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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Does He Require?

. . . what does the Lord your God require from you,
but to fear the Lord your God,
to walk in all His ways and love Him,
and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul,
and to keep the Lord's commandments and His statutes . . .
(Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

There is great danger
in calling Jesus
Messiah and Lord,
and not living as He lived,
walking as He walked,
serving as He served.

There is danger to others
who,
watching us,
turn from light
because of our darkness.

And danger to ourselves
who,
causing others to stumble,
will hear Him say
“Depart from Me,
workers of iniquity,
I never knew you.”*

God
is not mocked.
What we sow
we will
reap.**

*Matthew 7:21-23
** Galatians 6:7

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

If . . . Then

The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers saying,
'Go to this people and say,
"You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
for the heart of this people has become dull,
and with their ears they scarcely hear,
and they have closed their eyes;
otherwise they might see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their heart
and return,
and I would heal them."

(Acts 28:25-27)


From time to time,
like this time,
I stand bewildered
at the erosion of freedoms
known in our nation
since its birth
on bloody fields like

Bunker Hill
Yorktown
Concord and Lexington
Cowpens
and
Oriskany.

And people now
wring their hands
as leaders capitulate
to deals
and threats
and promises
and power.

And I remember Isaiah
and Israel,
and St. Paul
and America.

Could it be
our loss began
in the bloody hands
across our land
in which millions
of innocents

were dismembered
and suctioned
into vacu-tainers

in the name of freedom
and choice?

Fifty million . . .

while few
among those who call Jesus
Savior
Lord

who saw without perceiving
who heard without understanding
whose hearts became dull
who said little
did little
to stop the incredible
wickedness.

And we wonder
God is deaf
to our prayers
for restoration
of freedom
and independence.

Yet
and only because of God's
incredible
grace
it remains true:

If . . . My people who are called by My name
humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
will forgive their sin
and will heal their land.
(2 Chronicles 7:13-14)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Your Graying Years

You who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you (Isaiah 46:3-4).

I recently received an email from an old friend. He’d found some photos he’d taken of me more than 36 years ago. I’d forgotten how young I once looked. Or how much hair I used to have.

I thought about those photos this morning as I read through Isaiah. As I read, I let my mind wander back over the nearly four decades of my walk with Christ. I’ve seen many answers to prayer during those decades. Recovered health. Marriages mended. Children reconciled. Lost, found. Embittered given hope.

And I’ve seen many prayers go unanswered - or at least, not answered in the way I’d asked. Illness brought death to family and friends despite my fervent prayers for healing. People I love lost their jobs, their marriages, their children . . . and not a few lost their faith.

I confess God confuses me.

Actually, that is too tame a statement. And not entirely true.

More than confuses, sometimes God angers me. Sometimes I feel as if I’m in a boat tossed by heavy seas, swamped by mountainous waves and I cry out, “Lord, don’t you see? Don’t you hear? Don’t you care?”

After thirty-eight years of this journey with God, I know He sees. I know He hears. And of course, I know He cares.

I know these things, despite the prayers that still go unanswered. I know it because . . . well – now that I deliberately think about it – I suppose it’s because He has granted me faith in the face of the waves. He has graced me with trust despite my confusion – and my anger. He has nurtured in me confidence even when it seems I have no reason to be confident. Not that I am anyone special that He would grace me in such ways. Instead, I think He helps my faith, trust and confidence simply because I need His help so badly.

I looked at myself again in those early photos and, from the perspective of my graying years, I realize God was with me all the time, in each sorrow, through each storm, through doubt, and anger, and unanswered prayer.

That I couldn’t see Him, or hear Him, doesn’t mean He was absent.

I still, to this day, do not know why people for whom I beg God for mercy die, or why families shatter, or spouses leave the Church, or . . . or . . . or.

All I do know . . . all I choose to know . . . is this granite-like promise: Even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Engraved In His Hands

Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah . . . (Genesis 25:8-9).

I know how Ishmael must have felt as he stood over that grave. Seventy-five years earlier, his father, Abraham, exiled him and his mother, Hagar, from their home. Ishmael was only thirteen. His mother and Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had a confrontation, and Sarah demanded Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away.

It seems from the biblical record’s silence that Abraham never spoke with his son again.

Now, in the twenty-fifth chapter of Genesis, the thirteen-year-old turned eighty-eight stands at his father’s graveside. I believe Ishmael wept – wept for a relationship he never had with his father, for an intimacy he always longed for, but pushed from his mind so he could maintain some degree of emotional peace.

I remember how I felt when I learned my father had died. I was fifty-five when I heard the news. It was too late to attend his funeral. He’d already been dead several years.

Although I hadn't seen him for decades and decades, I grieved over his death and the relationship I never had with him. Dad hadn’t exiled me and Mom. He exiled himself. He left us for another woman. I was five when it happened. Yet, even now, nearly six years after I learned of his death, when I see elderly men who resemble the man in the photos taken shortly before he died, a sense of sorrow – and loss -- hovers above me.

I’ve met many men like myself and Ishmael during my adult life, men who wonder what it would have been like to have been held in their daddy’s arms. Men gripped by the memory that their fathers never loved them.

It’s a hard realization.

But it needn’t be a hopeless one.

I hope Ishmael discovered before his own death what I discovered about my God – that He never leaves His children. He never forsakes them. He never exiles them from His home. Earthly fathers and mothers might cast us aside – but our heavenly Father vowed He would never do that. He promised, “Behold, I have inscribed you in my hands; your walls are always before my eyes” (Isaiah 49:16); and, “Even if my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).

And because of that eternal promise, our lives need never be hopeless.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Tragic Mistake

I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself . . . I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men--many concubines . . . All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them . . . and behold all was vanity and striving after wind . . . . (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11)


Joel was only 45 when he died. I remember thinking he had what many men only dream of having: a loving wife and family, a good job, and well-liked in his community.
And yet, on a Tuesday evening after work he put a gun to his head -- and pulled the trigger.

In the few years I'd known him, he had the outward appearance of happiness. But outward appearances often belie the emptiness of the heart.

I wonder if long before the bullet shattered his skull, Joel had emptied his heart of what he'd learned as a child of God's love. As he grew older, did he try to fill that emptiness with things that promised fulfillment . . . things that ultimately left him empty?

To this day, no one knows why Joel took his life that Tuesday. But I wonder if, like Solomon, he realized wealth, position, and reputation are not enough to fill the God-created void St. Augustine spoke of in his Confessions: "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee."

Who is not tempted at times to misorder life’s priorities, to choose the seductive allure of popularity, position or wealth to the sacrifices God requires of time, wealth and talent -- and not infrequently -- friendships, freedom, or even our very lives?

Decisions like that never occur overnight. They begin, and are nurtured, at the heart’s altar where, in time, they blossom into a mind-set of faith or faithlessness, trust or scorn, obedience or rebellion.

Turning from God's call on our lives doesn’t mean we’ll end up putting a gun to our head. But I’ve seen so often the results of running from Him, I think it’s a spiritual law: Those who persist in choosing their will over God’s reach the same conclusion Solomon reached before his conversion: “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

What a tragic mistake it is to end a life like that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Promise

"Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord GOD, "rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” . . . . For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live." (Ezekiel 18:23, 32)


Every now and again
I think of the thief
dying next to Jesus.

I wonder if his mother
wept at the cross
for her wayward son . . .

or did she learn
of his death
days later

after strangers
buried him,

and she grieved by his grave
without knowing
of her son’s repentance
or of Christ’s promise:

Today
you will be with Me
in paradise.


I wonder too
of the many moms
and dads today
who grieve
at the grave
of their wayward son
or daughter

unaware
of their child’s
repentance

or of Christ’s
promise

Today
you will be with Me
in paradise.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Arise My Darling, and Come Along

Prefiguring Christ and His Church, Solomon wrote:

[My beloved groom] . . . . says to me,"Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines in bloom give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! (Song of Songs 2:9b-13).

I'd read this passage dozens of times during the past 35 years of my journey with Christ. But only recently did its message nearly overwhelm my emotions as I connected it with others I'd memorized.

Jesus said, In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be (John 14:2-3).

St. Paul added, Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a [shout], with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

Sometimes, when I read promises like these -- and especially like that from the Song of Songs in which my Groom calls me His "beloved," His "beautiful one" -- I can almost hear the Lord shout. I can almost hear the trumpet. I can almost see myself in His presence, His arms drawing me to Himself as He whispers: Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come with Me. The vines in blossom are giving off their sweet fragrance. Winter is past. Come with Me to the place I've prepared for you. A place without tears, or fear, or sorrow. A place without separation, or death.

Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Citizenship -- Rights and Responsibilities

The jailer reported the words to Paul, "The magistrates have sent orders that you be released. Now, then, come out and go in peace." But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us publicly, even though we are Roman citizens and have not been tried, and have thrown us into prison. And now, are they going to release us secretly? By no means. Let them come themselves and lead us out (Acts 16:36-37).

I often stop at this section in my reading through Acts and mull this scene over and over in my mind -- especially because this incident has close application to the time in which we live.

Roman citizens of the 1st century enjoyed special rights not granted to non-Romans. One of those privileges was exemption from beating and imprisonment without due process of law. No wonder the city leaders became alarmed when they learned the status of their two latest prisoners.

We find also in this text St. Paul used his Roman citizenship to force a public apology from the magistrates. In so doing he guaranteed the new believers he and Silas had won for Christ would receive civil protection from political and religious harassment.

That is why St. Paul’s use of his citizenship rights provides us an important lesson.

Many today try to intimidate God's children into silence with regard to public policies and morality. They say our religious views have no place in government, in schools, in courts – even in the marketplace.

But that’s not at all what the apostles believed, nor what the Church teaches. Christian citizens not only have a right to actively participate in our government by speaking (and voting) against immorality and injustice, but we have an obligation to do so. Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: (paragraph 2239) It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom . . . .

Then again, (paragraph 2242) The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. . . . "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." “We must obey God rather than men . . . .”

From the standpoint of evangelism, Saints Paul and Silas teach us that by wise use of our rights as citizens, new converts won to Christ will find protection from religious harassment at the hands of civil authorities.

And just as important, our boldness in the face of social, political and cultural intimidation will enable not-yet-converts to hear the gospel presented without fear of reprisal.

Saints Paul and Silas, pray for us.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Knowing Who We Are and Why We Are Here

Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children . . . . (Ephesians 5:1)

How does a person learn to imitate God?

As I laid my Bible down and pondered that idea, I remembered another text, this one in St. John’s gospel. Jesus said to His disciples, He who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit (John 15:5). Then St. Paul’s words dropped into my mind, I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).

As I mulled over those texts, I realized again (I say again because the Holy Spirit often has to remind me of things He has repeatedly shown me over the years . . . things I quickly forget), we learn to imitate Christ by abiding – remaining close to – Him. The closer we abide, the better we imitate.

It’s really that simple.

Jesus in His humanity abided so well in His Father that at no time in all of Scripture did He ever question who He was or what was His purpose on earth.

Even at the age of twelve, when Mary and Joseph found Him in the Temple, Jesus already knew His purpose. Didn’t you know I had to be about My Father’s things? He asked His parents. During His adult ministry, the Lord repeatedly and without hesitation declared His divine mission and origin. When St. Peter said to Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus answered, Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:16-17) To a grieving Martha and Mary, He said, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26); To the Pharisees, He declared, Before Abraham was born, I Am (John 8:58), and, My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work (John 4:34); And yet again, I and the father are one (John 10:30).

The Church, which St. Paul calls the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) adds her guidance about the Lord’s confidence and knowledge of His origin and purpose. For example, we find in the Catechism:

Paragraph 536: The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God's suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; he is already "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". Already he is anticipating the "baptism" of his bloody death. Already he is coming to "fulfill all righteousness", that is, he is submitting himself entirely to his Father's will: out of love he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. The Father's voice responds to the Son's acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son.

Paragraph 440: Jesus accepted Peter's profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah . . . . He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man "who came down from heaven", and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant . . . .

Paragraphy 442 [When] Simon Peter . . . confesses Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God", for Jesus responds solemnly: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” . . . .

Scores of additional such passages thread their way through the Gospels and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Each illustrates without equivocation or nuance that Jesus never doubted his origin, role, or mission.

So what does that mean for us?

It is this: We do not have to stumble through life wondering who we are and why we are here. When we abide with Christ and learn to imitate His obedience to the Father, then who we are becomes clear -- we are a child of God. And life’s real purpose -- that being to serve Christ, to serve others and bring them the gospel of truth --becomes our passion.

After all, if it were not so, the Holy Spirit would not have guided St. Paul to write: Be imitators of God, as beloved children.