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

Monday, May 31, 2010

He Delights In Us

[Jesus said to his disciples]: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth (John 16:12-13a).

[The Holy Spirit says of Himself] . . . then was I beside Him as his craftsman, and I was His delight day by day, playing before Him all the while, playing on the surface of His earth; and I found delight in the human race (Proverbs 8:30-31).

[Brothers and sisters]: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5).


This past Sunday’s Scripture readings have played in my mind since I heard them during the Mass. The more they played, the more I contemplated their interconnectedness. And the more I contemplated their connectedness, the more relaxed my spirit grew.

Jesus tells us through the reading in John that the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. That was not new information to me. I’ve known the Holy Spirit’s guidance through Scripture for nearly forty years. But I wondered what He was trying to teach me – if anything – through these particular readings.

And then I realized what it was.

God delights in us. More to the point, the Holy Spirit reminded me through the Proverbs text that while God delights in us, He also takes delight in me.

He considers me of great value. Even while I was shaking my fist in His face during my younger years, God loved me nonetheless. He loved me so much that He gave His Son to die for me (Romans 5:8).

And for you, too.

And because He takes delight in us, St. Paul could write the words of our second reading: All who have placed their faith in Christ stand before God justified (from a Greek word meaning “to be declared without guilt”).

Think of it for a moment. Those who approach God in humble faith through the sacrifice of Christ are justified – declared by God to be without guilt.

God’s not mad at us. He’s not looking to get even with us. To whip us into conformity. To teach us who’s boss. To throw us into hell.

The Holy Spirit took the time this weekend to remind me through these texts that He really, really delights in me. He loves me. Without condition. Without permutation. He delights in me. He loves me – even as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23).

And He feels the same way about you, too.

Oh, if only I – if only we – can mature in our faith to the point where that promise takes root – and blossoms – we will finally experience the confidence of heart that the Word of God offers us.

Oh, Holy Spirit. Please make it so.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mutually Exclusive Choices

Then his disciples approached and said to Him, "Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?" (Matthew 15:10).

As I read this text, a memory resurfaced of a Bible class I taught a few months ago. During the discussion the subject of abortion came up and so we talked about the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion, how it is viewed as a grave mortal sin. A short time later someone asked about Islam, and I shared a passage from Isaiah 19:18-25 which prophesies about the eventual salvation of Egypt, Israel and Assyria (modern day Iran).

The class ended about an hour later and many of the participants thanked me for teaching the class.

A few weeks later I received a call from the person who assigned the class to me. She reprimanded me for discussing what she said were “divisive” subjects about abortion and Islam. Although I explained I was simply teaching the Church’s position on abortion, and what Scripture teaches about the salvation of Egyptians, Jews and Iranians, she ordered me to refrain from talking in future classroom assignments about those particular “offensive” topics.

I hung up the phone feeling a mixture of anger, confusion and disappointment over what I considered -- and still consider -- such inexplicable leadership compromise.

And so my thoughts returned to the disciples in this text from Matthew: "Lord, do you not know that you offended the religious leaders by what you said?" And I imagined Jesus' response in modern paraphrase sounded something like this: “Ummm. And your point is?”

Before that phone conversation, I liked to believe Church leadership was more concerned about speaking truth than making people feel comfortable. After all, when has it ever been the Church's position to compromise or avoid telling the truth for fear of offending others? Was it not the Lord Jesus Himself who said He did not come to bring peace, but a sword, to set even family members against each other (Matthew 10:35-36)? Was it not St. Paul who said if he were more concerned about pleasing people than God, he could not call himself a bond-servant of Christ (Galatians 1:9-11)?

Bond-servants of Christ or People Pleasers. Proclaimers of truth, or compromisers. One or the other, but not both.

They each are mutually exclusive choices.

I wish I could say this kind of compromise and capitulation is limited only to a few. But it is not. In my nearly 40 years of worshiping in a variety of Protestant, Evangelical and now Catholic churches, I’ve seen, and continue to see across the Body of Christ, the same kind of political correctness infect congregations and leadership alike. It is stunning to see it over and over -- and equally as incomprehensible, especially in light of Jesus' uncompromising mandate to teach the whole world to obey His word (Matthew 28:20).

No wonder our nation is in a moral mess with so many Christians silent – silent – in the face of evil and sin. As King David said long ago: The wicked strut about on every side when vileness is exalted among the sons of men (Psalm 12:8).

And yet, despite it all, there is reason for hope. 2 Chronicles 7:14 holds this promise: If My people (i.e., the Church), 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 and forgive their sins and heal their land.

May God have mercy on us, forgive our moral cowardice and compromise, and give us another chance to make it right . . . another chance to seek Him and no other. Mother Mary, pray for us. St. Paul the Apostle, pray for us. St. Peter, first earthly head of the Church, pray for us.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Giving God First and Best

Now this is the law of the guilt offering: it is most holy” (Leviticus 7:1).

In my journey through Leviticus I relearned an important principle of worship and reverence -- one which I still too often forget. For example, in the seventh chapter we read of God's specific requirements for Israel’s offerings: They should be without defect, be the best the person had to offer, and should be the first fruits – not the second fruits – but the first and finest of the flock and harvest. And finally, the offerings were to be set apart specially and specifically for God.

And so I got to contemplating, if God commanded His people to set apart animals and plants as holy, how much more should Jesus Christ -- the Lamb of God -- be treated by God’s children as holy?

Scripture often refers to Christians as God’s children and Christ's friends. But perhaps because of the comfortable images those words generate, some of us might be tempted to blur the distinction between sacred and ordinary. God is “the man upstairs” instead of “our Father in heaven.” Jesus’ name becomes a marketing tool instead of a road map to salvation. Mass attendance becomes an opportunity to keep on God’s “good side” than to worship Him.

The Old Testament laws related to sacrifices and offerings illustrate God’s impeccable sacredness and holiness. And, of course, God has not changed. Angels still cover their eyes in His presence, and how much more should we who are reconciled to God by Christ’s blood, speak His name reverently, treat each other preferentially, and live our lives in as holy, blameless and as sacred a way as possible?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

On Holy Ground

“God called out to [Moses] from the bush, "Moses! Moses! . . . Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:4, 5).

From a distance, mountains stand majestically against the horizon. Walk on those same mountains and they appear unremarkable – layered with rocks, shrubs, trees, grasses and wild flowers.

From a distance, I'm sure the mountain mentioned here in Exodus appeared majestic. Up close, as Moses shepherded his sheep, I'm equally sure the mountainside appeared as unremarkable as any other.

But then God entered the unremarkable -- and His presence transformed it into a holy place. And Moses "hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6).

Fear is a good starting place when it comes to being in God’s presence.

Fear.

And reverence.

All Christians have the privilege to meet God in prayer and through the Scriptures. However, Catholic Christians recognize we also meet God physically, as Moses did – not in a burning bush, but in the consecrated bread and cup. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” St. Paul reminded the Corinthians. “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

When we approach Christ in the bread, it is appropriate to bow in reverence before Him. And when we approach, or pass by Christ in the cup, He is no less present.

And we are still on holy ground.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Come and See

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see" (John 1:45-46).


Little has changed in twenty centuries,
and still we ask,
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

And still the answer is,
“Come and see.”

Can Jesus renew my dreams,
forgive my past,
and restore my future?
“Come and see.”

Can the One from Nazareth bring joy to my despair?
“Come and see.”

Can He deliver from addiction?
“Come and see.”

Can He heal my home? My marriage?
“Come and see.”

Can He remove my anger?
Bitterness?
Shame?
“Come and see.”

Can He -- will He --
make me new,
wipe clean my slate,
wrap me in His arms
and whisper,
I love you with an everlasting love?
"Come and see."

For every doubt or fear,
chain of sin, or
sickness,
for every loneliness,
or guilt –
the final answer
has always been,
“Come and see . . .

Yes, come and see
what the Lord will do.”


“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light"
– Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Response

It is I who have chosen the Levites from the Israelites in place of every first-born that opens the womb among the Israelites. The Levites, therefore, are mine . . . (Numbers 3:12).


Of Israel’s twelve tribes,
why did God choose the Levites as priests?

We don’t know.


Of all the Levite families,
why did God choose Aaron as high priest?

We don’t know.


And --
I suppose --
more to the point –

It’s none of our business.


Oh! That makes me bristle.
Not my business.


Bristle, until I remember God’s message through Isaiah:
Shall the pot say to the potter, Why? *

Or Christ’s words to Peter:
What is that to you? **

Or Paul’s to the Romans:
Who are you to answer back to God? ***

My response to God’s choice
to use another
instead of me,

to promote another
instead of me

to call another
instead of me

ought simply be,
Lord,
I am Thy servant.


* Isaiah 45:9
** St. John 21:22
*** Romans 9:20

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

If Only They Had Done it Differently

Now the sons of Eli were wicked; they had respect neither for the Lord, nor for the priests' duties toward the people . . . . When Eli was very old, he heard repeatedly how his sons were treating all Israel (and that they were having relations with the women serving at the entry of the meeting tent) . . . So he said to them: ". . . it is not a good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading about you (1 Samuel 2:12-22).

Eli’s sons, priests themselves, scandalized the Jewish congregation with their sins. And Eli did little to stop them. So God took the discipline into His own hands, and in a very short time, Eli and his sons were dead.

As I once again read this story I wondered why the great prophet Samuel, who’d been raised in Eli’s home and witnessed the scandals – as well as God’s judgment – did not discipline his own sons when they, too, “turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:3).

And so, I suppose it should be no surprise that the Jewish people, scandalized by their religious leaders, sought something new. No longer satisfied with a theocracy, they clamored for a monarchy. No longer wanting – perhaps no longer trusting – their priests or prophets to lead them, they demanded instead a political leader to guide them (1 Samuel 8:6).

I wonder what Israel’s history would have looked like if Eli – and later, Samuel – had disciplined their sons when they persisted in their sins, if they had removed them from their positions of title and office. Would the congregation have sought others to lead them? Would Israel’s history been less pock-marked by loss of faith? Would the nation have suffered the devastating division that struck them within only two generations?

If only the religious leaders had done it differently.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Cloud and a Fire, Then and Now

It was always so: during the day the Dwelling was covered by the cloud, which at night had the appearance of fire. Whenever the cloud rose from the tent, the Israelites would break camp; wherever the cloud came to rest, they would pitch camp. At the bidding of the LORD the Israelites moved on, and at his bidding they encamped . . . (Numbers 9:16-18).


Israel didn’t know how easy they had it.

God told them
when to go,
and stay,
and for how long.

I often look to God
for guidance.

Some sign
to stay
or go –
to leave
or linger.

But at times
all I sense
is silence.

So I seek counsel of others,
pray,
make my best guess –
and envy Israel’s
cloud
and
fire.

Yet looking back
through the lens of time
I do see His guidance
in a song,
a scripture,
a thought,
a circumstance . . .

Each a cloud
or fire.
Each a sign to
go or linger.

I simply didn't
and still don't
recognize it
at the time.