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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

By Degrees

Another reprint of an essay appearing in my third book, Learning to Lean. This essay also appeared here several months ago, but many of you are new to the blog, so this post will be new to you:

PS: After I posted this, a friend told me about this song by Casting Crowns. It is a must see:

But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith . . . (Jude 20).

Some time ago, close friends gave me a Day by Day Bible desk calendar for Christmas – the kind with tear-off sheets for each day of the year. Each sheet had a Bible verse and an encouraging quote from a Saint or other notable Christian. I referred to the pages nearly every day I was in my office.

The gift didn't surprise me. From all external signs, she and her husband of fifteen years seemed a model Christian couple. They attended Mass each Sunday and sent their two children to Catholic school. But a few months after they gave me the gift, her husband discovered she’d been routinely unfaithful to him for more than two years.

I know such things happen all the time. People attend Mass, say the prayers, hear the homily, sing in the choir, receive the Eucharist. But beneath the religious activity can lurk a Judas.

In the decades I’ve walked with Christ, I’ve observed that no one ever turned away from Him overnight. It's always been a slow process. A compromise here. An excuse there. A rationalization . . . . and the heart hardens by degrees. 

That's one reason I bring myself to God every morning and evening in prayer, study of His word, and worship. I take the time and make the effort to strengthen myself in my faith and in my faithfulness to Him. I do so because, although I love Him with a deepening love, I fear that given the right circumstances, I could do the unthinkable and succumb to Satan's insidious deceptions. I could grow, by degrees, unfaithful to my Divine Bridegroom. 

And I routinely ask, Lord, help me strive to remain honest and pure.

And holy.

We must have a real living determination to reach holiness. “I will be a saint” means I will despoil myself of all that is not God; I will strip my heart of all created things . . . I will renounce my will, my inclinations, my whims and fancies, and make myself a willing slave to the will of God. – Blessed Mother Teresa

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fortnight of Prayer -- the Rest of the Story

This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent . . . . (Mark 1:15)
I received an email from a fellow Catholic about the Catholic Church’s call for a “Fortnight of Prayer.” The Health and Human Services mandate requiring Catholics and others to pay – albeit, we are told, indirectly – for contraceptive services started a groundswell of religious-based opposition to the mandate and has culminated in this call for prayer for religious freedom.

I logged onto the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (see this link) for more information and found a number of suggested prayers, not too dissimilar to this which I received in my inbox:

Loving Father, Thank you for the gift of life and for the freedom to love and worship You. Through the power of the Holy Spirit inspire us to be your witnesses. Grant us the courage to boldly and joyfully stand in protection of our freedom. In your mercy, guard our religious freedom so we may continue to live out our faith and transform the world in which we live. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Those who have read my blog long enough know I believe in prayer. I practice it daily. I urge others to pray. I frequently write about it on this blog, even posting a series of strategies for prayer. But I came to a realization years ago that prayer, without confession of sins and a determined repentance, is hollow at best, and a veritable stench in God’s nostrils at worst (See for example Psalm 66:18 and Isaiah 1:4, 11-17 ).

How different is the suggested prayer I received through my email from the one which, for example, Daniel prayed. Here is a sample of his prayer, but you can find it in its entirety at this link

Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and show mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments and your precepts!

We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and turned from your commandments and your laws. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and all the people of the land. . . .

We are shamefaced even to this day: the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel, near and far, in all the lands to which you have scattered them because of their treachery toward you. O LORD, we are ashamed, like our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, for having sinned against you . . . .

We did not appease the LORD, our God, by turning back from our wickedness and acting according to your truth, so the LORD kept watch over the evil and brought it upon us. The LORD, our God, is just in all that he has done: we did not listen to his voice.

Now, Lord, our God . . . we have sinned, we are guilty. Lord, in keeping with all your just deeds, let your anger and your wrath be turned away . . . . Now, our God, hear the prayer and petition of your servant; and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolate sanctuary.

There is a stark contrast between the prayers suggested for the Fortnight of Prayer, and this prayer by Daniel. And that, I believe, is our undoing.

Certainly there is enough for individual Catholics to confess and perform honest penance as we ask God’s favor during this fortnight of prayer. But there is also plenty for the Church as a group, and its shepherds and priests on behalf of the Church, to confess and perform honest penance.

The priest scandals related to pedophilia – and the Church’s typically anemic response – is just one reason to rend our garments as well as our hearts. But what of the sins of those Catholics – especially high profile Catholics – who publically support, without rebuke by their Bishops, policies and laws that directly contradict Church teaching about, for example, the Sacrament of Marriage and abortion? Or what about the sins of the Catholic laity, Religious and Clergy who publically protest against Rome regarding the role of women and the priesthood? Or artificial birth control? Or a plethora of other matters of faith and morals?

I suspect there are very few Catholics who do not know of choir directors, RCIA leaders, Faith Formation catechists, Deacons, Eucharistic ministers, ushers, and other leaders within their local parishes who act as a Fifth Column within the Church and who receive little – if any – rebuke from the Shepherds or pastors.

Fortnight of Freedom? Yes, we must pray for religious freedom. But Oh, Holy Spirit! Please bring us to our knees with a heart for a good confession, true repentance and worthy penance. For then, and only then, can we count on Your promise for help, as You said to King Solomon, If My people, who are called by My Name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their land.


On June 24 I remembered a post I made a few weeks ago along this line of thought: http://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2012/05/holy-mother-church-and-child-abuse.html

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Only Christ

This is another from my third book, Learning to Lean:
For it is I, the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of the Egyptians and freed you from their slavery, breaking the yoke they had laid upon you and letting you walk erect (Lev 26:13).

Sin is a merciless master.
It binds us with chains
tighter than titanium.
It takes us
where we do not want to go,
keeps us
longer than we want to stay,
costs us more
than we want to pay.
And only Christ –
not our virtue,
Only Christ –
not our character,
Only Christ –
not our works,
Only Christ –
with His blood,
can rescue the penitent
from sin’s mastery,
break its miserable chains,
to let us walk erect.
Only Christ.
And only to the penitent.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to Read the Bible for all it's Worth

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1)

In the last post I told of how the Holy Spirit used the Scriptures to give St. Augustine a new heart, a new life, a new destiny. We also saw how the Holy Spirit is trying to guide faithful Catholics into the same experience of St. Augustine – urging us through the Catechism of the Catholic Church to “pick up the Bible and read it.”

In this post I will suggest several aids to reading and understanding the Bible – aids I have used routinely since 1972 when I first committed my life to serving Jesus. You can also click this link to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for further (and sometimes, overlapping) information: http://www.nccbuscc.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/

1. Pray before you read. I never open my Bible without first asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate His word to my mind and my heart. My prayer goes something like this: “Holy Spirit, open my understanding to Your Word that I am about to read. Use it to reveal to me my sins, to guide me in my day to day decisions, to make me more obedient to Your will.” Often, when I read one of the prophets or the apostles, I will add (for example), “Isaiah, please pray for me now as I read the words the Holy Spirit gave to you to give to the Church. Pray also for me that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of my heart and reveal Himself to me.”

2. Be consistent. Set aside a specific time each day for reading the Bible. Choose whatever works best for you. I prefer the morning before my day starts, and the evening before turning out the lights. Along with the time of day, set a specific period of time – ten or fifteen minutes. Whatever you feel comfortable doing. The point is, consistency. Day by day. If you miss a day, don’t stress over it, just pick up where you left off the next day.

3. Select a Bible that is easy to read.  Only Catholic Bibles include the several books missing from Protestant Bibles, such as Wisdom, Sirach and Maccabees. Be aware that the commentaries included in the margins of any Bible are not inspired by the Holy Spirit as are the actual texts of Scripture. Holy Scripture is never wrong, but commentators can be – and have been – wrong in their musings.

I like the Navaree Bible and commentaries, but they are pricey. The New American Bible (NAB) is okay, but I do not like its translation of some words from the Greek or Hebrew to English. Nor do I agree with some of their commentaries regarding the dates and authorship of various Bible books. In fact, I believe the NAB is closer to liberal Protestant scholarship than historical conservative Catholic scholarship in those areas. Here is a link to Bibles approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.nccbuscc.org/bible/approved-translations/

Along with a readable Bible, buy a good Bible dictionary and a good lexicon. Lexicons aid your understanding of the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words used in the Scriptures. For free online resources, visit http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm, www.biblegateway.com and www.blueletterbible.org. I especially like the Blueletterbible site because of its easy access to lexical helps.

4. Don’t begin at the beginning. The Bible is not one book, but a collection of 73 books, written by dozens of authors over the course of nearly 2,000 years. While it is good to read the various books in their historical context (e.g. 1 & 2 Kings with Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel and others), I like to jump around within each Testament (Old and New). See this link for a reading plan I’ve recommended in the past: http://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2009/07/bible-reading-plan.html

If you are going to jump around, it will be important to annotate (usually in the Table of Contents) which books you’ve already read so you don’t re-read them before finishing the ones you’ve not yet gotten to. 

5. Skip tedious passages. As I mentioned in my Bible reading plan (see link to my blog above), there are a number of passages, even entire chapters, filled with lists, genealogies and other tedious verbiage that will significantly slow your reading – and probably bore you to sleep. For that reason, I strongly recommend skimming those sections of Scripture. Such tedious texts account for probably less than 5% of the Bible. Do not let that 5% dissuade you from mining the deep riches of the remaining 95%. This is not to say the Holy Spirit cannot teach us wonderful things from that 5%. He can and He has. But your first few times reading the Bible, I think it important to get the bigger picture.

6. Mark it up. Expect the Holy Spirit to answer your prayer about opening your understanding of the Scriptures. He will speak to you as you read. Perhaps not every time, but you will be amazed how often He does speak to us.

Underline texts He brings to your attention. Write your thoughts in the margins. When you come across something you don’t understand, put a question mark next to the text along with the date. I’ve many question marks in the margins of my Bible, along with the date(s) the Holy Spirit revealed to me the answers to my questions.

If St. Augustine had ignored the Holy Spirit’s voice through that of a child, “Pick it up and read it” he would have never become the man of God he was created to be. Likewise, if you and I ignore the Holy Spirit’s voice through the Church to “Pick it up and read it,” we will never become the man or woman of God we were created to be.

As the Psalmist said: Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Holy Spirit is Calling You

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it . . . . (Joshua 1:8)

In his classic “Confessions” – the conversion story of one of Christendom’s greatest Saints – Augustine centers attention on the one incident that set his course from a life running from God to one running toward Him.

As he stood in a garden, his emotions raging within as he struggled with the inner call of God, Augustine heard the Holy Spirit as clearly as one hears a child call: “Pick it up and read it. Pick it up and read it.”

Discerning what it meant, Augustine walked back to the place where he’d been reading his Bible, picked it up and read the first text that caught his eye. It was from the thirteenth chapter of Romans: Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

At that moment, Augustine wrote later, the Holy Spirit used the words of Scripture to capture his heart, mind and soul. Conversion occurred on the spot. Augustine was a new creation.

It’s been well said, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.” Think how much poorer the Church would be today if the man we call St. Augustine had not obeyed the Holy Spirit and picked up and read the Scriptures?

But what was absolutely vital to St. Augustine’s conversion is no less vital for anyone’s fundamental and ongoing conversion today. Thus it is no wonder the Holy Spirit continues to call His disciples – you and me – to do as St. Augustine did: Pick it up and read it. Pick it up and read it.

Speaking to Catholics through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Holy Spirit declares: Access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful (paragraph 131).  And the Holy Spirit 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 (paragraph 133).

Study of the sacred texts, God the Holy Spirit again tells us, should be the very soul of sacred theology, through which our souls are healthily nourished . . .  through the Word of Scripture (paragraph 132).

To be a faithful Catholic is to be obedient to the Holy Spirit who, speaking through the Church, tells us over and over pick it up and read the Scriptures.

Next time I will offer some suggestions about how anyone can not only start, but also get the most out of reading the Scriptures. But until then, you will find my online study through the Book of Acts of value. You will find it at this link: http://studyacts.blogspot.com/

Sunday, June 10, 2012

My First Thought

This is the first essay in my latest book, Learning to Lean, Volume 1. Available on Amazon, Kindle, or through me at richmaffeobooks@gmail.com

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth? . . . Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; . . . All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless . . . Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing . . . He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble (Isaiah 40:12-24).

When I finally leave this body
and stand in the presence
of my Father's glory,

when He reaches from His throne
and draws me to His lap,

when I then understand
what I could not understand
in life –

the enormity
of His incomprehensible power,
the limitlessness
of His reign
over every fiber
of eternity,

that no creature
in heaven
or on earth
can open
what he shuts
or close
what He opens,

that the totality of creation
throughout countless galaxies
bow at His presence . . .

I think my first thought –
when I realize where I am
and in whose arms I rest –

my first thought
will not be shrouded in sorrow
for my many sins,

for things I did
or did not do
in life.

I think I will be most sorry
that I didn’t trust Him more,

when I had so many chances
to do so.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Certainty above all Certainties

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Timothy 1:15)

I don’t spend a lot of time
thinking about my sins.
To do so would be counter-productive
and send me easily to despair.

My baby slaughtered
in the abortion chamber.
Young women I turned
into whores and adulteresses.
Lies I told to gain advantage.
Thefts I committed because I could.

And those were the least of the sins
I’ve sinned in my life;
Sins which reenter my memory,
from time to time.
As at this time.

No, I do not spend a lot of time
thinking about my sins.
But when I do,
I remember that one certainty
above all glorious certainties
that erases my fear of judgment
because that certainty has certainly
wiped away
all of my stains.

What can wash away my sins?
Even the butchering
of my baby?
Nothing –
no, nothing but
the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?
Make me a new creation?
Nothing –
no, nothing but
the blood of Jesus.

Yes, yes, how precious,
yes, yes, how marvelous,
yes, oh, yes how wondrous
the flow of soul-cleansing blood
from Christ’s wounds
that makes our darkness,
our deepest darkness,
our most vile darkness,
pure as snow.

Oh most holy,
most righteous and
eternal God,
who judges sin
and removes the impure,
the unclean,
the ungodly sinner
from Your Presence . . .

Thank you
for forgiveness.
Thank you
for reconciliation.

Thank you,
My God, I thank you,
for the blood of Jesus.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sound-Bites Will Never Suffice

Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation. (1 Peter 2:2)

So I’m talking with this guy who tells me he met some Christians who follow the Old Testament Mosaic Laws.  “Messianic Jews,” they call themselves. “I never heard of such a thing,” Harry said. “Have you?”

Harry, himself from a Jewish background, asked the question because he knows of my Jewish heritiage and that I call myself a ‘Messianic Jew.’ He also knows I’m a Catholic Christian, and see no contradiction in the labels. After all, the first apostles were Jews, and until the events of Acts chapters 10-15 (decades after Jesus’ resurrection) Gentiles had to become Jews in order to become Christians.

“Yeah,” I said, “I’ve heard of groups like that, although most Messianic Jews, such as myself, don’t believe Scripture teaches we need to follow the Jewish law.”

Harry asked why.

"I can give you a quick sound-bite,” I answered. “But what those people you met believe is a heresy as old as the first century. You’ll learn why if you do a quick read of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It’s only six short chapters. And then you might also want to read chapters 10-15 in Acts.”

Harry became impatient. I heard it in his voice. “But why can’t you just tell me why it’s wrong?”

“I can,” I said to the man who spends hours a day watching television and surfing the internet. “But how long will it take to read those chapters? Twenty minutes? Thirty?”

Harry pressed once again, and I realized we were getting nowhere in the discussion. He wanted only a few morsels of information and nothing more. So I gave him what he wanted – feeling a little annoyed in the process.

If we were talking about things insignificant to our salvation such as how often Jesus fell on His way to Golgotha, or on which day of the week our Lord was crucified, sound-bites would suffice for me. But what these so-called ‘Messianic Jews’ who spoke with Harry believe had the power to destroy Harry’s faith. As St. Paul said in his letter to the church at Galatia: Those who believe such things have fallen from God’s grace; Jesus’ atonement will be of no benefit to them.

This was important theology – life-giving and life-sustaining theology – Harry was asking about. But he seemed content to get from me only a few morsels to see how they tasted.

Hosea, an ancient Jewish prophet, mourned: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). St. Jerome added, Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. And the Catholic Church – especially since the Second Vatican Council – in recognizing the fundamental relationship of Scripture to orthodoxy of faith, teaches that not only does God’s word provide strength for [our] faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 131), but the Church also exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 133)

I don’t know if my morsels satisfied Harry’s curiosity. Frankly, I hope they didn’t. For his own spiritual health, he  - like everyone else who desires to know the savior as intimately as possible in this life - Harry needs to go to the source of our faith – the Scriptures.

Sound-bites will never suffice.