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

Friday, March 30, 2012

What Will We Do?

With the moral mess
sweeping,
seeping
through our culture,
some church leaders,
like David the shepherd,
courageously
protect their flock,
guide their sheep,
and so rescue them
from the mouth
of the lion
set to devour them.*


“This is the way,”
they say.
“Vote accordingly.”

Yet others
seem reluctant
to guide their sheep.

I wonder why.

Do they fear the wrath
of a pervasive, pernicious media?
Do they fear the loss
of congregants?
Do they fear the
removal of
tax exemption?

How can we encourage them
to the battle?


St. Paul beseeched
the church at Ephesus:
Pray for me
that I may boldly present
 the gospel of Christ
” **

If he sought prayer
from the sheep,
is it not all the more true
our leaders need
ours?

St. John the Beloved,
like St. Paul,
lived in a time and culture
ablaze with hostility
toward the gospel.

Yet,
to the Chosen Lady –
perhaps a metaphor for the Church –
he wrote:

Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God . . . If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.***


How many prayers
did his sheep pray,
how many words of encouragement
did they speak,
until emboldened even
to the jaws of opposition,
St. John could warn those
who would listen,


To receive
(he might say today ‘to vote for’)
those who pass laws
and promote lifestyles
contrary to Christ’s teaching
is to participate
in their evil deeds
.”

So while I wonder
why some
seem reluctant
to lead,
it is more to the point,
I think, to ask:


“What will the sheep do
to encourage our leaders,
lest they falter
in the battle?”


*See 1 Samuel 17:34-3
** See Ephesians 6:19
***2 John 8-11

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Unerring. Inevitable. Bloody. Unless . . .

Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23:28-31)


They wept for Him, the women.
They anguished for their beloved hope.
Bruised.
Spat on.
Back sliced by whips.
 
 
Soldiers shoved the cross
across His shoulders,
and pushed him
toward the road
toward the hill.
 
 
Mocked by government,
jeered by religionists,
cursed by crowds,
he staggered forward.
Five. Ten. Twenty yards.
Then fell.
 
 
“Get up, Jew!” A soldier snarled.
Jesus pushed himself
to his feet
and pushed
another yard. Twenty. A few more.
And fell.
 
 
They ran to him, the women,
and wiped his face with their shawls.
Tears dropped
from their cheeks. 
 
 
“My daughters,” he said.
“Don’t weep for me, but for yourselves
and for your children.
For if they do this when the tree is green,
what will they do when it is dry?”
 
 
What will they do when it is dry?
 
 
The answer,
the same answer,
replays again
and again
when governments,
religionists
and crowds lock Him
from their markets,
courts and communities;


 History paints a ruthless picture,
an unerring,
inevitable,
bloody picture,
of a land,
of a people,
without Jesus.


Communism.
Fascism.
Nazism.
Socialism.


All
rooted,
clothed,
and nourished,
in atheism.
 
 
Unerring.
Inevitable.
Bloody.
 
 
Unless we humble ourselves,
pray,
seek His face,
and turn from our wicked ways.*
 
 
*2 Chronicles 7:14

Friday, March 23, 2012

Never in Vain

I've published this before, but I can't remember when or where. But as I thought about the struggles the Church finds itself in at the moment, assailed by government decrees on all levels, I thought about this story. I hope it encourages you.
-------------------

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).


The guy bowling in the lane to my right looked like he might be a tackle for the local college football team. Maybe a center. His arms looked bigger than my legs, and each time he stalked toward the foul line, I knew what to expect. For the last half-hour he’d hurled his 16-pounder at the speed of light toward the pins at the far end. Every time he tossed the bowling ball, all ten pins exploded with a roar that echoed across the bowling alley.

This time wasn’t any different. As my ball rumbled through the return mechanism, I turned to watch him stride confidently toward the foul line. As soon as the ball left his hand I knew the pins didn’t stand a chance. I was right. He walked back to his table and marked another X on the score sheet.

That’s when the youngster a few lanes to the left caught my eye. He looked like he might be three or four years old as he wobbled toward the foul line, straining with both hands to hold his ball. I wondered if it weighed more than he did. When he reached the line, he stooped and placed the ball between his legs. Then, with a mighty grunt, he pushed it as hard as he could toward the other end.

I don’t know why I watched it lumber down the lane, but I’m glad I did. The ball glanced off the air-filled bumpers in the left gutter, and then the right. I doubted it had enough uummph to reach the pins. By the time it did, it moved so slowly that the pins forced it to meander left, then right, then left again as it rolled through them. My jaw dropped as, one by one, all ten pins toppled over.

The youngster screeched, twirled in circles and raced back to his father, who penciled a big X on the score sheet. Meanwhile, I left my ball in the carousel and walked back to my seat, suddenly aware of an important spiritual lesson I’d just witnessed.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I’ve compared myself with God’s mighty warriors and lost hope that God could -- or would -- also use me. I’ve marveled at evangelists who only have to say, “Jesus loves you,” and crowds come forward by the hundreds, yet I spend half a day sharing the gospel with a friend, only to hear him say, “I’m glad you found something to make you happy. But, I think I’ll keep looking.”  I’ve turned my radio dial and listened to insightful, gifted teachers who’ve turned their corner of the world upside down for Christ, yet I've look around my Faith Formation class and wondered if the students slouched before me have heard a word I’ve said. I’ve spoken with missionaries home on furlough and been inspired by dramatic stories of entire communities turning to Christ, yet I can’t get one neighbor family to attend church with me.

It’s no mystery to me why I’ve often looked in the mirror and wondered aloud toward heaven, “You want ME to do what?” To which I usually follow with a litany of excuses: “I don’t know how. I’m too young, too old, too tired, too weak . . . .” 

And then God used a four-year old to remind me that, in all my self-excusing and self-justifying, I miss a critical point of Scripture: with faith as small as a mustard seed, any Christian (even I) can move mountains, stop the mouth of lions, and accomplish anything else God asks of us. Even when our feeble and halting attempts for Christ bounce from one gutter to the next, God orchestrates our meandering until even the gates of hell fall before us.

The young boy a few lanes to my left confirmed what I have known for a long time, but often forget : whether with the strength of a Samson, or the struggling attempts of a child, whether we hurl the ball at the speed of light, or use all our energy just to push it toward the pins, God’s word never returns to Him void, and our labor for Christ is never in vain. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hope, If . . .

If only you had paid attention to My commandments! Then your well-being would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea (Isaiah 48:18).

I just finished reading Hosea. I normally complete the thirteen chapters in two or three days. The chapters are short. But this time I was so captured by the images and lessons surging at me from the text, I read it in one sitting.
St. Paul reminds us the things written in the Old testament are for our instruction (see Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:11). And they will instruct those with eyes to see and ears to hear, because God is the same today as He was four thousand years ago, and people are people regardless of the time, place or culture. Put those truisms together and they provide an unerring predictor of future events based on past performance.

Hosea writes about Judah and Ephraim (code words for Israel), but as I read the text I thought it eerily easy to substitute the word “America” in their place. The issues they faced – and the issues we face – are so startling similar.
For example, in chapter four the prophet writes: [T]he Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed . . .  Harlotry, wine and new wine take away the understanding. . . . a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God (4:1-12).
 
Hosea continues in chapter five: Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God, for a spirit of harlotry is within them, and they do not know the Lord (5:4). Then in chapter eight: They have set up kings, but not by Me; They have appointed princes, but I did not know it . . . They sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind (8:4-7).
 
For thirteen chapters God threatens, pleads, and anguishes over His beloved people. And because they are beloved, the last chapter promises them hope: Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God . . . say to Him, “Take away [our] iniquity and receive us graciously . . .  [and] I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel (14:1-5).
 
Sadly, though, Israel continued in their rebellion, and disaster finally fell.

God’s absolute and unchanging requirement for our holiness remains as true today as it did then. And if America is traveling a similar road as ancient Israel, it is good to know there yet remains hope for all for whom Jesus died; Hope because we – you and I – are God’s beloved.

But hope, only if we return to God and repent.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

First String


Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. . . . I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor (John 4:35-38).
I was not the most athletically gifted ball-player in high school.  But I enjoyed sports and when my friends tried out for the football team, I joined them. However, while they played in every game, I sat on the bench. While they dragged themselves into the locker room after each game with muddy uniforms, I rubbed dirt into mine so it would look as if I'd been in the game.

The crowning moment of my humiliating sports career came during our annual End-of-the-Season roast beef dinner. During the dinner, the star players would receive trophies and everyone would receive our coveted varsity letter.

My heart raced with anticipation as the coach called our names in alphabetical order. And it sank to my feet when he called mine and I walked to the podium to receive - a junior varsity letter. I’d never been so humiliated. For a full year I suffered the embarrassment of warming the bench and now, on the night of all nights for football jocks, they handed me a dinky JV letter.  I left it on the table, hidden under my napkin.

Everyone understands what it is like to be passed over for something special – to fail to make the “team.”  Most of us end up sitting life’s bench, watching from the sidelines as others break tackles and score touchdowns to the crowd’s thunderous cheer.

Yes, very few make First String in the game of Life.

But I have learned a marvelous truth about God’s view of Life: What most people admire, God detests (Luke 16:15). What most reject, God chooses. St. Paul surely understood this when he wrote to his Corinthian readers: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and . . .           the weak . . . to shame the things which are strong . . . that no one should boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

God doesn't have second string players. The missionary ministering to hundreds across the globe, the mother telling her children the wonderful story of Jesus, the office worker sharing her faith with others, are all critically important members of God’s First String Team (John 4:36-38; 1 Corinthians 3:9). And each will receive the coveted Varsity letter at the long-awaited gala celebration in Glory.

You and I might never be chosen first for what the crowd considers important. Their applause might always go to others. But the Coach of all coaches invites us to turn our backs on the crowd and follow Him. He invites us to be part of His first string.

For His offer, for His promise, for His opinion,  I am ever grateful.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Long Has it Been?

Behold, I stand at the door and knock (Revelation 3:20).

Several years ago my wife and I flew from Seattle to Southern California to celebrate her mother’s 90th birthday. On the flight, Nancy sat next to an elderly couple. I guessed their ages somewhere in the late 60s or early 70s. I learned later, as we gathered our luggage, the couple were on their way to visit the husband’s son. They’d not seen or spoken with each other in thirty years.

Thirty. Years.

As we left baggage claim I shook my head in sadness for them. Nancy didn’t know why they’d been estranged so long. The couple didn’t share that part of the story. Yet, I wondered about the regret the father must have felt – and hopefully the son as well – for having been apart for three decades. It was surely the blessing of God that the father was still alive and healthy enough to travel to what I hoped was a joyous reunion.

Yet, even as I write this, years later, the image of that couple brings to mind two very important points.

First, if your parent is still alive, call. Today. Even if – especially if – you’ve been estranged for whatever reason. The Lord’s warning,
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:14-15)
applies to everyone.

Tomorrow, their lives – or yours – can change forever.

The second point is this:

Are you estranged from your heavenly Father? How long has it been since you visited Him at Mass? How long has it been since you called on Him in prayer and met with Him through meditating on Scripture? Please, don’t let your past sins – regardless how grievous they might be – don’t let disappointments, remorse, or apathy keep you from renewing your relationship with Him. For if you listen carefully you will hear Him at your heart’s door, knocking. Even now, as you read this, He knocks, yearning for you to open up to Him.


We do not know if tomorrow our lives may change, forever.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Roar and the Whimper

I tossed and turned trying to ignore Eric's wall-rattling snores from the guest room down the hall. But it was no use. There would be no further sleep for me until he rolled over.

Might as well check on Zion, I thought to myself as I threw off the covers and slipped out of bed. Our four-year-old could sleep through a tornado, so I was not expecting to see him lying awake in his bed, his  eyes wide with terror.

"What's wrong?" I asked as I sat beside him. He didn't answer, but from the growls down the hall, I guessed the problem.

"Are you frightened?"

He nodded and pointed toward the other room. "Lion," he whispered and snuggled close to me.

"You think there is a lion in the house?" I tried not to smile.

When he nodded again, I lifted him into my arms and tiptoed to the other room. I opened the door and showed him the 'lion.' Zion stared at him for a few moments. And then smiled.

In thinking back on that experience I wonder if there might be a close spiritual parallel between Zion's fears and those of my own. Satan's roar sometimes seem very much like a lion's, and it can paralyze me with fear . . . fear of the unknown, fear of the future, of the past, of the present. My “What if” replaces God’s “Who is like Me in majesty and power?”

Someone has said, "God's peace is always greater than our fears." I think St. Paul understood this when he wrote to the Church at Rome: What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or the sword? . . . No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

Standing at the threshold of the lion's den and seeing the reality, my son relaxed in my arms. His terror turned to peace. But oh! To be as a child in the arms of my heavenly Father, to stand with Him at the threshold of hell itself and know – really know the glorious truth -- that Satan's rage has been forever deflected by Calvary!

For good reason Scripture declares: God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love . . . (2 Timothy 1:7). Yet I am too often too busy cowering in the corner to remember that truth which can set me free.  

And that knowledge alone ought to be sufficient reason for me to daily ask God to grant me a hunger for His word; that I might thirst for it as a parched deer searching for a cool spring. How else can any of us know Christ's freedom except by knowing His word? How else can we understand God's power within us to stand at the threshold of hell itself and sense the peace of God wash over our hearts?

Though our guest's snores rattled on, my son went back to bed and quickly fell asleep. And so too it can be for us. Though Satan's roar seems ferocious, though it rob us of joy, freedom, and peace, God wants us to know when confronted with faith in Christ, Satan's roar sounds more like a whimper than a spine-chilling howl.

Because a whimper is what it really is.