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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

If Necessary, Use Words

Let those who wait for you, Lord of hosts, not be shamed through me. Let those who seek you, God of Israel, not be disgraced through me (Psalm 69:7, NAB).

In the nearly forty years I’ve served Christ I’ve often discovered talking the Gospel is much easier than walking it.

Gospel-talk flows easily across my lips when I share my faith with others. Gospel-walk is a different story. Walking my talk means I must avoid imitating some first century Christians whom St. Paul rebuked when he wrote: God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you (Romans 2:24). It seems from the context of his letter to the Romans, more than just a few Christians in that city did a lot of right talking, but not enough right walking.

Gospel-walking requires I be daily circumspect about my lifestyle so I don’t lead others astray or bring discredit to the Gospel. Daily decisions such as how I dress, or speak, where I find entertainment, or how I behave when no one is watching, all need to be modeled after what Jesus taught and how He lived.

Too much is at stake for me -- or you -- to live according to the moral norms of the culture instead of those moral norms taught in Scripture and clarified by the Church. The people we meet each day have the right to see the gospel in us before they hear it from us.

St. Francis of Assisi must have understood that principle when he encouraged the Church, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Only an Allegory?

See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily (Colossians 2:8-9).

If Adam and Eve are not
historical individuals,
but simply a story
to illustrate humanity’s turn from God,
then for whom did God kill the animal
to cover their sin with blood
and their bodies with clothing*
and which foreshadowed
the Lamb of God,
whose blood on a cross
would cover our sins?

If Adam and Eve are only an fable,
then from whom do we inherit original sin?
And what could St. Paul have meant when he wrote:
“For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life?**
Or what could the Apostle have meant when he wrote:
“Through one person sin entered the world, and through sin death,”***
if our first parents were simply
an allegory?

If Adam and Eve
are only an allegory,
can we be certain
Jesus’ resurrection
is not also an allegory,
a fable to illustrate life’s triumph over death?
Or can we be sure
the changing of bread and wine during Mass
into the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ
is not also an allegory to illustrate
God's presence with us?

But more serious is the question,
if Adam and Eve are not
historical individuals,
then perhaps He whom is called “God”
is also not really historical –
but only an allegory . . .

for what purpose,
one can only guess.

*Genesis 3:21
** 1 Corinthians 15:22
*** Romans 5:12

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nothing More To Hide

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Most times when I read this verse, I think about myself.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at me. In my dress shirt and pants I appear trim and athletic. But you’ll not catch me wearing a bathing suit. Age has taken its pound of flesh from my self-image and molded several around my midsection. Love handles, they’re called.

I hate them.

But at 60 years old, I’ve learned to compensate. I never take my shirt off in public.

Hiding behind clothes reminds me of my younger days when I didn’t need to conceal bulging flesh. I weighed 150 pounds of muscle and proudly strutted shirtless along the beach. But even while I exposed my physique, I hid a lot of other things behind a wardrobe of my own making.

For a while I wore intellectualism and various self-centered philosophies like a suit of armor. My two favorite outfits were: “All religions lead to the same place,” and “as long as no one gets hurt, it doesn’t matter how we live.”

Then for a time I clothed myself with atheism -- and for good reason. If God didn’t exist, then I had no one to whom I would ultimately answer. I could do what I pleased -- so long as I didn’t get caught.

A few years later, when I accepted the likelihood of God’s existence, I wrapped myself in a robe of religion. I memorized the Ten Commandments (to show God I was serious) and performed good deeds as often as it was convenient to do so.

As I continued changing wardrobes I never suspected how threadbare my clothes had become. Only when I discovered the gospel of Christ did I recognize my nakedness. To make things worse, God stood me in front of His mirror . . . the Scriptures.

I cringed at what I saw.

My reflection sagged under the weight of every fold and crease of my sins - thefts, immorality, pride, blasphemy, drunkenness, and my baby whom I killed by abortion.

I wanted to cover myself, to do anything to hide my hideous appearance. But there was nowhere to go. Nothing to wear. At the time I didn’t know the Biblical term, but I needed a conversion of heart, a rebirth (St. John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3). I needed to become a new creation, (2 Corinthians 5:17), to exchange my filthy clothes for Christ’s robes of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But . . . enough about myself.

Are you like me? If you're trying to hide something from God, I can tell you from experience, you may as well give up. He sees through every fabric and every layer of excuse you slip on to cover your sins. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight," Scripture tells us. “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

So, since He sees it all anyway, why continue the charade? Why not just unload all that burdensome weight and let God embrace you in His incomprehensible and warmly intimate love? “If anyone is in Christ,” St. Paul wrote, “he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means God offers us a new heart and a new life. And Isaiah urged, be clothed "with garments of salvation and arrayed . . . in a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). That means no one has to live with the old clothes, because God spread His arms on a cross to offer us spotless garments, an eternal and flawless remedy available only in Jesus Christ.

All we have to do is stop our cover-ups, make an honest and humble confession . . .

And then start obeying Him.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From Fire to Ashes

The fire on the altar is to be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest shall put firewood on it. On this he shall lay out the holocaust and burn the fat of the peace offerings. The fire is to be kept burning continuously on the altar; it must not go out (Leviticus 6:5-6).

The smoke never stopped. Night and day, it rose toward heaven. From every corner of the camp the people could see it in the distance. It always reminded them Whose they were, and to Whom they belonged.

They couldn't escape the message, but the message was always in danger of losing its power. And after a time, that’s what happened. The special became routine. Holy awe waned into indifference. The perpetual smoke became more a token of religion than an evidence of faith. Even before they crossed the Jordan, Israel fell into spiritual lethargy and everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Deuteronomy 12:8).

Israel was not alone in her tendency to drift from awe to boredom. Throughout ancient and modern history, humanity, like sheep, has more often than not wandered from the fires of faith to the ashes of religion.

Even we are at risk.

While the Lord Jesus continually offers intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), we can lose our passion for Him. Our worship can tend toward religious ceremony rather than inspire the flames of faithful devotion.

Israel’s fire did not need to cool. Neither does ours. The remedy available to Israel is the same for God’s people today: “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the sinner forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts . . . ” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Temples

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
(1 Corinthians 6:19)


Isn’t it curious
that the holy,
awesome,
magnificent God
thinks us so precious,
so lovely,
so worth His attention
that He
literally
lives
in us,
makes us a temple
for His Holy Spirit.

Yet, knowing this,
so many of us,
think
ourselves worthless.
We listen to lies
that whisper
“Can’t”
“Won’t”
“Impossible”
“Failure.”

While all the while,
the Holy Spirit rests quietly in His temple,
yearning that we see ourselves
as He sees us.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Debating the Armor

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

It astounds me when Christians – especially teachers – speak fluently about God’s mysteries, but then turn around and theorize the supernatural into something comprehensible.

No surprise, then, that they speculate (many assert) such things as Isaiah or Daniel didn’t write the books ascribed to them. Moses didn’t write the Torah. The Exodus didn’t happen as described. And Jesus didn’t say what the Gospel writers record Him as saying.

And I wonder, at what point do they ever stop rationalizing the supernatural and accept that God’s ways are above ours? When do they take to themselves the words of people like St. John Chrysostom who said, God is “the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable”? Or St. Augustine’s: “If it can be understood, it is not God”? Or St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught, “Concerning God, we cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not. Whatever can be understood . . . is less than God”?

Several years ago I imagined myself on a beach, facing the shore. I held a glass of water in my hands and I still remember thinking, “I have here all I need to know about Jesus.”

And then I felt water circling my feet, and I heard the sound of gentle waves breaking toward me. When I turned I saw the Pacific ocean, as deep as it was wide, stretched before me to the horizon.

I looked back at the glass of water and realized how utterly silly I had been.

St. Paul, arguably the greatest intellect in Church history, wrote, “And when I came to you brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. But I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Centuries earlier, the psalmist wrote, "My heart in not proud, nor my mind lofty, nor do I involve myself in great matters or in things too difficult for me . . ." (Psalm 131). And the Lord Jesus said, "Unless you become as children you shall not enter at all into the kingdom of God" (Matthew 18:3).

Sometimes I wonder if those who debate the supernatural nature of Scripture are looking at the shore and holding a similar glass of water.

During my many years walking with Christ I have met teachers in the Church who, in an honest attempt to answer questions about the Scriptures, analyzed, dissected and refined away the supernatural authorship, writing and transmission of God’s word until it lost its power to change and to save lives.

I have a seminary degree and have studied the Biblical texts in their original languages. I know Biblical research is a critically important adjunct to our Christian faith. St. Luke appealed to research when he wrote his two letters to Theopholus (see Luke 1 and Acts 1). And St. Peter admonished his readers to closely attend to the letters written by St. Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16). But at what point does scrutiny and analysis rob us of things only faith can provide?

When His disciples tried to prevent parents from bringing their children to Jesus, the Lord rebuked His disciples and said: “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it" (Luke 18:16-17).

Children have faith in the supernatural because their minds are not cluttered by what their eyes and ears tell them. But then they grow into adults, and many lose their childlike trust because faith cannot appeal to the senses. Faith is a supernatural gift from God. As someone once said, “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”

The blessed men and women of Catholic history are role models for the 21st century Church because of their uniquely intimate relationships with God. I doubt they gained such intimacy because they tossed aside the supernatural in favor of the natural. Their relationships matured from adults into the faith of children because they sought to know nothing else but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

I will let the Ph.Ds, the Th.Ds, and LL.Ds hypothesize away the supernatural as they wish. And I will ignore them. The night is almost upon us. We don’t have time to debate the supernatural armor of our warfare (see Ephesians 6:10-17). The fields are white to harvest.

Someone has to get out there and rescue the perishing.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

SHMILY

This is another essay I published in one of my books. I thought it might be helpful to post it here today.
------------------------

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (St. John 3:16).

It’s easy to find the story of SHMILY. Laura Jeanne Allen published the anecdote of her grandparents’ mysterious word in a 1999 Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul. Since then, SHMILY – an acronym for “See How Much I Love You” – has raced across the world through the power of the internet.

During their 50 years of marriage, Andrew and Alice McAndrew’s love for each other found expression in hundreds of ways. They stole gentle kisses in the kitchen, held hands at every opportunity, and spoke their devotion to each other with their eyes. They knelt each day in church to meet with God, whom they knew to be the source of their love. They bowed their heads before each meal, acknowledging Him as the source of their sustenance.

Like many couples who have lived together for many years, they could end each other’s sentences, sense one another’s moods, and meet each other’s needs before those needs were even spoken.

For the greater part of their half-century marriage, Andrew and Alice passed See-How-Much-I-Love-You messages to each other like a sacred game of tag. They left notes scrawled with SHMILY on dashboards and car seats, under pillows and traced in the fireplace ashes. They wrote the word in the steam left on the mirror after a hot shower, and carved it into bars of soap. One time, Alice unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper and wrote the word on the last sheet.

During their last years together, breast cancer hung above their heads like a dark and ominous cloud. But the disease couldn’t cast a shadow on their love for each other. She held onto her husband’s steady hand as they continued their morning walks to church. She often whispered to her grandchildren how good-looking her husband was, and that she “knew how to pick ‘em.”

When her strength waned and forced her to remain indoors, Andrew painted their room yellow so she could feel surrounded by sunshine. When the cancer finally took her life, the family gathered for the funeral where, to no one’s surprise, they saw Grandpa’s final love note written on the pink ribbons of the funeral bouquet: SHMILY.

One of my favorite Scripture passages is from the book of Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands . . .” (Isaiah 49:15-16, NASB).

Most people who have seen a crucifix know of the placard placed by Pontius Pilate above our Lord’s head (John 19:19-22). It holds the acronym INRI – the first letters of the Latin phrase, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

When I heard about SHMILY, my imagination framed for me two lovers who had grown old together, who deeply cherished each other, and now Andrew suffered the loss of his life mate. Then, a moment later, my mind’s eye turned in another direction. It was there that I saw our Savior. I saw His hands nailed to the cross beams, His feet to the wood, the crown of thorns pressed into his forehead. And above His head, I saw the inscription on the placard:

It read, SHMILY.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Taken Captive

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6)


I expect to hear it from non-Christians. And I do, quite often. The Bible is not inspired by God, they say. Men wrote down the stories they heard, stories rooted in hearsay, tradition and a lust for political power. God had little – or nothing – to do with it.

I expect to hear that kind of argument from non-Christians. But I am always surprised – and disappointed (angered is probably a better description) – when I hear it from Christians. Especially from Christian teachers, writers and pastors.

In the past few weeks I’ve run across this kind of rationale from three different leaders in the Church. The reason for their dismissal of the full and transcendent inspiration of Scripture runs the gamut from believing the Torah (Five Books of Moses) were not written by Moses because there is evidence of a variety in writing styles among those books, to believing St. Luke wrote his gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem because Jesus’ warning about Jerusalem’s destruction (chapter 21), could not have been spoken by Him before it occurred. St. Luke, they argue, put the words into Jesus’ mouth to make it appear as a prophecy – when in fact, it was simply history. It doesn’t seem to matter to those who say this that their argument makes St. Luke a liar.

Much of what I’ve heard from these teachers in the last few weeks has focused on the words of Jesus in the Gospels. Essentially, the argument goes like this: The gospels were written decades after the Lord lived (which is true), and each writer wrote his gospel to address a specific 1st century Christian community (another true statement). But, they say – and here is where their philosophy goes dangerously off-center – the gospel writers put words into Jesus’ mouth so they could address social problems in those communities by using Jesus’ words as their authority.

Another way of saying it is this: The words of Christ were modified in the gospels to fit the needs of the community to whom the gospels were written. But the problem with that idea, followed to its logical conclusion, is that one can make a valid argument against using the gospels to guide 21st century Christian faith and morals because we live in a different time and culture.

In my nearly 40 years of walking with Christ, I have repeatedly witnessed how denial of the transcendence of Scripture across cultures and across time has always seduced people to ultimately reject Scripture as the foundation for Christian faith and morals.

How can anyone know for sure if God loves us if we can't trust the promises in Scripture to actually be Christ’s words – and, just as vital – that His words reach beyond first century culture and time? How can we believe God expects holiness from us if we can't trust the warnings in the Gospels are really Christ’s words? How can we trust the Church’s teaching that Jesus established apostolic succession through St. Peter if we can’t trust those words in Matthew 16:17-18 were Christ’s, and not a later addition to satisfy an agenda of some religious/political group? If, as is taught by some teachers in the Church, many stories in Scripture are simply allegories to illustrate a spiritual truth, then how can we be certain – for example – the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is not simply an allegory to teach the importance of sharing with others, or how can we know for sure Jesus’ resurrection is not simply an allegory to illustrate life triumphs over death?

Late in September of this year, the Pew Research Foundation published a poll examining the religious knowledge of Americans. Their findings? Atheists know more about Christian faith than either Protestants or Catholics. And equally as telling, nearly half of Catholics polled do not believe the Eucharist is the very Presence of Jesus. They believe, instead, the Eucharist is simply a symbol of Christ’s body and blood.

But how can they be blamed when their teachers tell them – perhaps not verbatim, but by implication – they ought not believe their Bible is the transcendent word of God, but simply a compilation of the philosophies of men who modified Scripture to support their 1st century agendas?

Perhaps the tendency of some to dilute the timelessness of Scripture is one reason the Lord Jesus warned, “. . . everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall" (Matthew 7:24-27).

And St. Paul wrote to the church at Colossae: See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world 3 and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).

(More to follow in subsequent posts to this blog).