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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ready for the Wedding

. . . the sheep hear His voice; and He calls his own sheep by name . . . . (John 10:3).

I remember sitting in the chapel on the Yokosuka Naval Base nearly 40 years ago during Sunday morning worship service. And I still remember squirming in my pew as some guy stood on the platform and sang a hymn to Christ. Part of the lyrics were, “I love you, Jesus.”

I felt oddly uncomfortable to hear a man profess his deep love for another man.

Thankfully, my faith matured over the years. Now I wonder why any Christian would not publicly proclaim his or her love for Jesus. I love Him. Deeply. Intimately. Emotionally. Physically. With my mind, heart, soul, and strength. He is my best friend. My confidant. My lover. My . . . yes, my Bridegroom.

For as long as I have been a Christian – since 1972 – I’ve known the Church is the Bride of Christ. Scripture says so. But in recent years I have heard some in the Church opine that while the Church is Christ’s bride, individual Christians are not.

But who is it that comprises the Church if not individuals? To think otherwise is analogous to saying “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” (John 3:16) – but He did not give His son for individuals, like me. Or you. To reduce the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7) to the community, and remove the individuals within the community is like saying Jesus did not seek the one lost sheep from the ninety-nine; that He didn’t search for the one coin lost among the many; that He didn’t seek the one prodigal from the family. It is like saying the Church has a relationship with Christ, but individuals cannot. It is like saying when St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (5:25), “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” he did not mean to say Jesus gave Himself up for me.

Of course Jesus gave Himself for me! I am the reason He died. And Jesus gave Himself for you, too. You are the reason Jesus died.

Yes, God addresses the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church in the New. But it is equally true God had a personal relationship with individuals in both groups: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Peter, James, Paul, John.

Isaiah wrote: As a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:5) Zephaniah added, The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy. He will renew you in His love. He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy (Zephaniah 3:17) And the Holy Spirit, writing of the future Marriage Supper of the Lamb, spoke through Solomon to individuals within the Church: Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. For behold, the winter is past. The rains are over and gone. The flowers have appeared in the land and the time has arrived for singing. The fig tree has ripened its figs and the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along (Song of Songs 2:10-13).

Jesus loves me and you – individuals. That is why we can each have an individual love relationship with Jesus. And those who love Him are members individually of the Church and individually Christ’s bride. That's why St. Paul told the people in the Church at Corinth: Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:27).

How does that work, to be the Church and also part of it? I don’t know.

But neither do I understand any of the mysteries of God. It is simply a wonderful truth I know to be true because Scripture says it from one end of the book to the other.

Oh, how wonderful is the Savior's love that He would make me and you -- sinners as we are -- His bride!

Let's get ready for the wedding.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Circumcision and Abortion

Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:44-46).

I had a disturbing internet exchange with some strangers yesterday. A Facebook friend posted an article about the proposed San Francisco ban on circumcision that will make its way to the ballot.

I responded that I find it curious that so many people are concerned about cutting off a boy’s foreskin and yet at the same time be so nonchalant about slicing apart little boys and girls bodies in the womb during an abortion.

That started a minor firestorm. One woman responded, “I'll keep my scalpels off your body, you keep your filthy religion off mine. Sound good?”

I am not sure what caused her to knee-jerk into the accusation of religious-mongering (I hadn’t brought God into the discussion). But there it was. The gauntlet was down.

I tried to redirect the discussion and responded, “It doesn't require faith in God to know that what is in the womb is a human being. That is science. And cutting it apart is cruel and inhuman punishment. That is truth.”

A moment later a guy entered the fray with something equally argumentative about sperm and DNA and how the fetus is not actually alive  To which I suggested the two search the internet for key words such as “fetal development” (such as here and here).

The woman shot back (clearly without bothering to read anything about fetal development) that the fetus doesn’t feel pain until late in the pregnancy, and that the fetus is not conscious. I responded if that is the criteria we use to assess life, then we are in great danger as a people.

Within minutes, I was accused of being insensitive to the “plight of millions of women and their families around the world,” and I was “too (expletive) stupid”  and that I am “wasting air someone else could be using.”

In other words, society would be better off if I were dead.

I bowed out of the discussion that was clearly going nowhere.

But I thought a while about the virulence hurled at me by strangers when I asked how anyone can be concerned about circumcision, and not recognize hypocrisy in their pro-abortion position.

I know nothing of the religious faith of the people who called me stupid and wished me dead. I assume they do not consider themselves Christians. But that is not necessarily a valid assumption. I have met far too many people who call themselves “Christian” and “Catholic” and “Protestant” who not only support abortion, but vote for candidates who are unabashedly pro-abortion.

If Scripture is true, and Church teaching has any influence on how we live our Christian faith, then a pro-abortion sympathy is an eternally deadly position for a Christian to hold. If we feed the poor and visit those in prison, as Jesus said in the passage above, but we do nothing to protect the unborn – indeed, if we (God forbid!) actively or passively promote abortion – will we avoid the eternal punishment Jesus warned about in that passage?   

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus warned, “But only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

I expect people who deny Jesus as Lord to rationalize away the idea that abortion is nothing less than wickedness and worthy of eternal punishment. But those who claim Jesus to be their Lord ought to pay very close attention to His warnings.

As St. Paul put it: Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. (Galatians 6:7)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Who Else But God?

Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God . . . otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply . . . then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God . . . [and] you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth . . . (Deuteronomy 8:11-18).

It happens so often
I shouldn’t be surprised to hear it
from those who should know better,
who boast of their intellect
and abilities –
even ‘good luck’
when they succeed.

And don’t give God
more than a cursory nod
at their success.

But who else but God,
who lovingly orchestrates
and people
and circumstances . . .

Who else but God,
drops thoughts into our minds
to go here or there,
do this or that,
so as to place us at the  
right time
and situation
of His choosing
to favor us with success,

even knowing so many of us
will be thankless.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Be Absorbed in Them

. . . [D]iscipline yourself for the purpose of godliness . . . Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them . . . (1 Timothy 4:7, 15).

It can’t be a month or so since I read this text, and was so taken – as if for the first time – by the apostle’s admonition, that I committed the passage to memory. “Discipline yourself. Take pains with the things that lead toward godliness. Be absorbed in them.”

The reason I memorized the passage is because I knew when it came to spiritual exercises, I could use more discipline. That’s why Lent this year was such a valuable experience for me. I turned off the television and the hour or more I would have spent watching dribble, I spent feeding my spirit.

There is more I want to say about my recent ‘epiphany’ – and I will return to it later. But something happened this morning as I prepared to write this blogpost that I think is more important to tell you.

Every several years I retire my old Bible and purchase a new one because over the years the notes I write to myself in the margins begin to overtake the printed text. Bindings come loose, and pages yellow and fray.

This morning, as I prepared to write my next post, I retrieved the Bible I had retired in 1995. I opened to the passage in 1 Timothy . . . and noticed I had, many years earlier, underlined the word ‘discipline’ in verse 7, had jotted “see verse 15” in the margin, and had also underlined, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them.”

Apparently the ‘epiphany’ I had a month or so ago about this text was not the first time I’d received it. But, Oh! How I had completely forgotten it.

From time to time I like to play a game with my Bible study group that illustrates an important point about consistent spiritual disciplines. I ask them to tell me what they had for dinner two nights ago. Most of the time only a handful of those gathered can remember. Then I bring them back five days. A week. By then, no one remembers what they had for dinner.

And I drive home the point: If we have such difficulty remembering what we had for dinner only a few nights ago, how much easier is it to forget the spiritual food we imbibed if we let days and weeks go between reading? Indeed, even with continual reading and study of God’s word, it is easy to forget earlier lessons learned. Life keeps us so very busy with . . . well, with living, that we so easily forget what we eat – or what we read in Scripture.

And so, for good reason the Holy Spirit reminds us through St. Paul, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness . . . . Take pains with these things. Be absorbed in them . . . .” 

Another way of saying it might be: study God’s word. Be absorbed by it. Memorize it. Be disciplined about it.

Oh, Holy Spirit. Help us.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When God Says No

Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

You'd think if God answered anyone's prayers, St. Paul would be at the top of the list. Much of the New Testament came through his pen. An entire continent heard the gospel because of his tireless zeal and passion for Christ. The Book of Acts records multiple examples of God's miraculous works and healing through Paul's ministry.

Yet, when he asked God to remove his thorn, God said, "No." And the take-home message here is, sometimes God says no. Even to His apostles.

Scripture records many reasons God says "No." Sometimes, as in this chapter in 2 Corinthians, He says it because He can use us more effectively with our thorn than without it. Sometimes He says it because it's in our best interest if we don’t get what we want. Sometimes "No" means "Not yet." And, yes, sometimes He says it because of our willful and unrepented sin.

What do we do when God doesn't give us the answers we want to hear? Do we grouse and accuse Him of not caring? Or like St. Paul, can we trust our heavenly Father's great love for us? Can we be content with thorns, knowing when we are weak, we are strong in Him?

Of course, that's all easy to say. It's easy to theorize. And not so easy to live. Nevertheless, the mature Christian understands God's, "No" -- whatever the reason -- is always rooted in His love for us. And His grace is always sufficient to carry us through our heartache and disappointment.

How do we know that?

Scripture says so.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Astonished, or Bored?

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)

I remember a time I wasn’t astonished by Christ’s teaching. I rejected it.

In those days I prided myself on being an atheist, always ready to challenge Christians with unanswerable questions like, “Can you prove God exists?” or “Why does He permit cancer? Or war? Why do drunk drivers kill entire families?” So, when I was twenty years old and stopped at a traffic light, the thought caught me by surprise: "What if there is a God?"

The concept intrigued me, but only for a moment. Though I knew nothing about God’s word, intuitively I knew if He existed, He didn’t like my sexual sins, drug abuse, thefts, lies, arrogance . . . .

I would have to change.

But I didn’t want to change. I liked living as I did. So, when the light turned green, I ignored the question.

No one knows what became of the crowd who listened to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (chapters five through seven of Matthew’s gospel). We do know, however, it’s never enough to simply be “astonished” by a sermon, a Scripture reading – or even an encounter with the Lord Himself as we are privileged to do in the Eucharist. What matters is a changed life, “doing” His commandments instead of just “hearing.” Isn’t that what Christ said to his audience earlier in this chapter? Only those who obey the God will enter heaven (verse 21-23).

I am grateful for God’s mercy because He did not ignore me forty-one years ago at that traffic light like I did Him. And I am grateful because His mercy is not limited to me. It extends to the entire human family. It extends to you.

Regardless of the times you've rejected Him, His total forgiveness remains only a prayer away.