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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who Are You?

I published this essay in my third book, Learning to Lean. I hope it speaks to you as it still speaks to me.
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But who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God? (Romans 9:20).


I dreamed a dream so real it startled me awake. I saw myself waiting at a traffic light on a street I didn’t recognize. Through the open Malibu window I heard strangers on the corner call to each other: “Roger is dead.”
Somehow I knew who they were talking about, and the news stunned me. I couldn’t believe it.
I wouldn’t believe it.

I pressed the gas pedal and raced toward the funeral home. In moments I burst into a viewing room and stood by my friend's open casket.

He lay on his left side, curled almost in a fetal position. And the blood. It was everywhere. On his chest. At the bottom of the casket. It covered his abdomen. His hands. His clothing.

I fell across him and wept – a deep, visceral sobbing.

I rarely have dreams in which I weep.

“Roger!” I shouted. “What are you doing here? What happened?”

My groans knew no balm as I wrapped my arms around him and pressed his lifeless body to myself.

Then, in the corner of my eye I noticed a man beside me. Late thirties. Five-ten, or so. Clean-shaved. Light colored short-sleeved shirt. Dark, thick hair.

I knew it was Jesus.

I stood and turned to Him, “You can’t let him die!”

It was not a request. It was an order.

“You just can’t.”

I didn’t try to choke down my grief.

“You can’t.”

Jesus looked into my eyes. I could still see his gaze hours later when I wrote down the dream. His expression unmistakable. It said: “Who are you to tell Me what to do?”

Then, as suddenly as His expression rebuked, it softened. And without a word His eyes said:

Trust Me.

I awakened. And though the image of my friend and the coffin stayed with me, so, too, did the Lord’s words.

When I realized I had only dreamed it, I prayed awhile for Roger and then called him. He was fine.
Then I sought to understand if the dream might mean something more. Perhaps a message for me.

After a time, I concluded: In the grip of even the deepest tragedy, or grief, despair, or heartache, Jesus always asks: “Who are you to tell Me what to do?”

And then He says:

Trust Me.
 
Beware of despairing . . . . You are commanded to put your trust in God, and not in yourself. – St. Augustine
 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Do What You Want

Love God, and Do What You Want
(St. Augustine)
 
 
What can be said to one
who justifies sin –
whatever the sin –
and casts a jaundiced eye
at Scripture’s threat of
eternal judgment
that awaits
the persistently rebellious?
 
I’ve concluded
nothing can be said
to such a one
who loves the sin
more than God.
 
As Christ said:
Light has come into the world,
and men loved the darkness
rather than the Light,
for their deeds were evil.”
 
“Everyone who does evil
hates the Light,
and does not come
to the Light
for fear his deeds
will be exposed.”*
 
So I now counsel such as those
after the wisdom of tutors
such as Jesuit
Fr. Pedro Arrupe:
 
“Fall in love with God.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.”
 
“It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
what amazes you with joy and gratitude.”
 
“Fall in love with God,” he said.
“Stay in love.
And it will decide everything.”
 
To live in persistent sin or not
is really reduced
to the simplest of questions:
“Whom will we love more –
our Creator, Savior and Friend –
 
Or ourselves”?
 
*John 3:19-20

Thursday, February 21, 2013

If I Am Not Careful


So teach us to number our days, that we may
present to You a heart of wisdom
(Psalm 90:12)

 
Pride so often whispers in my ear,
stroking my ego,
telling me how important I am –
or how important people should think I am.
 
If I'm not careful,
I might start to believe
such nonsense about myself;
 
If I'm not careful,
I might forget the Apostle’s words, 
“What do you have
that you did not receive?
But if you received it,
why do you boast
as if you had not received it?”*
 
I might presume
my strength and my skill 
apart from Christ
achieves anything
of eternal worth.
 
I might forget
though Christ calls me “friend”
I am His slave.
Though God’s son,
I am His servant. 
 
I might forget
I’ve been bought
with an astounding price**
that I am not my own,
but I belong to Him.
 
I might forget
Calvary’s cross must fall across
my every work and word,
arising until retiring,
that at all times, in all ways,          
in all my life,
Christ must increase;
I must decrease.
 
If I’m not careful
I might forget
the Lord Jesus will return –
 
O! Come! Lord Jesus –  
 
If I'm not careful
I might forget
the Lord Jesus will return
for a people set apart
by profound commitment to Him,
for a people who do not forget
who they are
and to Whom they belong;
For a people preparing themselves
daily
to greet Him in holiness
when the trumpet sounds.
 
 
*1 Corinthians 4:7
** 1 Corinthians 6:20

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mistaken about His Mercy

I apologize for the length of this essay. It's much shorter than it was when I first wrote it down. This is a synthesis of things I've been thinking about for months. I hope it will help some who read it.
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 Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. (John 6:68)

The longer I know God, the more I know I don’t know Him.  That’s a different attitude than I had just a few years ago. Back then I thought I had nearly all the answers. And why shouldn’t I? I could quote hundreds of Scripture passages and easily recite the basic doctrines of evangelical Protestant and Catholic faith. I have baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Assemblies of God schools and have studied and taught Scripture for more than forty years.

Yet I am now at the point in my life where I realize the longer I know God, the more I know I don’t know Him.  Sometimes I feel like an amoeba trying to fathom the mind and purpose of an Einstein – and I am in good company. It was St. John Chrysostom who said, “God is the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable.” St. Augustine added, “If it can be understood, it is not God.” And St. Thomas Aquinas noted of God, “We cannot grasp what he is, but only what he is not.  Whatever can be understood, or thought of, is less than God.” 

I don’t usually think about how much I don’t know about God, until someone asks me what I now concede are unanswerable questions, such as: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Or, “Why does God permit some people to do terribly bad things without punishment, and on others His judgment is swift and overwhelming?”

For example, there’s that gruesome story of rape, murder and mutilation in the book of Judges, and God doesn’t seem to bother Himself with event. I wrote about it several months ago, and you can read it here. Whereas, an example of God’s immediate judgment against sin occurs in the New Testament story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira. You’ll find it in Acts, chapter 5. They sold some property and brought the proceeds of the sale to the apostles as a gift to the Lord. Well, actually, they brought some of the proceeds of the sale. They lied to the apostles, telling them they were giving all of the sale price.

And God slew them right there on the spot.

So, what’s going on? Why sudden punishment for some and seemingly nothing for another? It is precisely that question which brought me to the conclusion I don’t know as much about God as I once thought I did. Perhaps what Jesus said to some Sadducees is applicable to me.

The Sadducees were the religious humanists of Jesus’ day. They didn’t believe in angels, the supernatural, or the resurrection. So they challenged Jesus with a hypothetical case of a man who died without having any children with his wife. According to the Mosaic Law, the man’s brother was to marry the widow and raise children to the deceased. The Sadducees continue their “what-if” to say the deceased had six brothers, each of whom in turn married the widow and then died without producing offspring to the original brother. “So in the resurrection,” they asked Jesus, “whose wife will she be, since all seven had her as a wife?”

I imagine Jesus sadly shook His head as He answered, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, because you do not understand the Scripture, or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)

Several months ago when I reread that story, the Lord’s words to the Sadducees captured my attention as if I’d never read that passage before.  Jesus could just as easily have said to me with regard to all my questions: “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, because you do not understand the Scripture, or the mercy of God?” Or, the forgiveness of God? Or, His patience?

It is that concept – my incredibly limited understanding of God and of His patience, mercy, and forgiveness – that brings me back to the question about the stories in Judges and in Acts, and many others throughout Sacred Scripture, and even to 2013.

It amazes me, for example, how patient God was with Israel during their 40 years in the desert. Their shoes and clothing didn’t wear out. He fed them day by day with supernatural ‘manna’ from heaven. The people witnessed God’s supernatural pillar of fire which led them by day and His supernatural cloud which settled over them each night. For forty years God’s miraculous presence and intervention journeyed with them. Every day. For forty years. Yet, as the prophet Amos writes, they carried along with them the idolatrous gods of Egypt (Amos 5:25-26).  Nevertheless (and here is the amazing part) God demonstrated His great patience and mercy, and did not immediately strike them in His wrath.

In the New Testament the apostle Paul tells the Athenians how God also overlooked the sins of the Gentiles during the times of their ignorance. And once again, to his readers in Rome Paul wrote of God’s kindness and patience in having overlooked their sins (Romans 2:4). And I could also cite Nadab and Abihu, Korah, David, Samson, Lot, Jephthah, Mary Magdelene, Saul of Tarsus, and dozens of others whose stories demonstrate either the profound mercy of God – or His immediate judgment against sin.

Is this not the reason we are sometimes so mistaken about God and about what He will do – or should do – because we do not really understand the Scriptures, nor the power – nor the mercy -- of God?

For my part, I am very grateful for God’s patience and mercy. My past is so full of so many horrible things I’ve done to others that I deserve the same immediate punishment Ananias and Sapphira received. Or Nadab and Abihu. And so many others. It is only the Lord’s mercies that I did not suffer immediate judgment.

Why does God do as He does? As He tells us through Isaiah the prophet, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  And through Moses He says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

That answer will still not satisfy some who ask the questions, but now that I know I don’t know very much about God, that answer fully satisfies me.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

I posted this in October, and would not normally repost so soon afterwards. BUT, this is Valentine's Day. And I couldn't think of a more fitting essay to reflect this day for lovers.

This essay appears in my latest book, Learning to Lean. I hope you find this an encouragement:

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Prefiguring Christ and His Church, Solomon wrote:

[My beloved groom] . . . . says to me,"Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines in bloom give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! (Song of Songs 2:9b-13).

I'd read this passage dozens of times during the past 35 years of my journey with Christ. But only recently did its message nearly overwhelm my emotions as I connected it with others I'd memorized.

Jesus said, 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).

St. Paul added, Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a [shout], with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

Sometimes, when I read promises like these -- and especially like that from the Song of Songs in which my Groom calls me His "beloved," His "beautiful one" -- I can almost hear the Lord shout. I can almost hear the trumpet. I can almost see myself in His presence, His arms drawing me to Himself as He whispers: Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come with Me. The vines in blossom are giving off their sweet fragrance. Winter is past. Come with Me to the place I've prepared for you. A place without tears, or fear, or sorrow. A place without separation, or death.

Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come along.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

In Honor of My Friend, Yukiko


Early this morning while in prayer I reflected on one of Nancy’s art pieces that depicts the resurrection. I was particularly moved by the image, and words of prose began to form in my mind. I wrote them down before I lost them. 

And then, later that day, I learned the devastating news of our dear Yukiko, a faithful member of our Monday night Bible study. Yukiko had suffered a massive stroke. We’d just seen her a few nights ago. Alive. Vibrant. Hungering to learn more of the word of God and to enjoy fellowship with her friends in our small group of St. Charles parishioners. The last I heard, her family had decided to remove her from futile life support and let her go home to her Lord.

It has taken me some time to process that terrible news. And then I remembered the words the Holy Spirit gave me this morning as I contemplated the resurrection.

Here is what I wrote, not realizing I was doing so in honor of our dear sister in Christ:

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O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
(1 Corinthians 15:55)
 
 
What is more powerful than death?
It is final. Complete. Relentless
Unchanging.
 
What is more powerful than death?
Jesus the Christ,
who splintered death into so many pieces
it will never,
never,
be put back together
again.
 
He led captivity captive.
He broke death’s grip.
He shattered its chains.
He set the penitent prisoner free.
 
Jesus said:
I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in Me will live
Even if he dies.
And everyone who lives and believes in Me
Will never die.
 
And then He Jesus asked:
Do you believe this?
 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How Then Ought We Live?

If God is love –
as Scripture says He is* . . .
And if love,
is patient and kind,
is not pompous,
or holds a grudge,
if it rejoices in truth,
and not in unrighteouness,
as Scripture says it is,**
 
Then God
is patient and kind.
He is not pompous,
nor holds a grudge.
He rejoices in truth,
and not in unrighteousness,
 
And as important,
what can separate us
from God’s love? 
Can suffering? Or depression?
Persecution? Or famine?
Danger? Or war?
Can anything separate us?
Scripture tells us
nothing can separate us
from God’s love. ***
 
Nothing
 
except our persistent,
purposeful and defiant
sin.****
 
How then ought we live
knowing God is love?
What ought be our response,
we who sin
sometimes so grievously,
sometimes so often?
 
Ought we think so lightly*****
of God’s love
to suppose He will not hear our cry
for forgiveness
to suppose He will not hear our cry
for mercy
and not open His arms  
to the truly penitent
every time,
time after time?
 
* 1 John 4:8
** 1 Corinthians 13
*** Romans 8:35
**** Isaiah 59:2
*****Romans 2:4

Friday, February 1, 2013

See How Much . . . .

This is another essay I published in one of my books. I thought it might be helpful to repost it.
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For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (St. John 3:16).



It’s easy to find the story of SHMILY. Laura Jeanne Allen published the anecdote of her grandparents’ mysterious word in a 1999 Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul. Since then, SHMILY – an acronym for “See How Much I Love You” – has raced across the world through the power of the internet.

During their 50 years of marriage, Andrew and Alice McAndrew’s love for each other found expression in hundreds of ways. They stole gentle kisses in the kitchen, held hands at every opportunity, and spoke their devotion to each other with their eyes. They knelt each day in church to meet with God, whom they knew to be the source of their love. They bowed their heads before each meal, acknowledging Him as the source of their sustenance.

Like many couples who have lived together for many years, they could end each other’s sentences, sense one another’s moods, and meet each other’s needs before those needs were even spoken.

For the greater part of their half-century marriage, Andrew and Alice passed See-How-Much-I-Love-You messages to each other like a sacred game of tag. They left notes scrawled with SHMILY on dashboards and car seats, under pillows and traced in the fireplace ashes. They wrote the word in the steam left on the mirror after a hot shower, and carved it into bars of soap. One time, Alice unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper and wrote the word on the last sheet.

During their last years together, breast cancer hung above their heads like a dark and ominous cloud. But the disease couldn’t cast a shadow on their love for each other. She held onto her husband’s steady hand as they continued their morning walks to church. She often whispered to her grandchildren how good-looking her husband was, and that she “knew how to pick ‘em.”

When her strength waned and forced her to remain indoors, Andrew painted their room yellow so she could feel surrounded by sunshine. When the cancer finally took her life, the family gathered for the funeral where, to no one’s surprise, they saw Grandpa’s final love note written on the pink ribbons of the funeral bouquet: SHMILY.

One of my favorite Scripture passages is from the book of Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands . . .” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Most people who have seen a crucifix know of the placard placed by Pontius Pilate above our Lord’s head (John 19:19-22). It holds the acronym INRI – the first letters of the Latin phrase, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

When I heard about SHMILY, my imagination framed for me two lovers who had grown old together, who deeply cherished each other, and now Andrew suffered the loss of his life mate. Then, a moment later, my mind’s eye turned in another direction. It was there that I saw our Savior. I saw His hands nailed to the cross beams, His feet to the wood, the crown of thorns pressed into his forehead. And above His head, I saw the inscription on the placard:

It read, SHMILY.