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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

While We Had the Time

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come . . . (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

As I read Solomon’s words my thoughts traced back to an article I’d read years ago about former Beatle George Harrison. A year before his death at age 58, Harrison confessed that the last forty years of his life passed so quickly, they seemed like the snap of his fingers.

I wouldn’t say my last forty years passed that fast. They seem more like a few months than a quick snap. Nonetheless, forty years in a few months is pretty fast, and for those who take the time to consider the clock’s haste, Harrison’s comment resonates with wisdom.

And with warning.

Solomon discovered near the end of his life what many who are older try to convince those who are younger: Like a relentless drum-beat, our calendar pages drop like autumn leaves in a wind storm; and the time will come, for each of us, when our time runs out.

When that happens, we will be glad to have remembered – and served – our Creator.

While we had the time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reasoning with God

As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness . . . then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever . . . (1 Kings 9:4-5).

Sometimes God confuses me. Like in this text, for example. As I read it, my memory took me back to the 11th chapter of 2 Samuel which records David’s adultery with Bathsheba, and his murder of her husband Uriah.

That’s why God’s message to Solomon here in First Kings is confusing. And – now that I think about it more carefully – maybe also comforting.

It’s confusing because although God gave David great wealth, power, and authority – and David repaid God by choosing to follow his own lusts instead of obeying God – the Lord nonetheless called David a man of integrity and uprightness.

God’s comment can also be comforting because it reveals the incomprehensible willingness of God to forgive everyone who confesses and repents of his or her sins. Regardless of the enormity of those sins.

Here is part of David’s confession after the Bathsheba and Uriah incident:

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge . . . Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me (Psalm 51:1-11).

It is true that David suffered temporal punishment for his sins. You can read about it in the next several chapters of 2 Samuel. But because of his repentance, God removed from David the eternal consequences of his sin -- which would have been unimaginably worse.

What better comfort could there be for those of us who want to do right but so often do wrong, who think we’re beyond hope for forgiveness from a holy God? Temporal discipline in this life? Yes. Forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life with our holy God? Of course.

The good news in this text is God doesn’t define “integrity of heart and uprightness” as sinless perfection, but rather as a willingness to repent, turn from sin and throw ourselves on God’s mercy.

And so, God says to us through the length and breadth of Scripture, Come now, and let us reason together. . .  Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow . . . (Isaiah 1:18); and, If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Friday, July 23, 2010

It is Good To Remember

. . . the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Then [they] . . . will remember Me . . . how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me . . . and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations (Ezekiel 6:8-9).

As I receive Holy Communion each week,
I try to quiet my mind and remember what Jesus did –
the whip
the blood
the cross
the nails
the thorns
the spear.

But I don’t so often take time to remember
why He did it;
And therefore I miss
the richness
of the
of God.

But when I recently read St. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth,
I took a moment to remember
the darkness I was before Christ –
and the darkness
I am without Him.

I remember the baby I slaughtered in the womb.
The young women I turned into whores and adulteresses.
The lies I told to gain advantage over others.
The robberies I committed to get what I didn’t earn.
The fledgling faith of friends I destroyed by my arrogant, self-justifying philosophies.

The memories – when I allow them to surface – hurt.

Very much.

And I loathe myself,
I grieve,
for the wickedness in my past.

But the memories also prove –
they undeniably demonstrate –
the wholly incomprehensible
grace of God,
love of God,
mercy of God,

who sent His only Son
to carry the full weight,
the full punishment,
the full and horrible penalty that I –
that I
so richly deserve
for my sins,

so God could grant me forgiveness.
And with it,
eternal life.

It is good
to remember.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Not So Successful

If someone, without being aware of it, commits such a sin . . . . the priest shall then make atonement for the fault which was unwittingly committed, and it will be forgiven (Leviticus 5:17-18).

As I read this passage in Leviticus, my thoughts raced back to 1972. I came to Christ in my early twenties after a life steeped in immorality, and from the moment of my conversion, I determined to avoid even the near-occasion of sin.

And at first, I thought myself successful.

However, a few months later I asked God to show me any sin still lingering in my life. I expected a clean report. At worst, perhaps a minor sin or two. But what He unveiled was so dramatic, so disturbing, so disillusioning, I still remember it thirty-eight years later.

Attitudes and thoughts, words and behaviors surged through my memory. Wave after wave, the images ebbed and flowed. I slumped from my knees prostrate before God, ashamed and bewildered at how many things I’d done wrong – just within the past twenty-four hours.

I think people have an uncanny ability of self-deception, to stand in a sewer convinced it‘s clover, to look at darkness believing it is sunlight. The prophet Jeremiah knew the phenomenon: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The Psalmist asked God, “Probe me, God, know my heart . . . see if my way is crooked, then lead me in the ancient paths” (Psalm 139:23-24). And St. Augustine confessed, “I had known [my iniquity] but deceived myself, refused to admit it, and pushed it out of my mind” (Confessions, book VIII).

With slippery ease, we convince ourselves of the clover or the light, never recognizing our true condition. That is why we are prudent to regularly ask the Holy Spirit to show us our sins – especially those hidden from our eyes.

And prepare to fall prostrate.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Would Be Nice to Find Out

And [God] said, “ . . . . Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate" Genesis 3:11 13 (NASB).

Why is it so difficult for so many of us to admit our guilt to God? What is so hard about saying to Him, "I’ve sinned"?

Maybe pride stands in our way. We refuse to accept the notion that we are as bad as Scripture says we are. So we rationalize our disobedience with well-thought-out excuses and rehearse them so often we begin to believe our own stories.

Or perhaps fear keeps us aloof. We think if we do confess our sins, His discipline won’t be tempered by His mercy. So we hide the depth of our sins even from ourselves – hoping that maybe God Himself won’t notice them.

I wonder if things would have been different for our original parents if they had been certain of God’s love for them. If they had they known in their inner core that nothing they could do would separate them from His deep affection for them, would they have tried to hide from God – and then when He found them, shift the blame for their sins to another?

It’s a rhetorical question, I know.

But . . . is it?

I wonder how my relationship with God would change if I was convinced of His mercy which is rooted in Christ’s blood. How would my relationship change if I really trusted in His unconditional love for me – and that His discipline was simply an extension of His compassion? Would I be as quick to rationalize my sins or blame others for them?

I don’t know.

But it would be nice to find out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Only Christ

For it is I, the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of the Egyptians and freed you from their slavery, breaking the yoke they had laid upon you and letting you walk erect. (Lev 26:13)

Sin is a merciless master.

It binds us with chains
tighter than titanium.
It takes us
where we do not want to go,
keeps us
longer than we want to stay,
costs us more
than we want to pay.

And only Christ –
not our virtue
Only Christ –
not our character,
Only Christ –
not our works.
Only Christ –
with His blood,
can rescue the penitent
from sin’s mastery,
break its chains,
and set us erect.

Only Christ.

And only to the penitent.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Throwing Jesus Over a Cliff

The other day I read a passage in Luke 4 that got me thinking of an essay published in my book, Lessons Along the Journey. I thought it might be good to adapt the essay for this blog.

Whom would you compare me with, as an equal, or match me against, as though we were alike? . . . I am God, there is no other; I am God, there is none like me. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand, I accomplish my every purpose (Isaiah 46:5-10).

As I sat one morning on my couch and pondered the idea of God’s absolute control over our every circumstance, a question slipped into my mind: Is God, who is in control of all things, good all the time and in all circumstances?

And I remembered a passage from St. Luke’s gospel about the Lord’s visit to Nazareth. The people in Jesus’ hometown challenged Him to work miracles for them as He’d done in other cities.

I could understand their argument. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. The people asking for miracles were His childhood friends and neighbors. He’d been in their homes, and they’d been in His. Why shouldn’t they expect Him to heal their sick and touch their hurting as He’d done in other cities?

But they learned, as I’ve learned – and have had to relearn time without number – God doesn’t always do what we want Him to do.

Indeed, I tell you,” Jesus answered, “there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:25-27).

In other words, God does what He chooses and for whom He chooses. And no one – not even Jesus’ neighbors and childhood friends – has a right to expect or demand He do otherwise.

But Jesus’ remark infuriated them. In a flood of passion, the crowd “rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill . . . to hurl him down headlong” (Luke 4:28-29).

Seems to me, people haven’t changed much since that day centuries ago in Nazareth. Many still grow bitter toward God over withered dreams and crushed hopes. They rail against Him because an accident took someone they love, or their marriage crumbled, or their child wasn’t healed, or . . . .

And so, unable to throw the Lord over a cliff, they throw away their faith instead.

It’s a danger we all face.

Like Martha who wept at the Lord’s feet over her brother Lazarus’ death, I often wonder why God is silent when I need Him to speak to my heart. I wonder why He says no when I need so much for Him to say yes. Why does He work miracles for others, but not for me?

In my many years of walking with Christ, I’ve come to recognize these questions are critical questions of faith -- and I don’t think God will let any of us gloss over them. Our maturity as Christians depends on how we answer those questions, because each time we don’t receive what we ask, each time we get knocked to the ground, we face two choices: throw Christ over the cliff, or persevere in our faith that God will work grace into our circumstances – regardless of how things look or feel.

In her short life – she was only twenty-four when she died – St. Therese of Lisieux discovered, “Everything is a grace. Everything is the direct effect of our Father's love – difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs – everything. Because through them she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events, to the heart that loves, all is well.”

The answer to the question, Is God good all the time and in all circumstances? is rooted in what St. Therese can teach those who listen. When doubts hammer our heart into the ground – God is good. When tragedy explodes through our life – God is good. When all of hell itself rises against our soul and overwhelms our strength – in all circumstances and at all times, God is good.

We come to that conclusion because it is simply not possible for Him to be anything else.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

De Jure, De Facto

They claim to know God, but by their deeds they deny him . . . (Titus 1:16).

I recently relearned a couple of Latin phrases: de jure and de facto.

De jure refers to what a rule or law actually states, while de facto refers to how that rule or law is actually practiced. For example, there is a highway in the middle of nowhere in Montana where the speed limit is – de jure – 70 mph. But sit by the side of the road a while and you'd realize the speed limit is – de facto – 85.

I think Baptism is a good example of theological de jure and de facto in the Church. Catholics know Baptism brings a person into the salvation of Christ. We become God’s child. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit to live holy lives.

That’s the de jure position of Scripture and the Church.

For some Catholics, the de facto practice of their baptismal faith is, however, quite different. To hear and to watch them, one might conclude they believe because they are baptized and sealed by the Holy Spirit, they are eternally secure. They are forever God’s child – and so can do as they wish, believe as they wish, even if so doing and believing contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture and the Church.

In other words, they believe de jure they are Christians by their baptism, but they live de facto in sin as atheists.

But is that why God sent His Son to a torturous death, so we could live as we wish? Is that what God meant when He commanded, “Be holy even as I am holy”?

If our world ever needed Christians to unite their de facto to God’s de jure, it is now.

And we would all do well to heed the warning of Scripture, If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries. . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).