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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Leaders in Troubled Times

. . . what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness . . .  (2 Peter 3:11).

I have walked with Jesus for nearly 40 years. In those years I’ve learned a lot about leadership from my experiences as a naval officer, college teacher, and member of the Church.

One of the more important things I have learned is, everyone is a leader. No exceptions. Whether behind a lectern, or in front of a classroom, whether a janitor or bus driver, a parent or an office supply clerk – people watch us all the time, and therefore everyone leads someone in their sphere of influence. We influence them by our words and attitudes to do well – or to do poorly.

As moral change roils its way like a malignant cancer through our culture and even through the Church, what I long for perhaps more than anything else is godly leadership at every level and in every function within the Body of Christ.

And I’ve learned in those 40 years with Jesus what it takes to be great Christian leaders.

1. Be people of prayer. Our congregations desperately need Christian men and women to be intimately familiar with God. As Pope John Paul II said, “At no moment, and in no historical period, especially in an age so critical as ours, can the Church forget prayer. It is a cry to the mercy of God in the face of manifold forms of evil which weigh upon mankind, and threaten it.”

Within the framework of our prayer time with the Rosary, or the Divine Hours and other scripted prayers, I hope we will not neglect spontaneous prayers from our heart to God’s. I hope we will learn to talk with Him as our ‘Abba’- our daddy, that we will tell Him our thoughts, our disappointments, frustrations, joys, and sorrows. That we will tell Him our loneliness, our temptations, our failures.

“Virtues are formed by prayer,” wrote St. Ephraem. “Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven.”

We may be tempted to rush through our prayers to get on with the important affairs of our day. But we need to fight that temptation and refocus our heart on communing with God. King Solomon wisely observed, “If the iron becomes dull, though at first he made easy progress, he must increase his efforts" (Ecclesiastes 10:10). In other words, if we don’t keep our axe sharpened, we will spend unnecessary time and energy with things that would have otherwise been quicker and easier – and more fruitful.

2. Be a people thoroughly acquainted with the Word of God. Oh! how we need to know not only what we believe, but why we believe it. Oh, that we would take advantage of the many opportunities within our parishes to study God’s word. That we would learn and then relearn about the Sacraments, the Saints, and Sacred Tradition. That we would have soft hearts and pay close attention when our pastors tell us about God’s love . . . but also why we must avoid the things God calls sin. That we would become to one another as St. Paul who exhorted his young protégé St. Timothy to: "Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching."

Why did the he urge Timothy thus? He continued, "For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths" (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

We cannot become thoroughly familiar with God’s word unless we read it consistently, prayerfully, obediently. Two chapters in the morning and two in the evening – less than 15 minutes at each sitting – will get us through the New Testament three times every year and the Old Testament once in about 13 months. And in our reading, we ought not neglect memorizing God’s word. One verse a week will rack up 52 verses each year. That’s a lot of spiritual food for the Holy Spirit to use in our hearts to keep us walking toward that narrow gate. "Thy word have I hidden in my heart, wrote the Psalmist, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11).

3. Finally – at least for the purpose of this appeal that is already too long – be a people of true humility. "No man is an island, entire of itself, wrote 17th century poet and Anglican priest John Donne. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were . . . any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

If Donne’s words are true for humankind, how much more for the Church established by God? God has placed each of us, laity and ordained, janitors and bus drivers, teachers and kitchen help, parents and children – He has placed each of us within His body for the good of the body, and of the world.

Oh! May we have patience with one another and learn to listen to those who prove themselves wise in the things of Christ. As Solomon wrote: "The fear of the Lord is training for wisdom, and humility goes before honors" (Proverbs 15:33). And Blessed Giles of Assisi wrote: "No man can attain to the knowledge of God but by humility. The way to mount high is to descend."

We live in troubled times. If you and I are not good leaders who are part of the solution to those troubles, then we are poor leaders who are part of the problem.

What, then, will we be?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Angels of Light

There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved (St. Peter in Acts 4:12).

Jesus said to [Thomas], "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

I recently learned of what was to me a new heresy circulating in Christian churches in Europe and America. It’s called Chrislam – an attempt to blend Christianity with Islam. Within the blending, Jesus is not worshiped as the divine Son of God. He is merely a great prophet, a wonderful moral teacher.

And a forerunner of the greater prophet, Muhammad.

According to reports, a growing number of churches and church leaders are telling their congregations Christianity and Islam are not only compatible, but that we share the same faith.

Actually, the theology inherent with Chrislam and propagated by those who call themselves Christians (aka, disciples of Jesus Christ), is not really new. Ever since the first century, false teachers have attempted to adulterate and dilute the proclamation of Jesus’ divinity as taught by all the New Testament writers and the Fathers of the Church – taught even to the point of their martyrdom in many cases.

In 325 A.D., one such group of early Church leaders met in the city of Nicea (in modern Turkey) to address a false doctrine being spread by another Church leader named Arius. The Nicene Creed is the result of that Church council.

As I mused about this latest surfacing of false teachers, I remembered an essay in one of my books based on the heresy known as Arianism. I am posting it today in hope that you will find it valuable:


From the Nicene Creed: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.

I remember Dr. Thomas. He was one of my college teachers who helped his class prepare for scheduled exams. He used to walk the aisles between our desks and review the information he expected us to know. As he spoke, he’d sometimes pause, clear his throat or make some other gesture to indicate what he’d just read was important. He never actually said, “This will be on the test,” but everyone knew, when Dr. Thomas gestured, we should pay attention.

Well, almost everyone. There were always a few students with other things on their minds – and they’d get the question wrong.

From the earliest days of the Church, people mixed heresies with the doctrines handed down by the Apostles. For example, in the early 4th century a renegade priest, Arius, rejected Church teaching regarding the deity of Christ. Arius believed Jesus was not co-eternal with the Father and was, therefore, inferior to the Father.

In 325 A.D., Church leaders met in council in Nicea (modern-day Turkey) to deal with the Arian heresy. The Council leaders knew that the wrong answer to the question of Jesus’ deity would inevitably spread through the Church’s understanding of sin, salvation, atonement, and forgiveness. Humanity’s eternal destiny was at stake.

To help the Church get the right answer, the Nicene Council responded in what I like to think of as the equivalent of clearing their throats. In this case, however, they also clapped their hands and blew a trumpet in a rising crescendo, as if to say, "Hey! Pay attention! This is really important."

So we couldn’t miss the point, the Fathers gave us the correct answer seven times in one sentence, proclaiming Jesus is: The only son of God; eternally begotten from the Father; God from God; Light from light; True God from True God; begotten, not made; one in being with the Father.

Yet, despite the seven-fold response, some got it wrong.

Some still do.

False teachers have always drawn men and women from Christian faith. That’s why Christ established His Church as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

When we recite the Nicene Creed, we join our faith with historic Christian doctrine dating back to the Apostles and preserved through apostolic succession. We have the opportunity to nurture that faith born in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and instructed by the Church.

Who is Jesus? That’s an easy one, if we pay attention to the pillar and support of truth when it tells us who He is.

That's one test question we don’t want to get wrong.
This essay is excerpted from my book, We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed. Click here for details.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Godly Watchmen and Women

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me (Ezekiel 33:7).

What gives us the right to be watchmen on the wall, to warn others of sin, judgment and righteousness? Is it rooted in our salvation through our faith in the blood of Christ? Is it anchored to His commandment that we go into all the world and proclaim the gospel?

Yes, of course. But that right is also linked to a responsibility, a responsibility to live the gospel we proclaim to others.

What good is it for the Kingdom if we warn others against adultery, but we connect to internet pornography? Can we admonish others to not steal if we rob God of His tithes? Do we pray, “Hallowed be Thy Name,” yet use that holy Name in jokes or as an expletive?

God doesn’t require perfection from us before we take our place on the wall. But He does expect us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, to live humbly, modestly and godly so others have no good reason to mock the faith we proclaim.

May God please make us godly watchmen and women.

Friday, June 17, 2011

By Name

. . . and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:3).

Jesus often went out of his way to teach the crowds about the one lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. He left the throng to find the one demoniac, the one leper, the one lame. He singled out Zaccheus in the sycamore tree, the woman at the well, the tax collector at the table.

“My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus said, “and I call them by name.”

Yumiko, Ethan, Dakshi, Orji, Jose, Deloris, Michael . . . .

God calls each by name.

Perhaps the Lord spent so much time focusing His hearers’ attention on their individual uniqueness in God's heart is because they had for so long thought of themselves only in terms of ‘the nation.’ Perhaps they had lost the memory that God knit each of them in their mother’s womb, that He knew the number of hairs on their head.

And He knew them each by name.

I hear it often said that God sent his Son to establish the Church, to reconcile it to Himself, to embrace her as His bride, that I wonder if we now think of ourselves only in terms of ‘the Church,’ and have lost the sense of our individual uniqueness in God's heart. Perhaps we have lost the memory that God knit each of us in our mother’s womb, that He knows the number of hairs of our head.

And that He calls each of us by name.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Seductive Philosophy

[They examined] the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).

Every so often I chance upon something written by a Christian which absolutely astounds me by its seductive and erroneous theology. Like an article in which the author -- a well-known Catholic author and speaker -- declared Scriptures which speak of God’s anger, or love, or mercy are metaphors, rather than statements of reality.

At first blush (and a very quick one, at that), such an idea might sound logical. After all, God is not human. But after that first blush disappears, it is clear to me the author has to play some very imaginative and disingenuous philosophical games to explain away each of the hundreds of verses in Scripture that speak of God’s love, compassion, anger, mercy, and so forth.

For example, is Psalm 103:10-14 a metaphor about God’s compassion, or does He really, in fact, have compassion on us? If we confess our sins (1 John 1:9), will God really be merciful to forgive those sins – or is that, too, a metaphor? When the Lord Jesus – who wept at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), who angrily warned the Pharisees of their impending judgment (Matthew 23), and who whipped the merchants out of the Temple – when Jesus said to His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), was He using a figure of speech, or did He mean what He said – “the way I act is the way the Father acts”?

Did Moses use metaphors in Leviticus 10:1-2 when he wrote about the anger of God toward Nadab and Abihu (the sons of Aaron) when they sinned against Him and were struck dead on the spot? Did Moses use metaphors to describe God’s anger against sin when he wrote of the sudden deaths of Korah and his cohort after their rebellion against God (Numbers 16:25-33)? Did the writer of 2 Samuel use metaphors when he described how God’s anger burned against David for his sin with Bathsheba, and subsequently took the life of their first child (2 Samuel 12:9-14)?

And of course most of the book of Revelation tells us of God’s anger toward sin and His direct and repeated judgment upon a people who continue to shake their fists in God’s face. Are we to believe those many chapters are figures of speech, or are they dire warnings rooted in fact?

If the hundreds of texts written in Scripture declaring the love, mercy, anger and righteousness of God are simply figures of speech, then the warnings inherent in those same Scriptures about obeying God are without weight, and Hebrews 10:31 – It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God – is little more than a hiccup in what could be viewed as the fairy-tale of God.

In the beginning, Satan tried to get Eve to question God’s word when he asked, Hath God said? (Genesis 3:1). Unfortunately, he succeeded in his mission, and the rest of the story makes for sad history. It should not be a surprise, then, that the Psalmist asks the reader, If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3).

The foundation of our Christian faith is the word of God. Catholic Christians believe God appointed Peter and his successors with the sole authority to interpret for us the Scriptures (e.g. Matthew 16:18-19; 1 Timothy 3:15). And so, St. Paul wrote to the Christians 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 and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8).

Let us then be ever vigilant to test any teaching about God and His word, to judge whether what is said is true according to our Catechism of the Catholic Church – or merely someone’s seductive philosophy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Faithful in Little, Fruitful in Much

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God . . . (1 Corinthians 1:1)

These are the first words of St. Paul's letter to the Christians at Corinth. When I read them I wondered if Paul knew his letter would eventually become part of the Bible.

No, of course he didn’t. And neither did Sts. Peter, or James, Jude, John . . . none of the apostles knew their letters would survive 2,000 years and give comfort and direction to millions of Christians not even born yet. They were simply doing at the time what they felt God had called them to do at the moment . . . write letters of exhortation and encouragement to others.

There’s a great take-home message in that, for though our words won't become Holy Scripture, what can our words or acts accomplish for God? How far-reaching will they be?

We don't know. Yet, as was true of the apostles, so it is true for you and me. We are called by God to faithfully share His word and His life with others, to teach, exhort, challenge and comfort. And the result of our simple obedience? Consider God's promise to us through Isaiah (55:8):

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.

For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down And do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Christian: Be faithful in the little things. Remember what He did with a couple of fish and pieces of bread.