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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Only What's Done for Christ will Last

I published this several years ago. I thought it good to recycle it now:
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. . . for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light . . . (1 Cor 3:11-13).

From my seat toward the front of the auditorium, I could see Linda’s eyes water. “Has it really been twenty-eight years?” She seemed to ask it more of herself than of those gathered at her retirement ceremony. Decades of conflicts and triumphs, of paperwork piles and project deadlines, of exhilarating new tasks and the lumbering routine of others blended into a half-forgotten dream.

After the framed certificate, the engraved plaque, and the punch and cookies in the foyer, life will move on. Younger employees will step into her varied roles, and the organization will continue with business as usual.

“I thought this day would never come.” She tried to smile.  “But here it is.”

While Linda spoke, my mind drifted to the many times I’ve said, “I thought this day would never come”?  How many important events passed before I knew they were close upon me? Birthdays, graduations, weddings, births, more weddings, more births. My life has moved almost seamlessly from sunrise to sunset, seasons to years, anticipating one milestone and then another. All the while I’ve been too busy to notice the calendar pages disappear like vapors in the wind.

I don’t often think about my final milestone. I still hope to enjoy many more graduations, weddings and births before I start thinking much about that particular day. Yet, when it comes, will the decades of my life also seem as a brief moment? The conflicts, the joys, the deadlines, the routines . . . I know life will move on without me.

When Linda received her plaque, I wondered what kind I will receive when I stand before the Great Cloud of Witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1).  Will it be engraved with the names of those whom I have touched during my service for the Master? Or will it be an empty testimony of misplaced priorities during my earth-bound journey?

As I draw nearer to my sixty-second birthday – 62!  Oh, how the years have flown – As I draw near, those questions whisper from the corners of my thoughts with increasing urgency. Life really is shorter than I realize, and everything I now consider so important -- money, popularity, passions, career -- will smolder on that day like charred timbers after a house fire.

When the day I thought would never come finally arrives, I want to hear more than pleasant words at a ceremony. I want to enjoy more than punch and cookies in the foyer. I want to hear from the men and women standing with me before His throne, “Thank you for using your time, your talents, your resources to tell me about the Savior.”  And oh, how I want to hear from the lips of the King of Glory, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (See Matthew 25:21).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Celebration!

"The Lord your God is in your midst . . . He will rejoice over you with gladness . . . He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals" (Zephaniah 3:17).

So I’m reading through Luke 15 and I have an epiphany. A fleeting one, probably – although I hope I can hold onto the excitement that swept over me as I read the three parables in that chapter.

In the first, Jesus used the illustration of a lost sheep to talk about how much the Father loves us. You remember the story. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep safe in the pasture and set out to search for the one that had strayed.  When he found it, he lifted it onto his shoulders and then said something that to me is astonishing: "There is greater celebration in heaven over one sinner who repents than over those who need no repentance."

Celebration. Shouts of joy. Laughter. Dancing. Feasting. That’s what happens among the angels and saints around God’s throne. when even one sinner comes home.

Then the Lord talked of a woman who’d lost her coin. To others, perhaps it would not have been worth making a fuss over, but to her . . . well, she turned her house inside out looking for it.  And once again Jesus connected the dots for us: “Come, celebrate with me – for I found my lost coin.”

The call to celebration reaches its climax with the last parable, the one of the lost son – better known as the Prodigal son. I hope you know that story, too. The young man decided living with his father was too inconvenient, his rules archaic and stifling. He wanted to live as he wished, answerable to no one but himself.

So he left. And then the money ran out.

What I like about this story is the young man’s humility and penitent attitude. He didn’t think to go back home and request his rights as a son. Rather, he planned to return and tell his dad, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired hands.”

That caught my attention: “I am not worthy to be called your son.”

The way the narrative unfolds, it seems his father didn’t even pay attention to what he said. The father was already starting to celebrate.  “Bring the fattened calf,” he shouted.  “And my best robe, and put it on my son. He was lost, but now is found. He was dead, but is now alive.  Come! Let’s celebrate.”

There is a point in the liturgy of the Eucharist when the priest holds aloft the host and the cup and says, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to His supper.” Thereupon the congregation responds, “Lord, I am not worth to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

After reading the parables in Luke 15, I  compared the penitent worshipper during the Mass to what we ought to be doing during the Eucharistic liturgy  --  being in the processes of humbly returning to God with such words as “I am not worthy to receive You.”

And I think the Father – already knowing what we are going to say – is not even paying attention. He’s already started celebrating.

Several months ago, during a nursing school graduation, the students played a 1980s song by “Kool and the Gang” to mark their joyous occasion. I thought of it as the realization of God’s celebration swept over me during my reading of this chapter. I doubt it’s what the angels and saints sing when the Church celebrates Mass (frankly, I’m sure they sing something from Handle’s Messiah), but the song's energy and exuberance quickened something inside me, so I searched the internet for Kool and the Gang’s performance. Click here, and you will be linked to a ‘words and music only’ YouTube video. Click here and you’ll be linked to the video (skip through the advertisement by clicking the appropriate button on your screen when you load the video. You can also enlarge the image by clicking on the four arrows in the lower right corner of the YouTube screen).

Celebration!

Think of it!  Almighty God celebrates you. And me.

It should stir in us energy. And exuberance.

Oh, I hope my epiphany of that truth lasts until the next Mass I attend. And beyond.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Who Have No Hope

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).


When you sit at the bedside of someone you love,
his eyes glazed,
his skin hanging loosely on his skeleton,
his breathing slow
and shallow,
and you know death is days,
maybe hours away . . .

Or when someone who loves you
sits at your bedside,
your eyes glazed,
your skin hanging loosely on your skeleton,
and she knows death is days,
maybe hours away . . .

It is good
for those left behind
to have confidence,
that it can be said of the dying:

“If the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.”*

Yes, it is good
to do all we can do
to ensure our loved ones know
they need not grieve
as others who have no hope.**

*2 Cor 5:1-4
** 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What Can Wash Away My Sin?

[B]ut if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

Several years ago I showed a woman a photo of a large crucifix – a cross with a figure of Jesus nailed to it. I don’t think I will ever forget her reaction. She physically shuddered, turned her head from the image, and told me to close the book.

It's “gruesome,” she told me. The blood seeping from his side and forehead disturbed her. She preferred the unadorned cross she’d grown accustomed to in the church she attended over the past few decades.
Many people don’t often think about it, but Christianity is a bloody, gruesome religion.  But it had to be bloody, for only blood – in this case, the blood of the Innocent One - could atone for, or wash away, the sins of the guilty.

And gruesome it was. Soldiers tied Jesus’ hands to the whipping post and stripped off his robe. Then one of them swung the rock-embedded whips against Jesus’ back, buttocks and legs. Again and again, slicing into His flesh until strips of skin hung from his body. Small capillaries and arteries oozed and spurted blood with each beat of His heart and tracked down His back, His thighs, His legs.
Spurt.

Spurt.

Spurt . . . . The pavement at His feet was moist with dirt and congealed blood.
Spurt.

Spurt . . . until the blood vessels clotted over.

It was a bloody, bloody scene. But it was a God-ordained and utterly necessary scene. Without the shed blood of Jesus, there could be no forgiveness of sins to the penitent.
My sins. Your sins. Your pastor’s sins. The Pope’s sins. Everyone’s sins. As the Holy Spirit warns: All humanity has gone astray. We have each turned to our own way. But God, being rich in mercy, laid all of our sin - and its judgment - on Jesus (see Isaiah 53:6).

Without the bloody death of the Messiah, there would be no hope for absolution in the confessional to the penitent. No hope ever for forgiveness. No hope for eternal life, but instead only a sure judgment and eternal damnation facing us in our grave.

But for the blood of Jesus.

Which is why St. Paul wrote: In [Christ] we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7). And the Church explains, Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of [Jesus’] cross . . .  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 517). And again: The human heart is . . . . converted by looking upon [Christ] whom our sins have pierced: Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father . . . (Catechism, 1432).

So knowing this, knowing the bloody, gruesome cost of our salvation, how then ought we live?

Reverently, yes. Obedient to His Word as interpreted by the Church. Of course. But we must not forget that the ability for reverence and obedience results from growing deeper in love with God. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, one time Superior General of the Society of Jesus, wrote:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that  is, falling in love [with Him] in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with seizes your  imagination; it will affect everything. It will decide what gets you out of bed in the morning, what you will do in the evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, what you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love [with God], stay in love, and it will decide everything."

And so, let us prayerfully implore the Holy Spirit each day to help us love God more and more. Growing deeper in love with Him day by day trains our hearts to reverence and obedience – and to ever internalize the answer to the question: What can wash away my sin?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Fragrance Remains

“You will see me . . . .” (John 14:19).

My mind wouldn’t rid itself of the memory. Yeshi hurt so badly.

I could do nothing. Nothing to help him.

I stared at my food. Yohanan told me to eat something. I needed my strength. He would return for me, help me take what I wished to his home where I would stay with him and his family. Then he left to meet the others.

“Woman, behold your son,” Yeshi said. And to Yohanan, “Behold, your mother.”

What will I take to their house? What will I leave behind? So many things. So many memories. This table and chair. As solid as when my Yeshi built it, how many years ago? Five? Seven? And the dishes. My beloved Joseph bought them for me when we wed so many decades ago. I still have many of them.

My clothing. The parchments. The walking stick. . . .

But Yeshi. My Yeshi.

“Momma.”

Deep in thought, forcing back my tears, I thought I heard a whisper behind me.

What was it the old man said to me, “A sword will piece your heart”? I never understood what he meant.

I do now.

“Mother.” A little louder.
The voice startled me. And the fragrance. Suddenly the room smelled of, of . . . flowers. Like – yes, like roses. Roses of Sharon.
“Mother.” A command.
I knew that voice. When I turned, color drained from my face. The room spun. If he had not caught me in his arms, I would have fallen.
Still dizzy, I let him hold me. The fragrance of roses rose from his robe. He cupped my chin in his hand and lifted my face to look at him.
“Yeshi!”
“Yeshi! But how?”
He smiled. The same smile he always smiled when he spoke with me. “I was given authority to lay down my life,” he said. “I was given authority to take it up again. Henceforth, he who believes in me will live, even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
I reached for his face, caressed the scars in his forehead. My tears would not stop. “You’re alive! My son. My son. You were dead, but you’re alive.”
“Mother, I must go.” He grasped my arms and held me away from him.
“But . . . .”
“Mary Magdalena and the others are at the tomb. I must meet them.”
“Yeshi! You can’t go. Not now. Not like this . . . .”
“I must. But you will see me again.” He let go of my arms, and his eyes locked with mine. “Momma, I love you.”
Then he was gone. In the time it took for me to blink, he was gone.
But the fragrance . . . the fragrance remains.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Avoiding the Spider

How can the young walk without fault? Only by keeping your words . . . In my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you . . . In your laws I take delight; I will never forget your word (Psalm 119: 9, 11, 16).

I didn’t see the spider's web until I nearly ran into it. The thing was virtually invisible. If sunlight hadn’t suddenly glistened off its strands, I would have walked right into it. So there I stood, inches from the biggest, ugliest, hairiest spider I’d ever seen. Its open jaws were at least three inches wide and ready to grab me.
Well, that last remark is hyperbole, however, truth be told, I was glad I wasn’t a hapless bug flitting through the air, totally clueless about the spider’s trap in front of me.

But while I’m on the subject of spiders and webs, in the near-indiscernible world of the supernatural, Satan’s subtleties are often invisible to the natural eye – which is why it’s so incredibly easy to get caught in his web. And most of the time we don’t even realize it is his web we’re caught in until he has devoured our health, wealth, homes, and families.
Sometimes even our lives.
There is a good reason the Holy Spirit inspired St. Peter to write, “Be sober, be vigilant. Your adversary, the devil, roams about seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). There is good reason the Holy Spirit inspired Joshua to say, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night so that you will be careful to do all the things that are written in it” (Joshua 1:8). And the Psalmist to write, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). 
There is no better way, there is no surer way, to avoid Satan’s web than to see the light of God’s word glisten off its strands as a warning: Danger! Don’t go any further.

The Church “has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord" (Catechism paragraph 141), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (para 133) further exhorts us “to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Thus, it is no wonder Pope Benedict repeatedly challenges the Catholic faithful to “assiduous study of Holy Scripture.”

Whether or not we obey the prophets and the Church who exhort us to read God’s word, Satan remains patiently waiting in his web. Problem is, we won’t see it unless God’s light glistens off the web.

See this link for one of many methods available to make Bible reading a daily habit. (Note to those living in the Tacoma area. I teach a weekly Bible study each Monday evening. Write me if you would like more information: richmaffeobooks@gmail.com).

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Rest of the Story -- Why I am a Catholic Christian

My July 28 post briefly explained how God led me to my Messiah. This one deals with about how He led me into the Catholic Church. Or, in the words of famed radio newscaster, Paul Harvey -- here is the rest of the story:
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For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).

My movement in 1972 the Jewish faith of my childhood to faith in Jesus the Jewish Messiah was so profound an experience, I can tell you when it happened, where I was and what I was doing when I committed myself to the Lord and joined the Protestant church.

But I cannot tell you when I knew I belonged in the Catholic Church. That process was more gradual. I didn't know I was moving toward Rome until I opened my eyes and discovered I had arrived.

When some of my Protestant friends found out about my reception into the Catholic Church they asked me why. They’d known me a long time, some more than 30 years. We’d studied Scripture together, attended similar evangelical churches and enjoyed lively debates about our beliefs.

Why did I become a Catholic Christian? Ironically, my answer is rooted in my Protestant experience, and it is with thanksgiving I confess my debt to that experience.

It was within evangelical churches that I learned the necessity of daily repentance. I learned personal holiness is not attained by following a list of rules, but by developing a deep longing to please God. I experienced abiding spiritual fulfillment during worship. I looked forward to Sundays when I could lose myself in adoration of Christ. My pastors and teachers helped me acquire a spiritual hunger for prayer and the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Their unwavering focus on Scripture taught me to love reading and memorizing God’s Word.

I owe an enormous debt to evangelical Protestantism. But I didn’t comprehend the fuller depth and breadth of Christ’s living Presence on earth until I discovered it in the Catholic Church. It was as if for thirty years I held in my hands a glass of water, thinking I had all that Christianity had to offer. Then I turned to see the Pacific ocean stretching toward the horizon and St. Paul’s words flooded my mind, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

As I wrote earlier in my July 28th post, before I became what I call a Jewish Christian, the Holy Spirit brought across my path Christians fluent in the scores of Old Testament Messianic prophesies such as Isaiah 53, Daniel 7, Isaiah 9, and Psalm 22. I know why the Lord did that. I wouldn’t have listened to someone quote New Testament texts to prove Jesus is the Messiah. I would believe only if I could see Him in the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament).

For example, they showed me Isaiah 7 that foretold Messiah’s virgin birth. Psalm 22, pictured His crucifixion. Isaiah 9:6 spoke of a child who would be called “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." Daniel 7 prophesied of the “Son of Man” who would receive from the Ancient of Days an eternal dominion.

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 Scripture, I suddenly realized the truth. Not only did God love me, but He had planned from as early as Creation to send His Son to bear the punishment my sins – all of our sins – deserve. And by trusting in His sacrificial death in my place, I could be forgiven.

So, 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.

In 1972 I didn't understand very much about what commitment to Messiah meant.  But I did understand that I needed His forgiveness and His help to change my life. I did understand 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).

But my journey continued.

I am convinced that as God knew I would not listen to someone quote for me New Testament texts to prove Jesus is my Messiah, God also knew I would not listen to someone quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church to prove the veracity of the Catholic faith. I needed to see it in my Bible. So the Holy Spirit crossed my path with Catholic Christians who knew Scripture well enough to challenge my basic assumptions about Catholic doctrine – assumptions I’d made while interpreting Scripture through Protestant filters. Their questions led me back to the Bible and, as if reading it for the first time, I began to understand the Biblical basis for Catholic Church teaching.

For example, the Holy Spirit opened my spiritual eyes to the majesty of the Eucharist. The Lord Jesus promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” but I interpreted that to mean He is with us through the Holy Spirit’s presence. However, when the Holy Spirit brought Biblical texts I’d memorized into a cohesive unit, I realized – just as the apostles and early Church Fathers realized –the Lord Jesus is also with us physically on the altar in the Eucharist Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

"Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” Jesus said, “You have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:53-54)  Years later, St. Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). 

Justin Martyr – one of a dozen early Church Fathers well respected among Protestant theologians – understood the Eucharist to be Christ’s very Body and Blood. He wrote: “For we do not receive these as common bread and common drink; but . . . we have learned that the food over which thanks has been given by the prayer . . . is the Flesh and Blood of the same incarnate Jesus.”

Another Catholic doctrine I'd not believed earlier had to do with prayer. Protestants who recite the Nicene Creed will recognize the phrase, “We believe in the Communion of Saints.” God reminded me of Scripture I’d read dozens of times during my years of studying the Bible, and He opened my eyes to the fuller meaning of that Nicene phrase: Christians have the privilege to ask saints on the other side of the grave for intercession. 

        The Holy Spirit reminded me of Luke 20:38 in which Jesus told some Jewish scholars, "[God] is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive." Then I remembered the Lord's conversation with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses died before entering the Promised Land, yet the Lord Jesus engaged in a lengthy discussion with Moses and Elijah. The Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 interceded to Father Abraham for his brothers, "so that they won't come to this place," and I thought, if the Rich Man interceded, why should I doubt the saints also intercede for us? If I could ask my “living” friends and family for prayer, why could I not also ask our Christian family who are very much alive in heaven to pray?

The Holy Spirit also opened my understanding to the Pope’s role in our Christian life. “You are Peter,” Jesus said to the fisherman, “and upon this rock I will build my church . . . I give you the keys of the kingdom”  (Matthew 16:18-19). For thirty-three years, I resisted the Catholic interpretation of this passage – that the Lord selected Peter (and his successors) to lead the Church. Neither did I know virtually all the early Doctors of the Church, such as Irenaeus (189 A.D.), Tertullian (200 A.D.), St. Jerome (383 A.D.) and St. Augustine (402 A.D.) recognized Peter’s authority based on Jesus’ statement in that passage in Matthew.

But when I searched Scripture for the word “keys” I discovered that when it is not used to describe a tool to open something, the  word represented authority over something, as in Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 1:18, and 3:7. At that point, my memory took me to John 21:15-17 and I suddenly realized why Jesus specifically commanded Peter to feed His sheep.

But probably nothing divides Protestant and Catholic Christians so deeply as Catholic dogma about Mary. As a Protestant I recoiled from what I interpreted as idolatrous worship of Christ’s mother. I learned, though, there is a difference between what the Catholic Church actually teaches about Mary and what I believed the Church teaches about Mary.

The Church has taught from the earliest centuries Mary is pre-eminent in salvation history. But why not? Scripture calls Eve “mother” of the human race (Genesis 3:20 ). It calls Sarah “mother” to all followers of Christ who “do what is right” (1 Peter 3:6). So why did I have difficulty believing Mary is mother to the Church, since Christians are children of God through faith in her Son?

Early Church Fathers, such as Justin Martyr (155 A.D.), Irenaeus (190 A.D.) and Tertullian (210 A.D.) saw allusions to Mary in Scripture as the second Eve, the one who corrected the error of our first Mother. They saw Mary as the new Ark of the covenant, whose womb cradled the Bread of Life. They saw her as queen of heaven, just as kings of Judah honored their queen mothers (e.g. 1 Kings 2:19, Proverbs 31:1-9, Jeremiah 13:18). Indeed, even Martin Luther – Father of the Protestant Reformation – held traditional Catholic views of Mary, such as her perpetual virginity and her immaculate conception(!), as any cursory internet search will disclose.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches veneration of the Blessed Virgin “differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit. . . .” (paragraph 971). 

Mary should not be worshiped. Venerated, yes. But never worshipped.

I am a Catholic Christian because I met Catholics who caused me to question my long-held interpretation of Scripture. And when I searched the Bible and the early Church Fathers I found sufficient evidence to support historic Catholic teaching.

The Holy Spirit brought me to a point of decision. I could do nothing else but bow my head in obedience to what He had revealed to me. I would say nothing less than St. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord . . . You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

At the Easter Vigil of 2005, I was received me into the Catholic Church. That evening God took my love for Scripture, prayer and worship and combined it with the Eucharist, the Communion of Saints, the Blessed Virgin, Papal authority and other doctrines and Sacraments God gave the world through the Church.

For that I say with deepest reverence, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Baseball Cards and Relationships

I wrote this many years ago. I thought it good to share it with you:
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Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14).

It's been fifty years, but I still remember the fun we had collecting baseball cards. For a few cents my friends and I purchased photos and playing histories of the sport's greatest. I kept mine safely in a shoe box. Whitey Ford, Willey Mays, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax.... we catalogued them, traded them, "flipped" for them. In fact, flipping for cards was easily one of our favorite pastimes.

It was all in the wrist. If I held the long edges of the card with just the right tension between my thumb and the fingers of my right hand, and then flicked my wrist with just the right snap, the card would twirl to the ground with a fair degree of predictable accuracy. If my "heads" matched my friends "heads" already on the ground, I won. If it mismatched, I lost. I collected a lot of baseball cards by flipping.

But as the years passed, my once compelling interest in baseball cards waned. Other things captured my attention. And without realizing it, my revered Whitey Fords and Mickey Mantles ended up scattered across the bottom of my chest of drawers or on the floor beneath my bed. By the time I was thirteen I no longer owned a baseball card.

Had I known then what I know now about the value of those cards, things would have been different. Flip them to the ground? Never! Leave them scattered around the house? Are you kidding? Some of those cards are worth several hundreds of dollars today. And to think I let mine gather dust beneath my bed.

Older now . . . and hopefully a measure wiser, baseball cards have taught me an important lesson about the value of things often taken for granted. Like relationships.

Marriage, for example.

It used to be I could count on one hand (well, maybe two) the number of failed marriages among my friends. Now I've lost track. Had each couple planned, as they stood before the altar, their future division? I doubt it. Rather, each vowed their life-long commitment, full of promises and romance. But then pressures of work, of raising a family, and who knows what else began taking their toll. And somehow romance and promises wound up collecting dust between the covers of photo albums or scattered like so many nick‑nacks across a passionless house. And without realizing what was happening while it was happening, they flipped their relationships aside like so much valueless clutter.

Relationships.

Like between a parent and child. How many moms and dads have lost touch with the value of their children? When the kids were younger they played ball together, went for picnics, had tea parties. But now there's precious little time to do much as a family. Monday is PTA. Tuesday, scouts. Wednesday is bingo. Thursday, bowling. Friday is whatever. Then comes the weekend, and who can crawl out of bed? And so weeks roll into years, and memories collect dust and cobwebs.

But the saddest of all examples of outgrown relationships is the way many "outgrow" their relationship with God. Where Mass had once been an important part of childhood, where stories of Moses and David, of Paul and Jesus had been the stuff on which they were nurtured, fishing trips, shopping at the Mall, or just sleeping in, now take precedence on Sundays. The value of a once vibrant relationship with the God of the Universe has lost personal meaning for a large and growing number of people.

Relationships can so easily become strained or torn asunder between a mom or dad . . . a spouse . . . a child. Even with God. But the choice, where the choice may still be made, is ours. We can flip our treasures to the ground, or safely protect them. One way or the other, each of us will learn in time, relationships with one another are of much more worth and of more infinite value than things like baseball cards.