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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Knowing Him Better

. . . I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

Do you ever find yourself wanting to know God better? Would you like God's word to come alive for you? Would you like your time in prayer to be consistently rewarding? These following suggestions may help you revitalize your personal relationship with the Lord Jesus.

1. Regularly read and study the Sacred Scriptures. There is no shortcut to a deepening relationship with Jesus without a growing familiarity with God’s word. No wonder the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us, In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength . . . In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them" (CCC 104). Thus, the Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (CCC 133).

Consecrate for yourself time each day to read God’s word – even if it is only ten minutes. Follow this link to my suggested reading plan through the Bible in about a year.

 2. As you prepare to read the Bible, pray for the Holy Spirit’s illumination. “Prayer” the Church counsels us, “is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God . . . The "spiritual battle" of the Christian's new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer" (CCC 2725).

I often use the prayer St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians as a template for my prayer before I read the Scripture: "(I pray) that the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe" (1:18‑19). Sometimes I will add the psalmist’s prayer, "Lord, open my eyes to see clearly the wonders of your teachings" (Psalm 119:18).

3.  Become a scribe. The average adult reads approximately 200 words per minute, but can write only 30 words per minute. The difference is the basis for an important point: Hand copying the Bible into a notebook is, in many ways, like walking along a road instead of driving. We can see much more of the scenery by the roadway as we walk than while we are clipping along at 55 miles per hour. Forcing our minds to slow to what it might consider a snail's pace helps us focus more clearly on God's word ‑ letter by letter, comma by comma.

4. Memorize God’s word. The Scripture itself encourages us to hide God's word in our heart (Psalm 119:11). Anyone who is able to read the Bible is able to memorize portions of it. My wife and I taught 6th grade faith formation children for years, and each class was able to memorize passages of Scripture during the course of our time together. We also have met men and women in their 70s and 80s who memorized large swaths of Bible texts, including several members of the adult Bible study group I teach each Monday evening at our parish.

The study of God's word, bathed in prayer and supplemented by memorization can significantly enhance our relationship with Christ from what might be rote and form into a renewed sense of vibrancy and passion. Indeed, there is precious truth in the statement, "learn to savor how good the Lord is" (Psalm 34:9).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How it all Began

You can find the "rest of the story" regarding my becoming a Catholic Christian by clicking here.

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But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5,6).

Although raised in a Jewish home, the closest I ever came to religion was when I drove past a synagogue. So when I stopped at a traffic light, the thought caught me by surprise: "What if there IS a God?"

Even though I knew nothing about the Bible, and even less about the Church, I did know that, if He existed, He would not approve of my use of drugs and women, thefts and self-centered lifestyle. I would have to change.

But I didn't want to change. So, as the light turned green, I decided the simplest course of action was ignore the question.

But God did not ignore me. Several months later, while walking toward my apartment, I spotted an ant hill along the sidewalk. Hundreds of the little creatures scrambled back and forth in what appeared haphazard motion. Then I remembered from my high school biology class that ants are vital to the ecosystem. Without their irrigation of the soil, much of the earth's plant life would not be possible. That meant ants were part of a precise ecological structure. Structure implied someone who did the structuring. However, by the time I reached my front door I had forced those thoughts from my mind. I knew where they were heading and I didn't want to go there.

For the next two years my life careened in an almost hypnotic flow of careless living. But a nagging emptiness followed me. Something was wrong, although I didn't yet know what it was.

Thinking I needed a change of scenery, I joined the Navy in May 1972. That October, I spent Yom Kippor (the Day of Atonement, the holiest of the Jewish holidays) alone in my barracks, and for the first time in years I looked honestly at myself. I did not like what I saw. My lifestyle – my life – was terribly wrong. Worst of all, I didn't think I could change. I pulled my journal from the shelf and wrote, "God, forgive me for my past sins, and look with tolerance on my future sins."

I knew I was trapped in sin. I thought I could never be free.

Two months later the Navy assigned me to Japan. While in my barracks, a roommate offered me a copy of a book on Biblical prophecy titled, The Late Great Planet Earth. Amazed, I leafed through the pages and read the hundreds of Messianic Prophesies in the Jewish Bible. For example, Isaiah 7 foretold Messiah's virgin birth; Psalm 22, His crucifixion; Jeremiah 31:31-34 of a new covenant (new testament); Daniel 7 of the Son receiving an eternal kingdom, Isaiah 9:6 told of a child who would be called "Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace;"

Then I read the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. The ancient Jewish prophet spoke of Jesus' sacrificial death which paid the penalty for my sins:

"But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."

After reading and re-reading the Old Testament Scriptures, I suddenly realized not only did God love me, but because Jesus bore the punishment for my sins, I could be forgiven.

Forgiven of every evil, sinful, rebellious thing I'd ever done. Even the abortion of my baby.

On December 25, 1972 I prayed, "God, I believe that Jesus is the Messiah." Not a very long prayer, but God saw my heart and knew I was committing my life and my lifestyle to His control. I rose from my knees and immediately flushed the marijuana I had in my room down the toilet. The pornographic magazines went into the trash bin and my language got a hefty dose of soap. I began telling others that God had forgiven me of every rotten thing I'd ever done.

In 1972 I didn't understand very much about what commitment to Messiah meant. I didn’t understand (nor would I understand for another 33 years) the fullness of why He established His Church. But I did understand on that day in 1972 that I needed God’s forgiveness, and I needed His help to change my life. I understood – and believed – the simple promise of Scripture: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

All About the Heart

(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them . . When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you . . . When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them . . . When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites (Matthew 6:1-18).

It’s all about the heart. Always has been. God is far less concerned about our outward religion than He is about our interior faith. That’s one reason He castigated the Israelites, “What care I for the number of your sacrifices? . . . Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil” (Isaiah 1:11-16).

Centuries later, the Lord faced the same attitude in some Pharisees who enjoyed the homage of those in the  synagogue, the deference of the average citizen, and to be honored guests at special dinners, but their hearts were full of robbery, deceit and uncleanness (Matthew 23:7,27).

And so, as I read that passage in Matthew 23, I wondered how often the Lord Jesus encounters similar attitudes among some of His children today. Whether praying, worshiping, and especially receiving the Eucharist, I suspect God is as unhappy with modern-day worship without a commensurate change of heart as He was in Isaiah’s day.

God hasn’t changed. He still looks for people with an interior faith, who perform religious acts for no other motive other than they love God and want to please Him by their obedience. 

It’s all about the heart. Always has been. Always will be. 


Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Anchor

For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

I have read many times through the book of Ezekiel. And just about each time I read chapter 37, my spirit lifts. It’s the “Dry Bones” chapter. You might want to take time to read it because God has a message there for you and me.

Have despair and hopelessness, those twins of darkness, ever gripped your gut so tightly you thought you couldn’t breathe? If you haven’t yet experienced it, you likely will. Sometimes life can be ferocious, and not many escape its fury. An accident or sudden illness takes a beloved spouse or child. They’re gone before we can say, “I love you,” one last time. A natural disaster wipes away everything we own. A fire chars a lifetime of expectations and memories.

We can see the Twins each night in the faces of men and women as their stories unfold on TV. We can hear them say it, perhaps not as eloquently as Ezekiel, but as unmistakably: Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off”'  (Ezekiel 37:11)

But even in the devastation, is our hope gone? Are we cut off forever from God? Read this chapter and discover what Israel discovered: God breathes life into dead bones. No matter how tight the Twins’ grip, when our hope rests squarely on the Lord’s mercy, tragedy cannot crush us. Disaster cannot destroy us. In this world we will certainly have tribulation. But we can take courage. Christ has overcome the world. 

That’s not simply a nice platitude. It is our sure anchor.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When Shall We Be Salt Again?

For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you . . . “ (Romans 2:24). 

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless . . . it is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matthew 5:13).

With the moral decay sweeping America nearly at sonic speed, and the stunning silence of Christian leaders in general, and of Catholic leaders in particular, this Vatican document should raise a critical question in our hearts: Specifically, don’t we realize our silence – even (God forbid!) our tacit approval in the face of such moral depravity – is a great scandal? And our failure to stand for righteousness a stench in the nostrils of God?

Here is a portion of that Church document titled, Gaudium et Spes,  Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Second Vatican Council, 1965

Paragraph 19 – Kinds of Atheism and Its Causes

19 .  . . .  Without doubt those who willfully try to drive God from their heart and to avoid all questions about religion, not following the dictates of their conscience, are not free from blame. But believers themselves often share some responsibility for this situation. For, in general, atheism is not present in people's minds from the beginning. It springs from various causes, among which must be included a critical reaction against religions and, in some places, against the Christian religion in particular. Believers can thus have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion.  (Underline is my emphasis)

While we spend our time debating philosophy and social justice issues, our world is putrefying around us. And multiple millions of souls are being lost.

Forever.

Isn’t it time for laity and leaders to stand for Christ, become salt of the earth, and stop the madness? For if we do not, the second part of Christ’s warning will be the sure result.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nourishment for the Battle

How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps 119:103)


It will help if you read the entire chapter of 1 Samuel 14 to get a good handle on the context. Israel was in the midst of a war against their long-time oppressors, the Philistines. Through miraculous intervention, many Philistines fell in the ensuing battles, but for reason known only to King Saul, he ordered his army not to eat anything until they’d completely beaten their enemy. Jonathan, Saul’s son, hadn’t heard the command.

We pick up this story in verse 28:

“Then one of the soldiers told him, "Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, 'Cursed be any man who eats food today!' That is why the men are faint." Jonathan said, "My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?"



The following analogy is not perfect, but close enough to give us reason to pause. Scripture is clear about the deadly battle Christians face every day of our lives. And it is equally clear we do not fight this raging war against flesh and blood, put against spiritual forces (see, for example, Ephesians 6). Scripture also tells us weapons of steel and iron are useless in this fight. We must use spiritual weapons against a spiritual foe (see 2 Corinthians 10).

Satan, our long-time spiritual oppressor, knows if we don’t nourish ourselves on spiritual food, we'll become weakened and unable to effectively fight the good fight. That’s why he deceives us into believing we don’t need the daily honey of Scripture, along (of course) with prayer, proper disposition to the Sacraments, and frequent fellowship with other Christians.


Truth is, if anyone tells us we do not need to read the Scriptures, to study them, memorize them, imbibe them, they are not speaking God's truth and are -- whether innocently or purposefully -- putting us at risk for spiritual injury, imprisonment and even death.

The Psalmist said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34). So reader, pick up your Bible and read. Gain your nourishment for the daily battle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Can Canned Prayers be Spiritual?

I wrote this several years ago. I thought it good to post it here.
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. . . Lord, teach us to pray . . .  (Luke 11:1)

I don't know how I lived in such embarrassing ignorance about prayer for so long. For the first thirty-two years of my Christian walk I believed the only prayers God really listens to are spontaneous, unique and unformatted prayers. I also believed those who recite scripted prayers - for example, prayers from books – did little more than mouth empty words.

Yes, I really believed that. And that is why I am grateful for the question that toppled one of my longest held prejudices like the stone in Goliath's forehead.

I had just finished thanking God for my lunch when the thought poked at me: "Did you mean what you just said?" The question me off guard and I rehearsed the prayer in my mind: "Lord, I thank you for this food. Bless it to my body for health, that I might serve."

Yes, I meant it. I was still unsure why the Lord asked it, but when the next question filtered through my mind "How often do you pray that prayer?" I knew precisely where He was taking me. I use those same words - or words very similar -- each time I sit down to eat. Day after day.

Then the Lord pressed forward, "What choruses did you sing last Sunday morning?"

As I began to list them I realized choruses are prayers of adoration or supplication. Each time I sing those lyrics, week after week, I sing what could be considered ‘canned’ prayers.

That's when the stone in my forehead knocked me to my knees. Why had I believed scripted or "canned" prayers, like those in prayer books, are less meaningful than spontaneous ones? My mind raced to the Psalms. Jews and Christians have prayed them from the time of David. And what of those offered to God by spiritual giants of the Church such as  St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, Charles Wesley and A. W. Tozer?


For example, when offered from my heart, doesn't Tozer's prayer carry
a sweet savor to the Father? I think so:

Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to You and
be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision
till I see You but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Your own
precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled
eyes gaze upon You all the days of my earthly pilgrimage.

Or this one by Wesley?:

I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me
with whom You will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be
employed for You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low
for You; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let
me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Your
pleasure and disposal.


Or St. Augustine?:

Narrow is the mansion of my soul; [please] enlarge it, that You may
enter in. It is ruinous; [please] repair it. It has that within which must
offend Your eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or
to whom should I cry, [except to] Thee? Lord, cleanse me from my secret
faults, and spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy.


Or St. Francis?:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let
me sow love, Where there is injury, pardon Where there is doubt, faith, Where there is despair, hope, Where there is darkness, light, Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to
console, not so much to be understood as to understand, not so much to
be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.

As with spontaneous prayer, some ‘canned prayers’ can be exquisitely beautiful expressions of devotion and adoration of the Father.

Thirty-two years is a long time to have lived in error about something so important as prayer. I can only wonder what other foolish ideas cloud my vision of the Holy One - which is why I often now pray what I might have considered at one time a "canned" prayer:


Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, please give me a Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that I may know You better. I pray also that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened so that I may know the hope to which You have called me, the riches of Your glorious inheritance in the saints, and Your incomparably great power toward us who believe. (From Ephesians 1).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Centurion

Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull (Mark 15:22).

I haven’t slept for two days. His eyes still haunt me.

It began when the governor handed me the placard.“Nail it above his head when you’re done crucifying him” Pilate ordered. I smirked when I read it. “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” 

Some ‘King,’ I thought.

I hated my assignment to this dung-hole called Palestine. I was hot, thirsty and dripping sweat when we finally reached the hilltop. And not a little angry.

We nailed him to the cross and hoisted it upright. He groaned as it rocked back and forth before settling into the hole we’d dug for it. I set soldiers around the site perimeter for protection, while I sat a few yards from the crosses. And watched. And waited.

And then remembered the placard.

I cursed under my breath, pushed myself to stand and grab a ladder. I didn’t care that the top rung bounced off his shoulder as I climbed toward the top. When I was at eye level I stopped, sneered at him and shoved the placard in front of his face.

“What d’ya think, Jew? Quite the king, are ya?”

I spit at him. My saliva dripped from his cheek and caught in his beard. How I despised that Jew.

And that’s when I saw his eyes. They didn’t look at me. They looked through me. Deep into my soul. I froze, unable to move or even look away. His eyes, they weren’t angry. Or vengeful. Or mean. They were, how can I describe it, they were – love. And sadness . . . sadness not for himself, but sad it seemed for me.

Love and sadness. For me?

We looked at each other a long time, until he seemed to free me from his gaze. I slowly climbed the last two rungs, hammered the placard above his head, and quickly descended. I avoided his eyes as I passed him.

An hour crawled into two. Then three. I wouldn’t look at him, except to steal a glance from time to time. But our eyes never locked again. They didn’t have to.

Four hours. Five. At the sixth hour he suddenly cried out so loudly, so sorrowfully, it startled me to my feet: “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani.” Then he trumpeted a shout of  . . . of victory – more victorious than I’d ever heard even our most decorated soldiers shout on the battlefield. His words pierced the heavens: “It is finished.”

I watched him release his last breath, slump forward – his body held only by the nails – and die.

It was then I remembered his eyes. I still remember them.

And I knew, I know . . . “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”*

*Mark 15:39

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thank You for Carrying Your Cross

Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us 2 and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3, NAB).

I heard the crowd’s angry shouts and curses before I saw them. As I drew closer, I watched them throw dirt in the air and shake their fists overhead.

Soldiers lined the road on either side to keep them at bay. I pushed through the mob to get a better look at the reason for the excitement. Then I saw him. The prisoner was bloodied worse than I’d ever remembered seeing others on their way to the Hill. In his case, someone had woven a thorn branch into a crown and jammed it into his forehead. Blood caked around his eyes and cheeks.

He stumbled under the weight of his cross, caught himself, took a few more steps, then fell headlong. The cross fell with him and bounced off his back with a dull thud. Two guards picked up the cross. Another pulled the prisoner erect and laid it back onto his shoulder.

From the jeers, I guessed him to be a terrible criminal. But I had business in the city, and so I began to push my way back into the crowd when a shout broke out again. I turned just in time to see the man fall once more to the dirt.

“You!”  A soldier pointed his spear at me. My stomach churned.

“Me?” I nearly whispered.

“Get over here,” he barked.

I froze.

“Hey! You deaf? Get over here!” He made a move toward me, but I hurried out of the crowd and went to him. He grabbed the cross from the ground, lifted it and shoved it at me.

“Carry this for him.”

I knew better than to argue. I laid the crossbeam across my right shoulder. Meanwhile, two other soldiers pulled the prisoner back to his feet and shoved him onward. I was thankful the cross came between him and my line of sight. I began walking toward the Hill alongside him.

“Thank you for carrying my cross,” I heard him say a moment later.

I didn’t answer. It wasn’t my idea to help him. If the soldier hadn’t ordered me, I’d have been on my way into Jerusalem.

“Thank you for carrying my cross,” he said again, a little louder.

“Listen,” I shot back. “This wasn’t my idea. The soldier made me do it.”

“I know,” he said. Then he added, kindly, “Thank you for carrying my cross.”

We walked in silence for a while. I tried to ignore the mob.

“Would you move the cross to your other shoulder so you can see me?”

But I didn’t want to look at him. I didn’t want to be here. The less I participated in this cursed matter the better. And then I thought, “He’s about to die. What could it hurt?” So I readjusted the beam to my other shoulder. And I looked at him.

He smiled. And we continued toward the Hill.

We didn’t speak further. We just walked. Slowly. Every now and again we looked at each other. I remember his eyes. Kind. Gentle. Not at all what I would expect from so terrible a criminal.

Oddly, the burden on my shoulder seemed a little lighter the more often I looked at him.

When we at last reached the hilltop, two soldiers grabbed the cross from me. Two others threw the prisoner down onto the wood and prepared to hammer spikes into his flesh. I turned to leave, but before I could go, the man smiled at me and said once again, “Thank you for carrying my cross.”

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In my life experience I have often watched helplessly as life thrusts us against our will to carry a cross. Terrible sickness. Gut-ripping divorce. Unspeakable loneliness. Darkening depression. Agonized death of a beloved.

And there, in the cavernous recesses of our brokenness, we hear words that almost seem to mock us, “Thank you for carrying your cross.”

“Thank you?” we nearly shout. “Thank you? This is not my idea. I never wanted this cursed cross laid on my shoulders.”

“I know,” He answers. “Thank you for carrying your cross.”

For a while we walk in silence. The cross, heavy on our shoulders, obscures our view of the Lord.

“Will you look at Me?” He asks.

Some of us try to ignore Him. The cross hurts too badly. But some of us, in time, do look at Him. And our look becomes a gaze.

“Thank you for carrying your cross,” we hear Him whisper.

The burden never leaves. It lingers with each passing week, each passing year, year after year. But we discover as we journey together toward the New Jerusalem, the longer we gaze at Jesus, the lighter our burden seems.

Especially when we hear Him say from time to time, “Thank you for carrying your cross.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beyond Sizzlin' Steaks

I wrote this several years ago. I think it is good to revive it:
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Do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery . . . . (Galatians 5:1).

I can’t remember when I last paid attention to the Fourth of July celebration. The holiday was for me little more than a day off from work and an opportunity to invite friends to the house for barbecue. Its significance, and that of the Declaration of Independence, got lost decades ago in the busyness and near monotony of fighting traffic, paying bills, washing clothes, raising children, punching time clocks . . . .

I expect this year will be different. As I researched the circumstances surrounding what is perhaps the most important document in US history, I relearned why so many men and women gave their lives during the American Revolution. And I wondered why I, and so many other Americans, rarely read the words that set in motion the events which won our freedom.

In the early 1770s, King George of England reigned over the colonists with a severe and arbitrary fist. He forced them, under penalty of imprisonment, loss of property, or death, to house British troops in their homes. Court officials on the king’s payroll protected the soldiers from prosecution for any crime they committed, including murder. King George denied the colonists right to trial by jury. He enacted punitive taxation while refusing the colonists representation in decisions that affected them. He forced them, under penalty of death, into military service. The grievances cited in the Declaration roll on and on. I don’t know why they waited as long as they did before shouting, “Enough!”

The 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence were not hoodlums looking for a fight. Twenty-four were attorneys or judges. Eleven were businessmen. Nine owned large tracts of land in an era when few people owned property. Each one had a lot to lose by opposing the King’s tyranny. But they had more to gain . . . if not for themselves then for those who would follow after.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they wrote, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And to wrest those God-given rights from the King’s clenched fist, they stood shoulder to shoulder “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Their pledge proved costly. Most of them died in poverty. Many saw their families murdered or imprisoned.

As most people who’ve studied history know, sometimes the battle goes that way. Sometimes men and women endure horrendous sacrifices to win freedom for themselves and others, yet never see the results of their sacrifices. Only the generations that follow are privileged to enjoy them.

The Declaration of Independence gave birth to the United States of America. With all of our current problems, needs and tensions, we remain a nation blessed by the One upon whom the fifty-six signatories called to help their fight for freedom. This year would be a good time for all Americans to find copies of the document at public libraries. Or print their own at the following URL: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html.

Then, as the steaks sizzle on the grill, gather the guests and family around the table and read the document aloud. It’ll only take a few minutes. But doing so might change the way many of us view life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And it might change the way we view the One in Whose hand those things ultimately reside.