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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Other Side of the Door

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

As our home Bible study wound to a close, a young mother ran out to her car for a package she’d forgotten. She left her two-year-old daughter with half a dozen adults and children in the living room. But when Berea saw Mommy leave, her face froze with panic. She ran as quickly as her little legs could carry her and stretched in vain for the doorknob. Her screams were laden with terror, as if she believed Mommy would never to return.

One of the other women lifted Berea into her arms and tried to calm her. But it was no use. The toddler wanted no one but Mommy. And mommy was gone.

A few moments later, Berea’s mother returned. When she opened the door to her daughter’s inconsolable grief, she lifted Berea into her arms, rubbed her back and spoke tenderly into her ear. I smiled as the child quickly quieted down. Mommy had returned. All was well.

The next morning as I spent time with the Lord in prayer, my thoughts drifted back to that pitiable image of Berea screaming for her mother. And a sobering thought spread through my meditation: What must it be like for those who rejected Christ all their lives and then find themselves on the other side of death's door – knowing with horrifying certainty – Father has left and is never coming back?

Never coming back.

I cannot begin to imagine the unending inconsolable grief, the unyielding anguish of those who know they will remain on the other side of the door.

Forever.

The good news, of course, is it doesn’t have to be that way. Those who love Jesus, who serve Him and call Him their Savior can rest in Christ’s promise: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (St. John 14:1-3).

Forever is a good place if we’re on the right side of the door.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Suffering and the Christian

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

The longer I study Scripture, the more I realize how little I know about God and about why life is as it is.
Suffering is an example. Why does God permit His children to suffer? Is suffering purgative? Punitive? Or is it simply part of the package of ‘being alive’?

What does it mean when Scripture tell us Jesus was made “perfect” by the things He suffered (Hebrews 2:10)? What does it mean when it tells us, “Although He was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)?
As I pondered those particular passages, I remembered Jesus’ words in John 12:24: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit;” and St. Paul’s in Philippians, “[Jesus was] found in appearance as a man, [and] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

Then the apostle’s words to the Footnotes: Colossians filtered into my thoughts: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. . . . For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea . . . that their hearts may be encouraged . . .” (Colossians 1:24 and 2:1-2).

One by one Scripture filtered into my memory. Gethsemane came next. Clearly, Jesus did not want to die. He did not want to go through with the plan. He agonized so intensely that drops of blood dripped from his skin – the medical condition is called hematohidrosis. Yet, despite his great dread, He said to His Father, “Not My will, Father, but Yours be done.”
As I put all the pieces together, I wondered if the question of Christian suffering – indeed, even human suffering – is not intricately related to God’s benevolent and beneficent purpose – whether or not I understand that purpose. Maybe, as God’s Son “learned obedience” by the things He suffered, I too – His child born of faith in Christ – I too have opportunity to learn obedience by the things I suffer. When we “fill up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering,” when we endure our struggle well, God uses our experience to encourage others who observe our faith in a faithful Father. When we “fall to the earth and die,” when we endure our pain, fear, loss and sorrow in a “Thy-will-be-done” obedience, God produces something good in the lives of others.

And also in ours.

I don’t think I understand any of that beyond the superficial, but one of the early Church Fathers, Tertullian (died c. 220 A.D.) seemed to have caught a deeper glimpse of its truth when he wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
I do not like to suffer, but I like to think it is easier to endure if I trust that God is using my suffering for good purpose.

And maybe then it will be easier for me to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

No Other Address

I wrote this several years ago. I thought I would publish it here, too:
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[Jesus said], "unless you believe I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).

It came back to me twice. The first time, I only glanced at the address, thinking my email provider's network was acting up again - as it does occasionally. But when my message returned the second time to my in-box, I looked more closely at the address. Then I saw my mistake: I had accidentally added a letter to the addressee's name.

Unlike mail delivered by the U. S. Postal Service, an electronic-mail address demands perfection. Mail carriers have correctly delivered mail to my house despite multiple misspellings on the envelope. I have even received my mail when it was addressed to the incorrect house number. Electronic mail, however, is a different story. One letter out of place, one character missing, and your letter is not going anywhere but into the great cyberspace-boomerang.

The analogy is not perfect, but when it comes to the subject of eternal salvation, many people presume God is more like a friendly mail carrier than an inflexible email provider. They believe it doesn't matter how the mail is addressed: Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, the Good Fairy. All roads lead to heaven -- or so the argument goes. As long as our intentions are good, the celestial delivery service will get us where we want to go.

They couldn't be more wrong. God accepts only one address for eternal life. He has determined only one Savior, one Bridge between us and God, one Door between heaven and earth.

The Jewish Prophets caught just a glimpse of Him. Isaiah said He shall be called, " . . . Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'" (Isaiah 9:6). The prophet Daniel added, "And to Him was given (an everlasting) dominion . . . that all the peoples . . . might serve Him" (Daniel 7:14). But it was not until half a millennium after Daniel's death that the Savior's identity was fully revealed.

St. Peter told those gathered in Jerusalem that heaven's only acceptable address is spelled JESUS CHRIST (Acts 4:12). St. Paul wrote, "At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:10-11). Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me (John 14:6).

Sometimes I am frustrated when the cyber-postmaster rejects my email. The idea that I could have made a mistake hardly crosses my mind. It's easier to place blame on the email provider, and more than once I have muttered aloud that if they can't be more efficient, I'll take my business elsewhere. Truth is, however, I don't need another email provider. I just need to follow the rules when I address my mail. Nothing short of perfection will work.

God's rule about eternal life is equally rigid. He requires nothing short of perfection in our "address." There is no savior but Jesus. No forgiveness of sins except through Jesus. No access to heaven apart from Jesus. Anything added to His rule, anything taken away, will only result in our rejection at heaven's gates.

And there will be no in-box available for a second chance.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dirty Faces and Eternal Life

I wrote this some time ago. I thought it might be good to post it here, too.
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“ . . . but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence . . .” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

             It was only a casual glance at the mirror as I walked passed -- a moment  when my eye stole a glimpse at my reflection.  But what a moment it was! The whole of nature stopped, turned in my direction and waited for my response to that . . . that little white and grey thing hanging from my left nostril.  
"Yikes! Who’s seen me like this?"
I yanked a tissue from my pocket and attacked my nose. I cocked and twisted my head, making sure I removed every last trace of that horrible sight. But then the knot in my stomach tightened. How long had I walked around totally ignorant of my horrible plight? When did I last blow my nose?  Just before I left the house? Three hours ago!
I tossed the tissue into a trash can and hurried off, wondering why no one had told me.  Surely they’d seen it.  Anyone looking in my direction from the next state could have seen it!
Yet the more I thought about it, the more I understood why they remained silent. They were almost as embarrassed to mention it as I was to discover it. They probably thought, "maybe he'll scratch his nose and discover it without my having to bring up the subject."  Or, "maybe someone else will tell him."
How do I know that's what they probably thought?  Because I have made those same dumb excuses when I've looked at someone's face and wondered "how do I tell him about his dirty nose?"
Well, believe it or not, there is a spiritual point in all this, because in dealing with my own embarrassment I learned two important things about dirty faces – and eternal life.
First, mirrors are very important. Had I not seen my reflection in the mirror, I might have continued through the rest of the day with that thing dangling on my nose.   But that common looking glass reminds me of another mirror – the Bible. "The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
When I read the pages of God's "mirror" much more serious blemishes catch my eye. Like the piece of mucous stuck to the end of my nose, those cursed spots (God calls them sin) sometimes cling stubbornly to my life. And although discovering those blights are not among my favorite moments, without His mirror, my spiritual "nose-slime" would remain stuck to me, unclean, unconfessed and – consequently - unforgiven.  The embarrassment of discovering that thing dangling from my nose cannot compare to the shame I would eventually experience if I stood unclean before the Lord.
Which brings me to the second point: Walking around all morning with a dirty nose is not the worst thing that will ever happen to someone. But dying unclean in sin definitely is.
Yes, I wished someone had told me my nose was dirty, but I am forever thankful  someone told me my life was dirty.  I am forever grateful that person pointed me to God's word where I learned not only of sin's stain on my life, but also of Christ’s blood which can cleanse me.
My dirty nose reminded me again how badly people need someone willing to risk embarrassment and tell them, kindly and with humility, their lives are dirty. They need someone - like you and like me - to tell them they need a savior.
If we don't tell them about Jesus Christ, who will?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's All About My Jesus

"We know that, if He should appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2).

Jesus was very present by His Holy Spirit during the retreat I led this weekend at the Palisades. The music, the worship, the prayers . . . and even what I taught . . . have all lingered in my soul since then.

I don't think I yet realize all that the Lord did to me this past weekend. But one thing does come to mind. The Holy Spirit gave me a renewed desire to spend more time with Him in prayer. After all, as St. John tells us in his first epistle, the more we see Jesus -- the more we look at Him and to Him -- the more we become like Him.

Oh, how I so want sometimes to be more like Him. I only wish I wanted it more often.

During the retreat, the Holy Spirit introduced me again to the prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Several of the attendees talked about how they enjoy praying it. When I returned home I looked for Donna Cori Gibson's rendition of it on iTunes and YouTube,  and my spirit immediately warmed to the music. (Click here for the YouTube version, parts 1 and 2. Start the video at around 2:15),

During my prayer time this evening I snapped the downloaded iTunes music CD into my player and for the first time in years (I am sorry to admit), I prayed the Chaplet.

Oh, what a glorious, worshipful, holy prayer set to music! It's all about my Jesus. From beginning to end. All about my Jesus. His passion. His sacrifice. His atonement. His great, great, unending love for me, my family – yes, for the whole world.
At each bead I offered prayer for my family, seeing their faces in my mind’s eye each time I prayed, “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on them and on the whole family.” And the Holy Spirit flooded into my heart.

I went to the retreat hoping I could give to others. I came away having received so much in return.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Insidious Sickness. Whole Heart Healing.

The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do ( Matthew 9:11-12).

Margaret attributed the knots in her stomach to stress. With her oldest daughter's wedding only four months away, she had plenty to stress about -- dresses to make, floral arrangements to order, invitations to send, a hall to reserve.

Although the discomfort continued, she rejected her husband's suggestion to see a doctor. "I don't have time,” she said. “I can live with it until after the wedding."

But after Margaret lost fifteen pounds, her husband insisted she see their family physician. She made an appointment between the printer and the seamstress. She never made it to the seamstress.

After the CT scan, she was admitted directly to the hospital. The grapefruit-size mass in her stomach and suspicious spots on her liver demanded immediate exploratory surgery.

It was too late. The tumor had wrapped itself around vital blood vessels and couldn't be removed. Despite chemotherapy and radiation, she died two weeks before the wedding.

Cancer is an insidious killer. It slowly devours our health, often before we know we're sick.

And Sin kills the same way. It devours our spiritual health before we know we’re ill. That's why the Church encourages frequent confession and repentance -- not only during Reconciliation and Mass, but whenever the Holy Spirit brings a disobedient act, word or thought to our attention. What are called 'venial sins' can be just as deadly in the long haul as mortal sins if not dealt with in the short.

That's why I am so grateful God brings those 'venial' things so often to my attention. The more I learn how sick I am, the more I realize how desperately I need the Great Physician. The more I meditate on Calvary and the reason Christ died, the faster I rush to say the prayer of contrition. As often as I reverently receive the Eucharist, the greater my assurance of His healing power over my sin-sick heart.

And so I am glad for this prayer of contrition given us by the Church: My God, I am sorry for my sins, with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend with your help to sin no more, to do penance and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Amen

Monday, September 5, 2011

He Knows Our Frame

John [the Baptist] summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" . . .

And [Jesus] said to them in reply, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them . . . "

When the messengers of John had left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. ". . . . Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom scripture says: 'Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you.' I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John . . . .” (Luke 7:19-28).

If I ever doubted the Lord’s compassion for me (and I have), this passage about John the Baptist ought to put those doubts to rest for ever.

I mean, here’s a guy who knew all about Jesus’ miraculous birth and the events of His childhood. After all, John and Jesus were cousins. Surely, John’s mother told him how he leaped in her womb the moment she heard Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:41). Surely John also knew of his own miraculous birth, of the angels who visited his father Zacharias, and then visited his aunt Mary. John knew of his father’s prophecy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give to his people the knowledge of salvation . . . .” But there’s more. When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus in the form of a dove.

It doesn’t get any more supernatural than what John experienced in his relationship with Jesus.

So why did John ask, “Are you the one, or should we keep looking?”

I wonder if John might have been at his lowest ebb. Stuck in a filthy rat-infested dungeon, confused, depressed, lost and probably feeling forsaken, I don’t doubt he wondered, “If you really are the Messiah, why am I in this place? Why don’t you deliver me?”

I can understand his point. I’ve been tossed by similar emotional upheavals more than a few times. And in those times Satan has often dropped into my mind something like: “Is what I have known all these years really true? For if it is, why am I suffering so?”

I’ve read this story in Luke many times. But this time through I spotted something I’d missed before – or at least, had not thought much about. I focused on Jesus’ response to the crowd after He sent away John’s disciples. The Lord didn’t use John as an illustration of weak faith. He didn’t tell the crowd how disappointed He was in John – “who should’ve known better.” Instead, Jesus called John not only prophet of God – a great tribute in and of itself – but He added, “No one on earth is greater than John”(verse 28).

Wow.

Yes, John should’ve known better. But that is not so much the point as the Lord’s compassionate understanding of John’s fear and doubt. Surely, “God knows our frame. He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).

John should have known better.

And so should I.

And so should you.

But – Oh, how I love the ‘buts’ encapsulated in Biblical truth – but just as Jesus told the crowd how well He thought of John, despite John’s confusion, I like to think Jesus also turns to the crowds of angels and tells them how well He thinks of us – you and I who love Him – even when we are confused, depressed, lost or feeling forsaken.

He knows our frame. He is mindful we are merely dust.

And oh how much He loves us.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Even the Eighty-Second Time


Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.   (Hebrews 4:12).

I’ve read the entire New Testament eighty-one times since I started keeping record in 1975. Honestly, I am not boasting, but trying to make an important point. Bear with me a moment longer.

As I prepared for my nightly reading ritual, I opened my Bible and it fell to Luke’s gospel. The first thought that entered my mind as my eye focused on the page heading was, “I'm bored. I want to read something else.”

I know all the stories in Luke. I can quote many passages from memory. I’ve even taught several classes on that gospel.

But just as quickly as that first thought dropped into my mind, another followed: Without fail, each time I have read Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit has shown me something new . . . a different perspective of an eternal truth; A necessary reminder of an earlier insight; A nuance I’d not noticed during any of my previous times through the pages. And once in a while He has shown me something that absolutely stunned me with a life-altering revelation.

Eighty-one times I’ve read Luke’s gospel. And eighty-one times I’ve learned something new.

And so the point: The next time you sit down to read your Bible, regardless of the many times you’ve read or heard the stories, don’t ever think the Holy Spirit is unable to give you a new insight, a gracious filling of your cup, a soothing of your fears, or doubts, or confusions. Don’t think He is unable to change your life through His living pages.

The testimonies of men and women throughout 2000 years of Church history attest again and again and again to this truth: the Bible – all of it, from Genesis through Revelation – is truly a living document, able to change lives. 
Even on the eighty-second time through.