know the Lord instantly healed the man and then cast the demons into a herd of pigs. When the people of the place heard what Jesus had done, they begged him to leave their country.

I've read that story dozens of times. But this time I noticed something new.

The Lord could have stayed on the other side of the lake and ministered to the hundreds who came to Him. But the Good Shepherd knew of a lost sheep across the water. Bound with chains stronger than iron, no one could free him from his demonic masters. He was their toy. Their plaything who did whatever their cruelty wanted him to do. And he would be imprisoned by them for as long as he lived.

But . . .

I'm so glad for the "buts" of Scripture.

But Jesus knew of the man. And that changed forever the man's destiny.

A changed destiny.

Who thinks Jesus is not the same today as He was yesterday? Who thinks the Good Shepherd does not still go out of His way to meet us in our desperation? Our helplessness? Our bondage to sins that drive us to one failure after another?

The text tells us when the man saw Jesus from distance, he ran toward Him and bowed at His feet, which is what everyone today -- bound by the past, bound by the present, and in fear of tomorrow must do -- lift our eyes to Jesus, bow at His feet, and receive His salvation.

As St. Peter promised: All who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:21).

Friday, February 19, 2010

How Shall We Live?

"Speak to Aaron and say to him, 'When you mount the lamps, the seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand.'" Aaron therefore did so; he mounted its lamps at the front of the lampstand (Numbers 8:2,3).

Without windows
darkness shrouded
the Tabernacle.
Symbols of God's Presence –
the bread,
the altar,
the lampstand,
remained hidden.

when Aaron lit the lamps,
darkness scattered
and the light unveiled
each nuance

Men and women
shrouded in sin's darkness
lose their way.
Symbols of God’s
remain hidden.

“Ye are the light of the world,”
He said.

How shall we live
to illuminate His presence
to those living in the darkness
of the shadow
of death?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Blowing Trumpets

When in your own land you go to war against an enemy that is attacking you, you shall sound the alarm on the trumpets, and the Lord, your God, will remember you and save you from your foes (Numbers 10:9).

This text suggests
God needs cues
like silver trumpets

to jog His memory

some might say
He needs our prayers

to remember us.

God does not need cues
or trumpets
or prayers.

We do.

God knows our temptation
to serve Jesus
without seeking
the face of Jesus --

to open doors,
without asking His help,

to pursue the battle
with weapons of flesh,
instead of spirit,

to be satisfied
with earth

instead of heaven.

But blowing trumpets,
or praying prayers
force us to remember
the battle
is not ours,

but the Lord’s.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Not a Method, But a Relationship

Sometimes I am asked what method I use during my contemplative prayers – which I think are better defined as meditative than contemplative. Truth is, I don’t have so much a method as I have a relationship. The distinction is not simply semantics. Relationships are built over time. Methods can be developed or copied in a few minutes.

However, as one of my pastors said in a recent homily – a relationship with God can be started at any time. The sooner, of course, the better. So if asked how I mature in my relationship to Christ – which then translates into my prayer process – I would answer this way:

1. My relationship with Christ began in 1972. I can tell you the day and the place where it happened. I recognized I was a sinner and needed divine forgiveness. Having been raised in a Jewish home and knowing nearly nothing about Chrisitanity except that Jesus died for me, I did the only thing I knew I could do. I asked God to forgive my sins and cleanse me through the blood of His Son. A short time later, when I learned I also needed to be baptized, I received that Sacrament (although I didn't know at the time it was a Sacrament).

2. To maintain and grow in my relationship with Jesus, I bring my serious sins into the Confessional. But it is rare for me to go through a day without praying something like the Act of Contrition for each transgression I commit, regardless of how venial it might seem to me. I try to keep my slate as clean as possible. As the psalmist said, If I hold onto sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.

3. I always receive the Eucharist with purposeful aforethought. When Moses stood before the burning bush, God told him to remove his sandals because the ground on which he was standing was holy. And so each time I approach the consecrated Bread and the Cup, I remind myself the ground on which I stand is no less holy. Doing so helps me receive Christ with a more somber and reflective attitude.

4. I spend an hour each morning with the Lord. To help myself settle into an attitude for prayer and meditation, I listen to one or two recorded Church hymns or other worship songs.

During that hour I read at least two chapters of the Bible. (I also read two every evening). Over the course of the last thirty-seven years I’ve read the Bible dozens of times. In addition, Scripture memory has always been an integral part of my relationship with Christ. I have memorized hundreds of verses, and can paraphrase hundreds more. This treasure of God’s word in my heart aids my meditation as the Holy Spirit brings those texts to the forefront to teach me something fresh or (more often) remind me of something I’d forgotten.

My reflections, meditations and prayers during the rest of the hour are really birthed in my daily decisions to bring my will into conformity with Christ’s. One of the books helping me understand the importance of obedience is The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence wrote that he would not so much as pick up a feather from the ground without permission from the Lord. It is that kind of obedience to Christ, even in the minutia of daily activities, that I try to strive toward. However, I am learning such obedience does not happen in a vacuum. It requires many decisions during the day to either obey Him or rationalize why I do not have to obey. But each correct decision makes the next one easier.

Two of my favored prayer methods is Lectio Divina and St. Ignatian “imaginative” meditation.

Lectio divina is an ancient form of prayer often associated with the monastic tradition. As I read from the Bible I ask myself what the writer was trying to convey to his readers. Then I ask what the Holy Spirit might be trying to convey to me in the passage. As I ponder the questions, I mull those thoughts over and over. Sometimes I will begin memorizing a particular verse in the text and speak it back to God as a form of prayer.

Ignatian prayer uses the power of imagination to draw me closer to God. As I read through the Scripture, or consider one of the mysteries of the Rosary, I meditate on a scene that might catch my attention – the scourging of Christ at the pillar, for example. I try to imagine what it would have been like if I had been there, watching the horrible scene play out. I try to smell the dust swirling in the breezes, to hear the mob’s shouts behind me, to watch our Blessed Mother crumble with grief to the dirt as the soldier’s whip slices Jesus’ back. And as I imagine myself in the moment, I pray whatever thoughts come to my mind as I watch the scene unfold.

At other times I pray my own spontaneous prayers, or recite some of the many prayers given us by the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer is one example:

Oh Lord, take my freedom, my memory, my understanding and my will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

The prayer of Pope Clement XI is another (I include only a portion of his prayer here):

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith. I trust in you: strengthen my trust. I love you: let me love you more and more. I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow. I want to do what you ask of me: In the way you ask, For as long as you ask, Because you ask it. Help me to prepare for death with a proper fear of judgment, but a greater trust in your goodness. Lead me safely through death to the endless joy of heaven. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen

One of my favorite prayers is the Humility Litany of Cardinal Merry Del Val. (I include only a portion of it here):

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
Deliver me, O Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
Deliver me, O Jesus

That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should
O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

My prayer-life, deeply rooted in a long-term growing relationship with Jesus, is no different than the prayer lives of any other Christian during the past two thousand years who has had a passion to know Christ – not just know about Him. I hope something of what I have written here will stir you to seek more of our Lord and Savior.

It’s not about a method. It’s about a relationship.

And it's about starting sooner than later.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sources of Pride

Speak to the Israelites and tell them that they and their descendants must put tassels on the corners of their garments . . . [L]et the sight of them remind you to keep all the commandments of the Lord
(Numbers 15:38-40).

Israelites wore
tassels on their clothing
to remind them always
whose they were
and to whom they belonged.

But in time
tassels lost their meaning.

Instead of drawing them
to God,
they became
sources of pride
that led them away.*

We should learn
from the past.

Symbols of our faith –
Holy Card

should remind us always
whose we are
and to whom we belong –

to draw us to God
instead of becoming
sources of pride
that lead us away.

*(Matthew 23:47)

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Best of Prayers

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the Church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions (Colossians 1:24).

On Jan 17th I posted a contemplation about my sciatica pain. It has eased now considerably . . . for which I am grateful to God. But I learned something of great value during those short few weeks while I tossed each night in my semi-sleep and dragged myself through each day. I learned that while there is something (to use my words again) "visceral, something I would call evil" about such pain, I also learned there is something sweet in the experience -- because God can be in the experience.

That is not a platitude. It is something I simply learned.

One thing that helped me learn that is the comment a person made to my post. Her name is Patricia. I copy it here:

I suffer from migraine headaches almost everyday - for decades. Sometimes I think about what I might have become or might have accomplished were it not for the constant pain and weariness. Yet, Jesus seems to say: Be with Me. Just be with Me. That is all I ask of you.

Patricia doesn't know this (of course, if she reads this post, she will now know it), Patricia doesn't know it, but I have mulled her words over in my mind many times since I first read them. It was as if my pain -- short-lived as it has been compared to her chronic pain -- it was as if my pain helped me understand in an intimate way what she heard from the Lord when He said to her: "Be with Me. Just be with Me. That is all I ask of you."

A few moments before I sat at my computer to write this blog entry, I read a comment by St. John Vianney: You can pray by putting yourself quite simply in touch with God. When one finds nothing more to say to Him, but just knows He is there -- that in itself is the best of prayers.

I don't know the full meaning of the text I quoted at the beginning of this post. But what I do know is this: we might be missing a great blessing of God when He gives us suffering -- perhaps I should say, when God gifts us with suffering -- and we grouse and complain and brood and mope our way through the experience.

Please do not misinterpret what I am saying. I am not at all suggesting we should not seek relief from our pain. But what I am suggesting is that when the pain persists despite our valiant attempts to find healing . . . when pain persists, we ought to consider perhaps it is God's gift to us, something He is giving us to somehow work in us whatever it will be that will teach us the best of prayers.

And to be with Him in a unique way.