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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mincing Words?

In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: "A voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'" . . . At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. (Matthew 3:1-7)


John the Baptist strikes me as a no-nonsense kind of a guy, not one to mince words, and certainly not one to retreat from speaking truth, even to powerful religious leaders and politicians. But what further interests me in this account of the Lord’s baptism is Jesus’ silence about John’s rhetoric. Nowhere in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism does the Lord tell John to tone down his rhetoric.

When John called the religious leaders a “brood of vipers” Jesus didn’t suggest John be more tolerant. More pluralistic. Less divisive. Yet, Jesus was quick to rebuke His disciples many times when they said or did something wrong. For example, He rebuffed them when they tried to stop parents from bringing their children to Him (Mark 10:13-15); and when they wanted to call fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans (Luke 9:53-55); and when Peter chastened the Lord because of Jesus’ comment of His impending death (Matthew 16:21-23).

But with John the Baptist, we have no record of such a rebuke by the Lord. Not even when John warned Herod against adultery do we find Jesus warning him to moderate his words.

We haven’t any record because Jesus obviously approved of John’s faithful proclamation of truth – even though He knew the Baptist would soon be imprisoned for his truth-telling, and would lose his life because of it.

As I mused over this Jordan scene, my mind switched to recent news events surrounding the upcoming May 2010 National Day of Prayer. A well-known Christian, son of another well-known Christian, has been like a voice crying in America’s growing spiritual and moral wilderness. And it seems some people objected to Franklin Graham’s rhetoric -- and had him removed from the list of invited speakers to pray at the Pentagon.

Thankfully, Graham is not the only one calling America to make straight paths for the Lord. Others like Chuck Colson, Archbishop Chaput of Colorado, Fr. John Corapi, Fr. Frank Pavone, James Dobson – and hundreds of thousands of lesser-known men and women who, without fanfare or notoriety -- in their workplaces, schools, neighborhoods -- faithfully proclaim their Christian faith every day, refusing to mince words when speaking of sin or evil. They are Christians who stand boldly for Christ and His Church’s moral imperatives, even if doing so labels them intolerant and divisive and offends social activists, politicians, government officials, or other religions.

We can thank God every day for gracing America with such resolute and passionate modern-day obedient servants of Jesus Christ.

Jesus spoke well of John the Baptist, whose life illustrated a person whose heart stayed fixed on serving God (Matthew 11:11). Surely, too, the Lord speaks well of every Christian who is daily fixed on the gospel of holiness and fearlessly proclaims Christ as humanity’s only means of salvation (see Romans 1:16).

Jesus did not mince words when He warned, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38). And it would not surprise me if, while recognizing the imperative of obedience to Christ – when it would be easier to capitulate to fear or compromise – Pope Pius XI wrote this prayer:

O most benign Jesus . . . [grant] by that great gift of final perseverance, to keep us most faithful until death in our duty and in Thy service, so that at length we may all come to that fatherland, where Thou with the Father and the Holy Ghost live and reign with God for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How Much More Ought We?

Only after Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sacred objects and all their utensils on breaking camp, shall the Kohathites enter to carry them. But they shall not touch the sacred objects; if they do they will die . . . [T]he Kohathites shall not go in to look upon the sacred objects, even for an instant; if they do, they will die (Numbers 4:15-20).


Only the priestly family of Aaron
could look at –
or touch –
the sacred vessels
and furniture
of the Tabernacle.


The priestly family of Kohath
carried other holy objects,
but would die
if they so much as
touched –
or even glimpsed –
those sacred things
reserved only to Aaron's house.


If Tabernacle articles
were holy,
how much more is the One
who tabernacles *
among us?

If only Aaron's house
was privileged
to see and wrap
the holy objects,
much more are we
privileged
who not only gaze at the Holy One
and touch Him --

but are invited to also
eat His flesh
and drink His blood.

If Priests consecrated themselves
to serve in the Tabernacle,
how much more ought we,
who consume Christ’s Body and Blood,
consecrate ourselves

before we approach
His table?


* St. John 1:14 (Greek)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

His Banner Still Covers

The Lord said to Moses: "Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them:
This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them:
The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites,
and I will bless them.”
(Numbers 6:22-27)


It must have seemed obscene
to people wandering the desert
for 40 years
to think God blessed them,
kept them,
and let His face
shine on them.

But He had.

Despite their grumbling,
whining,
and pining
after Egypt,

God was gracious to them,
looked kindly on them
and gave them –

at least,
those who accepted it –

His peace.

And so with us,
regardless of our desert
or the reason we wander there,
God has not forgotten
or forsaken us.

Trust Him.
His banner over you is love.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who Are You?

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? (Romans 9:20)


Last night I dreamed a dream so real it startled me awake. I couldn’t go back to sleep.

I saw myself waiting at a traffic light on a street I didn’t recognize. Through the open window I heard strangers on the corner call to each other: “Roger is dead.”

Somehow I knew who they were talking about, and the news stunned me. I couldn’t believe it.

I wouldn’t believe it.

I pushed the gas pedal and raced toward the funeral home. In moments I burst into the viewing room and stood by my friend's open casket.

He was lying on his left side, curled almost in a fetal position. And the blood. It was everywhere. On his chest. At the bottom of the casket. It covered his abdomen. His hands. His clothing.

I fell across him and wept – a deep, visceral sobbing.

I rarely have dreams in which I weep.

“Roger!” I shouted. “What are you doing here? What happened?”

My groans knew no balm as I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and pressed him to myself.

Then, in the corner of my eye I saw a man beside me. Late thirties. Five-ten, or so. Clean-shaved. Light colored short-sleeved shirt. Dark, thick hair.

I knew it was Jesus.

I stood and turned to Him, “You can’t let him die!”

It was not a request. It was an order.

“You just can’t.”

I didn’t try to choke down my grief.

“You can’t.”

Jesus looked into my eyes. I can still see his gaze hours later as I write this. His expression unmistakable. It said: “Who are you to tell Me what to do?”

And then, as suddenly as His expression rebuked, it softened. And again, without a word His eyes said:

“Trust Me.”

Then I awakened. The image of my friend and the coffin stayed with me. But so, too, did the Lord’s words.

When I realized I had only dreamed it, I prayed a while for Roger. And then I sought to understand if the dream might mean something more. Perhaps a message for me.

After a time, I concluded: In the grip of even the deepest tragedy, or grief, despair, or heartache, Jesus always asks: “Who are you to tell Me what to do?”

And then He says:

“Trust Me.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seeking to be Holy

For I, the Lord, am your God;
and you shall make and keep yourselves holy,
because I am holy.
(Leviticus 11:44)


Some seek to be holy because
God commands it,
and because they
fear Him.

Some seek to be holy because
God commands it,
and because they
love Him.

Fear
is a good reason
to seek.

Love
is better.


Learn to love God,
and you will become
holy.



For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.

– St. John the Apostle

Thursday, April 8, 2010

God in the Shadows

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. And Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." (Genesis 29:16-18)


I’m reading again through Genesis, and again -- at the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel -- I let my mind wander into the scene.

If you’ve read my second book, you will recognize this is excerpted from it. I’m posting it here because the story is so very beautiful and illustrative of God’s overarching presence, power and influence in our lives – even when we don’t sense it.
------------------

Leah lived in the shadow of her younger sister's beauty (see Genesis 29-30). When Jacob visited the family, Rachel's beauty captured him. Her beauty consumed him – so much so, he agreed to work her family's farm for seven years as payment to marry her. But on the eve of the seventh anniversary, Rachel's family pulled a bait and switch. When the new groom awakened the next morning, he found himself lying next to Leah. If Jacob still wanted Rachel, he'd have to work another seven years.

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

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

I can almost hear the wistful yearning in her voice, "Now my husband will love me."

Leah was not the first woman to hope, "If I have his child, he will love me." But that's not the way love works.

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

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

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

I've read this chapter in Genesis dozens of times, but now my eyes froze at the list of Leah's sons, and then refocused on two.

Levi and Judah.

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

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

Including Jesus the Messiah.

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

Hope.

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

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

Oh, Lord. Grant that we may yearn deeply for your love.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

He Is Risen!

I posted this in October when I first saw the image in my mind. I don't often repeat posts or previously published essays, but I like this one so much, and it is so appropriate for the Holy Day, I decided to repeat it. Feel free to share it with others:
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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 I watched 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 flung their weapons aside 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.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What's So Good About Good Friday?

I wrote this several years ago. This seemed a good time to revisit it.
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This was not simply disappointment. It was gut-wrenching tragedy.

Their hopes, like precious china, lay shattered. Their dreams hung limp on a splintered cross. Glancing over their shoulders in fear with each step, the disciples wondered who would be next. For those who loved Him, darkness smothered Friday like a cold, damp woolen blanket.

And what was that Friday like for Christ?

It began with flogging. Roman soldiers fashioned a leather whip, studded with small rocks and bone. Every blow against Jesus’ back ripped open new strips of skin. His muscles and tendons quickly turned into a mass of quivering, bleeding flesh. Many prisoners died of shock and blood loss long before being nailed to the cross.

After the beating, Jesus dragged his cross to the execution site where soldiers dropped it on the ground and threw Him onto it. The spikes hammered through His wrists and feet tore through exquisitely sensitive nerves. Electrifying pain exploded along His limbs.

As He hung between heaven and earth, breathing became an all-consuming struggle. Gravity pulled inexorably on His diaphram, forcing Jesus to repeatedly push against His feet and flex His arms just to breathe. Yet, every movement heightened the strain on His ravaged nerves, and each breath forced His back against the splintered wood, reopening the raw wounds.

Every breath, every movement, every moment on the cross inflamed His torture.

For Jesus, for His disciples -- for anyone standing at the foot of the cross, Good Friday seemed anything but good.

What, then, is so good about that Friday 2000 years ago?

That Friday proved God’s faithfulness. As early as Genesis 3, the Lord promised the human family a redeemer, someone to set us free from the Serpent’s grasp, someone to take “captivity captive” to Himself.

On that Friday, Satan bruised God’s heel. But through Christ's cross, God crushed Satan’s head. The Serpent forever lost the authority to enslave anyone who wants to be free. His power is nullified by the blood of Christ (Revelation 12:11).

That Friday tore through sin’s impenetrable barrier between us and God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you, so that He does not hear” (59:2). But that Friday, God shattered the barrier. He rescued the prisoners. Laying our sins on Christ’s shoulders (Isaiah 53:5,6), the Father threw open the gates of reconciliation between us and Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).

That Friday proved God’s love for us. It is easy to read quickly over John 3:16 and not sense the searing emotions the Father suffered as He watched His Son agonize on that cross. But when we meditate on the Roman scourging, the spikes in His limbs, the flesh wounds -- perhaps we can better understand the personal nature of that verse -- “God so loved me . . that He gave.”

That Friday clothed us with Christ’s righteousness. The harlot, the thief, the murderer, the adulterer . . . think of it! There is no sin that cannot be cleansed by Christ’s blood. There is no sinner who cannot be made as righteous before God’s eyes as Jesus Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Finally -- if there can be a final point about Good Friday -- that Friday challenges us to repentance. When the crowds in Jerusalem learned it was their sins that nailed Jesus to the cross, “they were pieced to the heart.” In unison they cried out, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?” St. Peter responded, “Repent,” and three thousand were born into the kingdom (Acts 2:22-41).

Standing at the foot of Christ’s cross, nothing about Friday looked good. But no one knew Resurrection Sunday was coming . . . and with it, God’s redemptive plan conceived before the foundation of planet earth.

Good Friday? It was the best!