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

Friday, July 27, 2012

What Can Wash Away My Sins?

I published this essay in my latest book, Learning to Lean. I thought it good to repost it here.
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But if we walk in the Light as He is in the Light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of His Son Jesus 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 too gruesome,” she said.      

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 grow deeper in love with God, and that He train 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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Something Better


The wicked strut about on every side when vileness is exalted among the sons of men.
(Psalm 12:8)


Sometimes some accuse me
of being too much
a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ kind of guy,
who looks too much
toward heaven
when there is so much work
to be done on earth
to create our Eden.

Too much an eye, they say,
toward children’s fairy tales,
Sunday school fables,
and superstitious promises
of something better.

Something better.

When the Creator of Something Better
is thrown out of our culture
and depravity is exalted among us,
from politicians to judges,
educators to administrators,
clergy to laity . . .
We expect something better
without Him?

That is why evil is free to grip the soul
and darken the heart of one
who strolls into a theater
and mercilessly murders strangers. 

That is why evil is free to grip the souls
and darken the hearts of those
who ruin children
and of those who turn blind eyes
to the seduction of innocents
in university locker rooms
and grade school classes.

That is why evil is free to flash welcoming smiles
a hundred-thousand times a month,
 a hundred-thousand times
a month,
for more than forty years,
at moms who bring their unborn
to a clinic for slaughter.

And yet,
as we push God
ever further from our culture
and evil is free to run rampant,
some still accuse me
of looking forward to heaven
for something better.

Yes, I look.
As a parched deer gasps to find water,
I yearn for fulfillment of the promised ‘better.’

Promises like:
Your eyes shall see the King in His beauty.
They shall behold a far-distant land.
And no resident there shall say,
“I am sick.”
And everyone there will be
forgiven their iniquities.1


And promises like:
Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along.
‘For behold, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone . . .
‘The fig tree has ripened its figs,
And the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance.
Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along!’”2


1) Isaiah 33:17, 24 (NASB)
2) Song of Solomon 2:10-13 (NASB)

 



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Perhaps Today

I posted this in November of 2010. I thought it would be good to re-post it.
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[God] will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all [our] faces . . . . And it will be said in that day, "Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation" (Isaiah 25:8-9).

So I’m reading through the 25th chapter of Isaiah, and came across verses 8 & 9. Then my thoughts drifted to Jesus’ words in the 14th chapter of St. John’s gospel:

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 (John 14:2-3).

And I contemplated the Second Advent.

And I remembered . . .


There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow,
when he wipes the tears,
kisses the wounds, and
binds the broken. (1)
There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow,
when the Lord descends
from heaven with a
shout;

A day when the trumpet of God
resounds,
and those who died in Christ
burst from their graves;

A day when we too,
who live in Christ,
will be caught up with them,
to meet the Lord in the air,
and be forever with Him. (2)
There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow,
when we no longer walk by faith,
but by sight; (3)

When we no longer grieve,
or moan,
or utter so much
as a whimper;

When the lion lies with the lamb,
and the child plays on a viper’s den
and is not be hurt. (4)

There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow,
when the last nail is hammered
into the last board
of the last room
of the house promised us by Christ;
And we hear Him call:
“It's time!” (5)

There’s coming a day,
perhaps even tomorrow –
or perhaps even . . .
today.

Oh, Lord Jesus . . .
and so
we wait.

1. Isaiah 25:8-9
2. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 1 Corinthians 15:50-52
3. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8
4. Isaiah 11:8-9; Isaiah 65:25
5. John 14:2-3

Friday, July 13, 2012

What We Mean When We Say, 'Amen'

The following is the last essay in my first book, "We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed." Although the book itself needs to be updated since the Church revised the wording of the creed this year, the message of this meditation remains intact. I hope you find it useful.
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The last word of the Nicene Creed: Amen.

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2-3).

“We believe . . . We believe . . . We believe . . .” The ancient summary of Christian faith flows from my tongue like a poem’s comfortable and regular meter. I recite declaration of faith after declaration, each as important as the last, none more necessary than the next – not even (it would seem) the “Amen” at the end of the Creed.

But that should not be the case. I don’t think there is any word in the vocabulary of Christian faith more powerful than that “Amen – Yes. I believe.”

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that the recitation of the Creed, word after word, statement after statement, is like our walk through life. We move from day to week to year, year after year, in what might be compared to a melodious poetic meter. We hold jobs, sign agreements, build businesses, get married, make vows, have children, make promises . . .

But every now and then, something breaks the cadence. A tragedy bolds the font, underlines the memory, italicizes the sorrow. Our very being – body, soul and spirit – sees nothing, hears nothing, beyond the moment when time stands still. Our gut churns at the physician’s diagnosis. It writhes to the cacophony of, “I want a divorce.” It convulses at the fresh gravesite of a loved one.

I wish life always flowed in harmonious rhyme and meter. But it doesn’t. Desperate prayers go unanswered. Heaven sometimes seems so silent our stomachs threaten to heave.

Heartache always leaves a choice in its wake – What do we do with our affirmations and vows when life’s rhythm unravels and melody falls into disharmony? What happens to “Amen. Yes, I believe” when our foundations split apart? What shall we do with “the Father Almighty” when He seems oblivious to our tragedy? What shall we say to “He came down from heaven” when hell appears triumphant? Can we say amen to “the giver of life” when death rips a loved one from our arms? Do we believe in “the resurrection of the dead” when despair surrounds us?

Do we say, “Amen. Yes, I still believe” to our statements of faith; or do we turn and say nothing?

The prophet Isaiah urged, “Seek the Lord, while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6). St. James encouraged, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

Christians with seasoned faith understand there is no shortcut to spiritual maturity, the kind that answers life’s agonies with a resounding, “Amen! Yes, I believe.” That depth of faith is possible only by God’s grace, nurtured as we seek the Lord – day by day – while He may be found; drawing near to Him – day by day – while we have opportunity.

Each time we recite, “Amen” at the end of the Creed, we have a choice. We can say it as part of our religious meter, or we can say it prayerfully, asking God’s grace to enfold us, to help us seek Christ above earthly pleasures, to draw closer to the Savior, to trust Him through variations of life’s meter so we might fully trust Him through its cacophony.

You wouldn’t think it so, but it’s often a difficult choice to make.


Prayer (from Romans 8): Father, I know nothing can separate me from Your love. Yet, I ask for Christ’s sake, that the confidence in my mind become confidence in my heart. I ask that I – that the Church – shout “Amen” with the apostle Paul’s declaration that neither death, nor life, angels, nor principalities, things present, nor things to come, powers, height, depth, nor any other created thing, will separate us from Your love, which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen.

And, amen.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Guest Posting

I don’t usually post the work of others, but a friend of mine who attends our Monday night Bible study at St Charles Borromeo in Tacoma sent this to me a few weeks ago. I thought it addresses issues you’ve read about on this blog in recent posts, but from another’s perspective.  Ron is a retired ship driver (Commander, USN).
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Chaplain’s Locker
June 2012
“Running Rust”

Last year, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy wrote an article in one of our military magazines on this topic.  He used running rust as an example of what happens when we allow, even a little bit, rust to go unchecked.  It has an insatiable appetite which ultimately destroys a ship.  So it is with allowing questionable behaviors to slip  by unchallenged, even a little bit.   Eventually anarchy and chaos will evolve, not only within a person but a society as well. 

On occasion I’ve engaged my grand children in discussions on this topic.  Many child psychologists in the past have encouraged an attitude by parents of protecting the psyche of the child by allowing certain behaviors to exist which we wouldn’t think of when we were kids.  Further, they encourage parents to remove as much disappointment and failure as possible from their children’s lives.  These “tolerances” generally lead to adults who do not respect authority nor others.  Just as steel is tempered by fire, we are tempered by disappointment and failures during our lives.  Without these bumps in the road, we are not challenged to be people of value and worth. 

In my discussions with family, I’ve used the comparison of Polaris---the North Star---with spiritual “centricity”…the steadfast acceptance of traditional values.  Early mariners used the North Star as a tool in navigation.  It could always be counted on to be in the same place regardless of the position of other stars, which rotated around it.  Such are the values of the Judeo-Christian philosophy.   They are a steadfast set of rules of behavior which are constantly under attack, not only by young folks, but by many of our contemporaries who have somehow decided that  their individuality supersedes tradition…that their behavior is justified, contrary to the norms of society. 

Our God calls us, with love and kindness, to remind our children and others of the dangers which their behavior, at times, creates.  As the senior members of our families, we have a special responsibility to actively challenge the insidious nature of bad behavior.   To do less is a disservice to those we hold dear.  And, as role models, we are called to always question our own behaviors and attitudes.  “Tough love” has great value.  Food for thought. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Always a Choice

The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. (Psalm 14:2)

Oh that My people would listen to Me . . . . (Psalm 81:13)

So, I’m talking again on the phone with Harry. You might remember him from my June 4th blog post. He’s the one who asked a question about the Scriptures and preferred a sound-bite answer instead of actually opening the Bible and reading the sections I’d suggested.

This time he asked me why bad things so often happen to good people. I cited several Biblical passages in an effort to help him arrive at some semblance of understanding, but then our conversation turned to the subject of sin. Harry told me he has only one. “I have a hard time forgiving the guy across the street from me,” he said.
“You have only one sin?” I tried not to sound incredulous.  And because I sensed our conversation needed to go in a different direction, I bit my tongue to not remind him of the Lord Jesus’ comment in Matthew 6: “For if you do not forgive others their sins, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your sins.”  

"Yeah,” his tone suggested he thought it normal that most Christians might be guilty of only one or two sins.

We talked for a few more moments about the way sin can control our lives without our knowing it, but I could tell I was getting nowhere. Then I said, “Harry, let me make a suggestion that might help you. I learned years ago if I really want to know of any sins I need to ask forgiveness for, I should ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them to me.”

He didn’t respond.

“So," I pressed the point, "after we hang up, why don’t you get quiet with God and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any other sins besides unforgiveness that you might be committing.”

“That’s an okay idea,” he answered. “But I can’t do that now. My favorite show is about to come on the TV.”

I immediately thought to tell him he just added idolatry to his list of ‘one’ sin: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. But again I thought better of it. I doubted there’d be much chance to dissuade someone from choosing prayer over his favorite TV show when he’d already demonstrated he was happy with sound-bites to his questions than to read the Scriptures for himself.

Twenty-five hundred years ago God spoke to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah (17:9), “The heart is deceitful above all else, and is desperately sick.” That’s why it’s so easy for us to stand in darkness, convinced it’s sunlight; to dine in a sewer, convinced it’s clover. And that’s why it’s easy for so many Christians to accept religious mediocrity and spiritual complacency, convinced we’re doing all we can to show Christ how much we love Him.

Truth is, we have as much of Jesus as we want when we are content with the form of our religion, even while we are without its power.

I’m not surprised Harry does not recognize his darkness. In the 40 years I’ve walked with Christ, I’ve learned that those who find reasons to avoid the effort required to read the Scripture will also find reasons to avoid the effort required for serious prayer.

But communion with God occurs most often in silence. Away from the television. Or the crowds. Mother Theresa said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

After they entered the Promised Land, Joshua challenged the people, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). He knew the surrounding culture would always present them with the choice between serving God or serving themselves, to walk the broad and easy way, or the one requiring effort and purpose.

Our twenty-first century culture presents us the same choice. And the Holy Spirit presents the same challenge.

“Choose.”

In addition to obedience and humility, I believe one way to show God we’re serious about our faith is to ask Him to reveal to us our sins, especially those we excuse, rationalize, or consider insignificant. Another way to show Him we’re serious is to make the time to spend the time reading His word.

Each of which are infinitely better choices than satisfaction with sound-bites, or watching television.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Growing Old with God

(Excerpted from my second book, Lessons Along the Journey)
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I hadn’t slept well the night before, and weariness settled over me like a heavy rug. Nancy and I returned home from Mass, ate lunch, and were unwinding on the couch where she continued our conversation about her passion for art. But I couldn't keep my mind from drifting. As it did, my eyes focused on her face.
         

I’d noticed her changing features before, but somehow this time I saw her anew. Creases now feather her cheeks and forehead where her skin was once smooth and supple. Gone is her naturally dark auburn hair. She colors it blonde to mask the gray.
         

When I asked Nancy to marry me nearly four decades ago, I thought I knew her. I thought I loved her. Now, half-listening to her describe the colors she planned to use in her next project, I realized how little I really knew or loved her in 1975.
         

We’ve weathered many storms during our years together. Some of them were tsunamis. I don’t even like to dredge them up in my memory. Our son suffered through divorce. Nancy’s beloved stepfather died. Two years later, I lost mine. Financial crises and long periods of unemployment rocked our marriage from time to time. Friends turned their backs on us because of our commitment to Christ. And then there were a dozen military-related moves from one end of the country to the other, which forced us to leave family, friends, and familiar places.
         

Sometimes I wonder how we survived it all. God’s grace? Unquestionably. Intervening from the shadows, often without revealing His hand, our Father brought peace when turmoil overwhelmed us, and freedom when fear bound us. He quieted us when, in frustration, we lashed out at each other instead of going to our knees before our God.
         

God’s grace, certainly. But something else has proven vital to our relationship: our communication with each other.
         

I suppose better than eighty percent of our discussions over the years have been casual. You know the kind: what’s for dinner, what happened at work, the kids have colds . . . . But because of that casual eighty percent, she and I can also meet in intimate, deeply personal conversations. We are able to talk about our hopes, joys, fears and dreams because we have spent so much of our time learning about each other. That’s why I know her – and love her – so much more today than I did when we married.
         

Which brings me to the real point.
         

Thirty-nine years ago, I thought I knew Jesus. I thought I loved him. But, oh, how my knowledge of Him and my love for Him are so very different today than they were in 1972 when I first offered Him my heart.
         

Why? Unquestionably, because of God’s grace. But I am sure there is something else at work.

Early in my walk with Christ, I learned the importance of communing with Him in prayer, study of Scripture – and since 2005 when I entered the Catholic Church – in the Sacraments. Over the years, I’ve worn out three Bibles, memorized scores of Scripture texts, and can allude to a hundred more. I’ve spent time with Him in the morning, the evening, and throughout the day.
         

To be honest, most of my prayers – eighty percent? – are not what I would call passionate. You know the kind: Lord, I need a good evaluation at work. Mom needs guidance about moving from Florida. Gerry needs a job. Helen’s son is ill. But because of that eighty percent, because I communicate so often with Him, I know how to be intimate with Him when battles rage beyond my control.
         

In the first stanza of his poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra, Robert Browning wrote, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. The last of life, for which the first was made, our times are in His hand who said ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!’”
         

As husbands and wives grow old together, they learn what love and intimacy with each other looks like. When men and women grow old with the King of Glory, they learn what love and intimacy with Him is like. When life’s storms rip at our foundations, when the hot breath of Satan prickles down our neck, our deeply personal knowledge of God will be our fortress. Our passionate love for Him, born through intimate communion, will be our strength. Surely, that is one reason the prophet urged: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).