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

Monday, June 28, 2010

No Turning Back

And to another [Jesus] said, “Follow me.” But he replied . . . “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-62).

In the years – decades, actually – I’ve been a Christian, I’ve often pondered what it really means to follow Jesus.

I’ve learned through those years that no one can follow Christ without God’s grace to enable a person to even desire to follow. That’s why Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).

But I’ve also learned through those years that once drawn, following Christ means actively growing in our obedience to His commandments. After all, can I honestly say I follow Christ if I don’t steadily work at doing as He did and speaking as He spoke?

Following Jesus means living as separated to God as possible within the limitations of my sinful nature. Following Him means developing a habit and pattern of prayer, Scripture study and service to others.

But this past weekend our parochial vicar preached a homily that, I think, gets to the root of the question about following Jesus. That root centers around a heart-change brought about by a personal – and ongoing – decision to commit oneself to the journey of following Christ.

Our vicar said it this way: How can I follow? How must I follow? Before you know how or why, decide today to do it and not look back.

The uncommitted heart can know nothing.

The committed heart will find every door opened, every secret revealed, every grace supplied. For it is only by following the King of Kings and Lord of Lords with an undivided heart that you will find true and lasting peace in this life, and bliss beyond compare in the life to come.

Our priest’s words resonated with me, and remind me -- even as I write this – of Elijah’s challenge to the people on Mount Carmel: “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). The vicar’s words also remind me of a worship chorus I've sung for many years: I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back. Though none go with me, still I will follow. No turning back. No turning back.

Lists of how-tos and how-nots are good and necessary things to help people learn how to follow Christ. But without an underpinning, an undergirding . . . a foundation built upon a decision and growing commitment to follow Him, all our lists will eventually fade into lifeless routine.

Oh, Lord, grant us grace to fully commit to follow you.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Act Accordingly

So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

I received an email yesterday from our youngest son, Nathan. He’s 26.

“Today is the most important day of your life,” he wrote. “That sounds right. It sounds conventional and wise. It sounds like something I've been told hundreds of times . . . .”

“Consider the following scenario: Suppose that through some act of science or sorcery you had perfect foreknowledge that the day you would die is precisely 100 days from today. Knowing that, it is likely you would compile a list of things to accomplish, sort them by priority and then proceed diligently. As you progressed through each passing day a sense of urgency would no doubt arise – now only 90 days left – now only 80. 70. 10. 9. 8. Each passing day becoming more and more pivotal, each hour cherished with a deeper and greater jealousy until at last you came to the climactic final day. Could you find words to describe the value that day would have or what you would give for one more?”

“The truth is, while we may not know the number of our days, it is inexorable that our days are numbered. Tomorrow will be one less day than today . . . . [So,] act accordingly.”


As I read what I consider profound wisdom for someone so young – (I know people in their 70s who still haven't gotten it right) – as I read his email, Psalm 90:12 (above) dropped into my mind. And then my thoughts took me to another text of Scripture. This one in the New Testament. About the barn builder. You might remember the parable about him in St. Luke 12:16-21:

"The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, '. . . I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'”

Jesus then closed the parable with this warning: “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

I suppose the Lord could just as easily have added: So, act accordingly.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What Was He Thinking?

“Solomon also made a palace . . . for Pharaoh's daughter, whom he had married” (1 Kings 7:8).

So, I’m reading again in 1 Kings and came across this verse. And I wondered what was Solomon thinking? God graced him with magnificent wealth, unsurpassed wisdom and extensive political power.

So why didn’t he get it right about obedience?

It’s not like Solomon didn’t know better about taking foreign wives. He did. All Israelites knew what Moses taught about marrying outside the faith (e.g. Exodus 34:12-16).

Did Solomon ignore God’s law so he could form political alliances with surrounding nations? Or did he turn aside from God’s rule for a pretty face? Whatever the reason, he made a very wrong choice and compromised his obedience.

Of course, Solomon was no different than we are. Who hasn’t turned left or right when he or she should have walked straight? Who hasn’t rationalized disobedience to God to form social, political or work-related alliances?

Kings or servants, managers or laborers -- if we really believe the cost of compromise was more than we would want to pay, no one would disobey Him. In Solomon’s case, disobedience led to the kingdom’s division and tragedy in his home.

God has not changed. If you and I divert from His path, we can expect to pay for our compromises.

But, now that I think about it, what Christian would want it any other way?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Think I Know

. . . the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).

And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement (Leviticus 17:10-11).

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him (John 6:53-56).

I think I know
Why St. Paul told Christians at Corinth,
“Don’t participate in pagan communion.”
For somehow,
in some mysterious,
mystical way
their communion
joined them
with demons.

I think I know
why Moses warned Israel,
“Don’t drink sacrificial blood.”
For somehow,
in some mysterious,
mystical way
the life of the flesh
is in the blood,
and God did not want
His people
joined with animals.

I think I know
why Jesus commands us,
“Eat My flesh,
drink My blood.”
For somehow,
in some mysterious,
mystical way
Holy Communion joins the Christian
with Christ’s divinity.
It joins us with Christ’s
eternal life.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Elijah -- and Me

Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." And [Elijah] was afraid and arose and ran for his life . . . and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life . . . (1 Kings 19:1-4).

There is not a time that I read this vignette when I don’t wonder what got into Elijah. After all, the guy had just witnessed a stunning display of God’s power in the previous chapter.

Why did Elijah, after watching fire fall from the sky to lap up the water, stones and offering – why didn’t Jezebel’s threat elicit little more than a disdainful smirk from the prophet? I’d have thought he would have mocked the queen and said something like, “You know my address. Come and take your best shot.”

But that’s not how it happened. Instead, Elijah ran for his life.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too hard on Elijah. While it’s true most of us haven’t seen fire fall from heaven, many of us have seen the unmistakable hand of God in our lives and yet, when the next storm threatens, we cry out, “Lord, I’m the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too" (see 1 Kings 19:10).

I do that all the time.

I’m glad this story of Elijah’s dismal failure is recorded in Scripture. Without it, I’d think he was super-human, and I would give up trying to attain the relationship with God that he had.

St. James tells us in the New Testament, “Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours” (James 5:17), and these chapters in 1 Kings illustrate for us just how human Elijah really was. Perhaps more important, they illustrate just how accessible God really is.

“God knows our frame,” the Psalmist reminds us. “He is mindful that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). That promise in the Psalms, and the compassion of God toward Elijah in 1 Kings, are beacons in our fear – beacons to assure us God watches over us, protects us, draws us near, even when we forget He is there, and the power He exercises on our behalf.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some Sure-Fire Ways to Get Little (or Nothing) From Mass

I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD" (Psalm 122:1).

Most anyone who sits under the preaching of God's word will tell you the gospel message can make people uncomfortable. The reason is quite simple. God often requires us to change, and let's face it, living within the status quo is easier.

But what can a person do who, for reasons such as family tradition or social pressures, regularly attends Mass, but doesn't want to change? This is not simply an academic question. Ask someone in this unenviable position and you'll hear a sad story of warfare between the conscience and self-centered rebellion.

I have good news for those waging this battle. Just because you sit in church doesn't mean you have to come under conviction! You can attend church and still be insulated from the message. Apply the following suggestions and you'll find yourself adequately protected from the gentle (and not so gentle) urging of the Holy Spirit.

1. Go to bed late Saturday evening -- the later the better. And get out of bed early the next morning. Getting only a few hours sleep will guarantee fatigue during the Liturgy. And there's nothing like a fuzzy head to run interference for you when the homily gets too personal.

2. Time your arrival at the church to minutes before Mass begins. And be ready to leave as soon as the Liturgy of the Eucharist is over. Spending as little time as possible in God’s presence will greatly enhance your ability to avoid hearing from Him.

3. Find a seat as close to the back of the sanctuary as you can. It's much easier to play the role of spectator than participant in the back corner.

4. Don't open the Missal during the readings. And find fault with the way the readers pronounce certain words, or their accent, or their inflection. If you leave the missal closed, and you spend your time silently criticizing the readers, you won’t be able to pay attention to God’s word. If you don't pay attention, it's easier to avoid the Holy Spirit's whisper in your ear.

5. Don't participate in congregational prayer, recitation of the Creed, or song. Those three forms of worship have a nasty way of softening one's heart to the Holy Spirit. You may have to go through the motions of participating in order to avoid being rude, but you will discover the mind can be a wonderful ally. While faking your participation, you can plan the week's menu or your wardrobe for the coming work week. Be careful not to sing or recite too loudly because the mind might become momentarily confused and you may suddenly hear yourself singing about pizza. That would be embarrassing.

6. During the homily, take mental note of your surroundings. For example: What is the ratio of men to women in the service? How many guys are wearing suits? How many women are wearing dresses? Compare the ratio of those wearing glasses to those who do not. Think of the statistical data you can develop from these observations.

7. When you run out of things to note about the congregation, turn your attention to the matters awaiting you at home. When does that TV show start? Did you program the DVD to begin at the right time and on the correct channel? Shall you eat the left-over spaghetti for lunch, or just have sandwiches?

8. Bring a small notebook to Mass and jot down a grocery list or some other "to-do" items during the homily. This will help keep your mind off the message. Don't worry about what others might think if they notice you scribbling away. They will assume you're taking notes on what the pastor is saying.

Unfortunately, because of God's great love for you, even meticulous observation of these suggestions does not guarantee successful flight from Him. Despite the best intentions, you may succumb to His love.

Of course, worse things can happen.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Here I Am. Send Me.

They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money . . . because they acted with complete honesty (2 Kings 12:15).

I don’t know how many times I’ve read right past this verse as it if were merely part of the landscape. But this time in my journey through 2 Kings the significance of this extraordinary testimony captured my attention.

"Because they acted with complete honesty" pulsates with hope in the midst of chapters 9 through 14 that describe deception, decadence, immorality and desolation. That phrase offers light in a quagmire of darkness, harmony in the midst of discordant cacophony. Apparently, there was still a remnant of God’s people who chose to maintain their integrity and obey God at all costs, even while so many in their culture had turned to follow their own way.

Flash forward to today. What has changed? Deception, dishonesty and immorality stain the fabric of our society. Government, the media, entertainment . . . we can’t scan the news and not find a plethora of voices in our culture who insist that what was once considered darkness is really light, and what was once considered light is really darkness. Even within the church, dishonesty, hypocrisy, sexual perversions and intrigue hit the front pages with all-too frequent regularity. It is no wonder that so many ask why they should walk straight while multitudes zigzag. And it is fair to ask where is the one who lives to serve God in Spirit and truth?

Where, indeed.

The longer I serve Christ the more convinced I become that at the Great Judgment God will not ask me how well my society, or even my Church community lived. He will instead ask how I lived. Did I decide to follow Jesus? Though none went with me, did I still follow Him, wherever He led and whatever it cost? God has always looked for a chaste remnant in the midst of perversion and disobedience. He has always sought those who yearn to be lights in the lengthening shadows, men and women who stand with truth in opposition to those who stand with falsehood.

He has always looked for those who will respond daily to His call and say: “Here I am. Send me.”

Oh, Lord. Help us follow you, despite the cost.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Contemplating the Mystery of Christ Through Art

Usually the things I post here have to do with my own contemplations of Christ. Today, however, I want to share with you the contemplations of another.

As Nancy (my wife of 35 years) contemplates the mysteries and majesty of Jesus, her thoughts move in the direction of color, nuance and pattern. Log onto the link I provided and take a quiet, unhurried look at her expressions of faith: http://tinyurl.com/2a5tyqf

Here is a copy of the Press Release:
Artist NANCY MAFFEO of GIG HARBOR, WASHINGTON has received two Special Recognition Merit Awards for artwork in the "12th Annual Collage, Digital & Mixed Media Juried Online International Art Exhibition" hosted by Upstream People Gallery.

This international exhibition received approximately 200 entries from around the world and 40 artists were selected by the juror Laurence Bradshaw, Professor of Art at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, U. S. A. Professor Bradshaw states this about this specially recognized work:

"'NANCY MAFFEO of GIG HARBOR, WASHINGTON presents works of faith in her works as seen in the assemblage “Jesus I Trust In You” with text helping to discern the message. And in her piece “The Eternal Wound” she shows a kind of monstrance with the host indicating that it is truly the Body and Blood of the Lord."'

The exhibition will be featured online at http://www.upstreampeoplegallery.com/ and continue for 12 months, closing May 31, 2011.

The artist has provided a commentary about this specially awarded work:

“The Eternal Wound” came out of a need to express concepts and issues I had been exploring for several years: the eternal glory of Christ, and His body broken for us all. Initially, I was only interested in creating a raised place on the canvas and using that area as a starting place for a torso. The more I worked on the flesh tones, the more I wanted to isolate the image of an open wound. I had a circular frame which was a perfect fit. Its shape and decorative curves complimented the edges of the sculpted paint on the canvas. I liked the idea of a framed image. It was a natural outflow of my exploration of “frame” as a relief platform for assemblage, or as layers that are in themselves part of the over-all image. I added gold trim to the frame much in the same manner as a halo or monstrance. The result was gratifying and consistent with my desire to offer images that provoke and allow a starting place for reflective thought.

“Jesus I Trust In You” began as an exploration of the traditional image of the Divine Mercy painting. I narrowed my focus to the area of the heart. Then I coupled that image with one of the Sacred Heart, which I had been exploring for several months. The words, as a collage element, were a staring point for me. I was also exploring draping material and how I might make use of shear material over an entire surface. I worked on this piece for several weeks, but in the end decided it was a failed attempt. But I do not ever toss anything. A year later, I began using thick acrylic paint and gel embedded with various materials. I discovered a particular piece that was a perfect shape and color to compliment my “failed attempt” of a draped heart. That addition, and an infusion of a mixed red glaze seeping through the material, finally created the perfect contrast for the words, “Jesus I Trust In You.” I have found this piece personally satisfying and reflective."'

Further information about the work can be found by clicking on the virus-free links below: