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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Guilty. But . . . .

Lent, 2013. Somewhere into the third week I read through the Revelation. I paused at this verse:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. (20:12)

As I pondered the Final Judgment my thoughts wandered to what it might be like when the books – the books that record my life – are opened before the Great Judge. And Scripture texts cascaded across the images forming in my mind.


I am dead.

I don’t know how I know it, but I am dead. And I stand before the Judgment Seat of God.1 The Accuser 2  stands next to me, accusing me of the many crimes I’ve committed during my life. Murder. Perversions. Treasons. Rebellions. The litany seems to never end. He cites all of them.

Each in order.

I don’t remember most of them, but my prosecutor holds aloft his dossier of dates and times and places.  And with each accusation the memories of my forgotten sins flood my mind. They overwhelm my mind. With great shame – and fear – I try to push them from my mind. But to no avail.

Then almost from nowhere, He appears – my advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.3

He waits for the accuser to finish. And then He looks soberly at the Judge. “These accusations are all true,” Jesus says. “But Father, I ransomed  him with My blood. 4, 5 He entered the waters of baptism. He confessed his sins with each offense. 6 He followed Me and served Me these many years.7 And You promised I would not lose any whom you have given Me.” 8

The Judge listens in silence. Then He looks at my Accuser. He looks at me. He looks at my Advocate. He raises His gavel, and I wait for what is about to come next.

“Guilty,” the Judge says with a solemnity I shall forever remember. “I declare you guilty on all counts.”

Panic – unrelenting panic grips me. And then I hear Him add, “But I hereby pardon you of all counts for the sake of my son, Jesus.” 9, 10

His gavel falls to the Bench with a crack that echoes throughout the chambers of heaven and of hell.

Dazed, I look at my Advocate. His eyes smile back. It is true. Gloriously, wondrously true. I am pardoned. Forgiven. Redeemed forever because of the blood of the Lamb.

(All scripture from Revised Standard Version Catholic edition)
1 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. (Rev 20:12)

2 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Rev 12:10)
3And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)

4 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. (Rev 5:9)

5 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

6 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

7 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:26)

8 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. (John 6:39)

9 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole . . . and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

10 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Very Simple

When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”
Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?”
And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.”
And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.  Matthew 21:23-27

If the Catholic Church is wrong in its theology about such questions as the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ, the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus, or the authority given by Christ to the popes, then it is reasonable to believe the Church can also be wrong about other questions; for example, its position on same-sex marriage and abortion.
And if the Church is wrong about its theology, then it ought to be intuitive that Catholics don’t need to obey any of its teaching because her entire structure is a house of cards. We can believe as we wish, do as we wish, and vote as we wish.

But if the Catholic Church is right in its theology, then it is reasonable to believe the Church is also correct in its stand on such social issues – divisive though they may be – as same-sex marriage and abortion.

And if the Church is right, then it ought to be intuitive that Catholics must obey its decisions, because to disobey is to stand against Christ Himself.

It’s all really very simple. As in the discourse recorded in St. Matthew's gospel above, if the baptism of John was from heaven, then Jesus required His hearers to obey what John taught. Likewise, if the teaching of the Catholic Church is from heaven, then Jesus requires those who call themselves Catholics to obey what the Church teaches.
To do otherwise can have some very unhappy and eternal consequences.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Doubts are Settled

 I wrote this essay more than forty years ago.

I have loved you with everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee with lovingkindness. Jeremiah 31:3
The muted rhythmic clatter of train wheels and the gentle rocking of the coach did nothing to soothe my growing despondency. For months heaven seemed deaf to my prayers for companionship. Loneliness consumed me. Worse, I believed God had abandoned me.

"Don't you care what's happening in my life?" I accused toward heaven. Wiping away tears, I stared vacantly through the window as the train clickerty-clacked past gently sloping hills and open pasture. Cattle grazed lazily. Wisps of cotton-white clouds fingered the endless mid‑western sky.

But it may as well have been stormy gray for as much as nature's elegance impressed me.

Then all at once an image flashed across my mind's eye. Transfixed by its sudden appearance, I watched myself raise a defiant fist and shout toward heaven, "I thought you loved me!" The words seared across my lips. "Then why do you ignore me?"

As the panorama continued, I watched myself slowly turned, as if on a moving stage, until the Lord Jesus – on the cross – loomed before me. He hung in silence. His arms outstretched. Head bowed. His gentle eyes fixed on mine.

I froze, gripped by the image of the crucified Christ watching me play out my tantrum. My fist fell to my side and I saw myself fall to my knees in shame. And then, as suddenly as the scene appeared in my mind, it was gone. But its message lingered, working its way deep into my heart.

I doubted His love. I accused Him of forsaking me. And then I saw His outstretched arms. And His eyes. I pressed my forehead against the glass pane, closed my eyes and repented.

It is with a measure of shame I confess that, although forty years have passed – forty – I am at times still sorely impatient when God delays answering my prayers. Nor do I yet find it particularly easy to always accept His “No,” when I want Him to say “Yes.”

But that He loves me – deeply loves me – is no longer an issue. Calvary has forever settled that question. The cross is Christ’s quiet testimony of a love that transcends all my despair, loneliness, heartache, and temper tantrums. The cross is for me His final answer to the question, "Don't you care what's happening in my life?"

Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Without End

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
“As it was in the beginning”

when darkness spread across the earth
and troubled waters
surged and foamed
and thrashed upon the land.
Then you spoke.
Simply, you spoke.
And beauty emerged from chaos.

“Is now”

when darkness spreads across my life
and troubled waters
surge and foam
and thrash my hopes
my dreams, even my faith.
I cry, “Lord!
Don’t you care that I perish?”
Then you speak.
Simply, you speak:
“Peace.  Be still.”
And beauty emerges from my chaos.

“And ever shall be”

as in that new city
which needs neither
sun by day,
nor moon by night,
for God Himself is its lamp;
where darkness and troubled waters
never come near;
where beauty and peace
never diminish.

Shine, Jesus. Shine.
Shine across our world.
Shine across our nation,
across our homes
across our lives
across our destinies . . .
World without end.

Click this link for the song, Shine, Jesus, Shine.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

In Our Most Desperate Need

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me . . . so that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3, RSV Catholic Edition).

Some forty years ago, I was stationed with the US Navy in Yokosuka, Japan and had just become a Christian. The people who influenced my early days as a new believer encouraged me to read the Bible because, they said, God speaks to us through its pages. And so I began reading. In those days I was completely ignorant of its content. I didn’t know Hezekiah from Timothy, Caleb from Philemon, 1 Chronicles from 1 Corinthians. But I took their advice and I read. Voraciously, I read.

And I was astounded by the things I was learning.

Another sailor from my unit lived a few doors down the hall from my barracks room. A confirmed atheist, he made no effort to hide his disgust for the Bible I was growing to love. At every opportunity he challenged my new faith, while I, undaunted, tried to persuade him to my side of the theological divide.

One afternoon as I walked by his room I noticed his door open. And there he sat at his desk, a Bible open before him, as he scribbled in a note book. I thought, maybe he’s beginning to search for God.

I knocked on the open door and smiled. “I see you’re studying the Bible.”

He turned in his chair to face me. “Yeah. I’m studying it so I can prove it wrong.”

How silly of him. The Bible he was trying to disprove has sent some of the greatest scientific and philosophical minds in history to their knees in worship of the God of that Bible: Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, Justin Martyr, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Sir Isaac Newton, CK Chesterton, CS Lewis, William Buckley . . . .

The Bible he was trying to disprove has survived the contemptuous scorn and calumny of such world-renowned anti-God philosophers as Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sarte, and Friedrich Nietzsche. It has withstood the onslaught of the world’s worst political despots from Nero to Hitler to Stalin to Mao Zedong. And it remains an unshakeable mountain of granite while the bones of scientific geniuses as atheists J. Robert Oppenheimer, Carl Sagan, Ivan Pavlov and Linus Pauling are slowly turning to dust.

During the past two thousand years the Bible has been burned, denounced, spat upon, ripped apart, and covered with the blood of men and women who clutched it to their breasts as they died by sword, axes, clubs, and bullets.

I have learned over the last forty years many great truths from that book, one of which is this: Sin will keep you from the Bible, or the Bible will keep you from sin.

I am now nearly 63 years old. The last 40 years have passed in what seems like just a few weeks. Only God – and perhaps my wife of 38 years – only they know how often during the last four decades of my life the Bible has given me comfort in my deepest despair, hope when I had none left, direction when I was desperately lost, light when I wandered in total darkness, courage when all of my courage had failed. 

And in this I am not alone. For literally millennia the Scriptures have been meeting the most desolate needs and restless longing of men and women who are honest enough with themselves to admit to themselves one crucial truth:

They need God.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Throwing Jesus Over a Cliff

I published this essay in my second book, Lessons Along the Journey. I thought it might be good to adapt the essay for this blog.

Whom would you compare me with, as an equal, or match me against, as though we were alike? . . . I am God, there is no other; I am God, there is none like me. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand, I accomplish my every purpose (Isaiah 46:5-10).

As I sat one morning on my couch and pondered the idea of God’s absolute control over our every circumstance, a question slipped into my mind: Is God good all the time and in all circumstances?

And I remembered a passage from St. Luke’s gospel about the Lord’s visit to Nazareth. The people in Jesus’ hometown challenged Him to work miracles for them as He’d done in other cities.

I could understand their argument. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. The people asking for miracles were His childhood friends and neighbors. He’d been in their homes, and they’d been in His. Why shouldn’t they expect Him to heal their sick and touch their hurting as He’d done in other cities?

But they learned, as I’ve learned – and have had to relearn time without number – God doesn’t always do what we want Him to do.

Indeed, I tell you,” Jesus answered, “there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:25-27).

In other words, God does what He chooses and for whom He chooses. And no one – not even Jesus’ neighbors and childhood friends – has a right to expect or demand He do otherwise.

But Jesus’ remark infuriated them. In a flood of passion, the crowd “rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill . . . to hurl him down headlong” (Luke 4:28-29).

Seems to me, people haven’t changed much since that day centuries ago in Nazareth. Many still grow bitter toward God over withered dreams and crushed hopes. They rail against Him because an accident took someone they love, or their marriage crumbled, or their child wasn’t healed, or . . . .

And so, unable to throw the Lord over a cliff, they throw away their faith instead.

It’s a danger we all face.

Like Martha who wept at the Lord’s feet over her brother Lazarus’ death, I often wonder why God is silent when I need Him to speak to my heart. I wonder why He says no when I need so much for Him to say yes. Why does He work miracles for others, but not for me?

In my many years of walking with Christ, I’ve come to recognize these questions are critical questions of faith -- and I don’t think God will let any of us gloss over them. Our maturity as Christians depends on how we answer those questions, because each time we don’t receive what we ask, each time we get knocked to the ground, we face two choices: throw Christ over the cliff, or persevere in our faith that God will work grace into our circumstances – regardless of how things look or feel.

In her short life – she was only twenty-four when she died – St. Therese of Lisieux discovered, “Everything is a grace. Everything is the direct effect of our Father's love – difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs – everything. Because through them she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events, to the heart that loves, all is well.”

The answer to the question, Is God good all the time and in all circumstances? is rooted in what St. Therese can teach those who listen. When doubts hammer our heart into the ground – God is good. When tragedy explodes through our life – God is good. When all of hell itself rises against our soul and overwhelms our strength – in all circumstances and at all times, God is good.

We come to that conclusion because it is simply not possible for Him to be anything else.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Not About Me

This essay is from my first book, We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed.  I am in the process of revising it per the latest translation of the Creed (2011). I hope to publish the updated version in the fall.
Creed Statement: Through Him all things were made

Today's Focus: Through Him

For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)

It's all about Jesus.

Always has been. Always will be. Always should be.

I ought to think of that before I start complaining about His business. Like the Mass, for example.

My wife and I had hardly left the sanctuary one Sunday morning before I groused about the service. “I wish we’d sing modern choruses instead of centuries-old hymns . . . I thought the priest could have made a stronger point about that Gospel passage . . . I’d like it better if we knelt for prayer . . . I wonder why . . ."

Then I noticed my emphasis:
I wish. I thought. I’d like. I wonder. My problem became disturbingly clear: I think the Mass – even life, if I’m honest -- is all about me.

Well, it’s not. The Mass, and all we do before and after we come into His presence is about the One through whom all things were made ‑ heaven, earth, mountains, sea . . .  It’s about Jesus, through whom I receive reconciliation to the Father, forgiveness and redemption.

For by Him all things were created,” wrote St. Paul, “both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. . . And in Him you have been made complete . . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." (Colossians 1:16; 2:10-12)

I can't help but notice Scripture’s emphasis: By Christ. Through Christ. For Christ. In Christ. With Christ.

There's not a thing in there about

Perhaps if I entered the Eucharistic Celebration centered more on Him and less on me, I wouldn’t be so quick to whine. If I cultivated a deeper relationship with Christ through the week, I wouldn't be bored with that holy hour on Sunday. If I meditated on the Mass readings before I left for church, the Holy Spirit might have more kindling to spark my passion for the Mass. If I entered the sanctuary early enough to pray, my heart would be ready to worship long before the Celebration began.

When I focus on me, it's easy to find fault with the priest, the choir, the temperature, the baby crying in the back. When my focus is on Him – through Whom all things were made – then all things fall into proper perspective.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, You spoke through the prophets. Help me understand the depth of those powerful words of the Creed: Through Him, all things were made.