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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pearls of Great Price

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) 
 
 
 
No one sees it happening. Not with our natural eyes, anyway. The priest – an ordinary man given an extraordinary privilege – holds bread and wine aloft, speaks a prayer of consecration, and the Holy Spirit supernaturally transubstantiates them into the body and blood, soul and divinity of our God-who-took-the-form-of-Man.

Jesus.
 
 
Sunday Morning at Mass
A mixed-media creation by Nancy Maffeo
 
 
No one sees it happening. Not with our natural eyes, anyway. During that time of the Mass, our time intersects with eternal time, a time in which time does not exist; certainly not as we understand time. And we are there, at the whipping post, two thousand years ago as we count time. His blood oozes from strips of flesh across his back and arms and legs and buttocks sliced open by the Roman whip. Blood oozes and drops to the pavement at His feet. 
 
No one sees it happening. Not with our natural eyes, anyway. God carries the cross laid across His bloody shoulders. Soldiers push Him along the Via Dolorosa, flogging Him again and again with their whips. Mocking Him with their jeers. Wetting Him with their spittle. And His blood continues to ooze and to drop onto the pavement beneath His feet.
 
No one sees it happening. Not with our natural eyes, anyway. He stops at the top of Calvary’s hill. Soldiers throw Him down onto the cross He carried. They grab His hands and feet – they grab God’s hands and feet – and hammer spikes into His battered flesh.
 
No one sees it happening. Not with our natural eyes, anyway. But at each Mass the faithful can follow with their eyes of faith the drops of blood, like pearls of great price, glistening along the path from whipping post to splintered cross, the path which only the God-Man could walk, which only the God-Man could transform from a place of death to a throne of eternal life.
 
No one sees it happening. Not with our natural eyes, anyway. But it happens at every Mass.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

He Ascended into Heaven


This essay is taken from my book of Nicene Creed meditations (still under revision). You can find the older version here (link).
 
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Creed Statement: He Ascended into Heaven

 

While meeting with them, He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem . . . but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." When He had said this, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight. (Acts 1:4,8,9)

Fear -- probably terror -- overwhelmed the disciples when the soldiers captured Jesus in the Garden. They fled before they could also be led away with their Master. Peter, following at a safe distance, denied three times he knew his best friend.

When Pilate crucified the Lord, their hopes derailed, only to rekindle three days later as Mary Magdalene shouted, “He’s risen! He’s alive!” – only to collapse again when they raced to the tomb and found it empty.

When the Lord appeared in the upper room, their hope soared once more – and plummeted forty days later as they watched Him leave. Surely, by now the disciples were weary of the emotional roller coaster.

Do you know about emotional dips and swerves and lifts? I do. I know how it feels to scan heaven in vain for answers to prayer. I know what it’s like, even in the midst of what should be a glorious celebration of the Mass, to fixate on my family losses, broken relationships or financial reversals.

I’d do much better to focus instead on the miraculous event taking place before my eyes as bread and wine transform into His body and blood. I should drop to my knees in awe, in fear and in reverence as He appears before me. I should, as the writer to the Hebrews encouraged his readers, fix my eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

What must it have been like for the disciples to fix their eyes on Christ as He ascended, to see earth lose its hold on Him? What were they thinking? I think if I’d been there, I’d have dropped to my knees in awe, in fear -- and in sorrow to see Him leave. I’d have wondered how I could go on.

When we recite, “He ascended into heaven,” God gives us opportunity -- especially during times of loneliness and sorrow -- to go on. He beckons us to look with eyes of faith to the heavens, from where our help comes. The Holy Spirit trades our emotional derailment for His encouragement, our loss for His sufficiency, our defeat for His victory.

That’s a critically important point, and we should take care not to miss it. Sorrows, overwhelming as they may be, last only for a time, but the shout of victory is ours come morning (Psalm 30:5). Just as earth’s gravity could no more hold Christ than death could, sorrows hold us only to the extent we give them permission.

He is risen. He is ascended. He is sitting –now, at this moment – at the Father’s right hand. Unless and until we look beyond the bottom of our ride, we won’t recognize the personal significance of Christ’s ascension to the Father. We’ll settle for emotional derailment and defeat instead of the victory we have in the risen and ascended Savior.

“Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in!” (Psalm 24:7)


Prayer: Hallelujah to the crucified One. Glory to the risen One. Adoration to the ascended One. Who is like You, Oh, Lord? Perfect in majesty, ever in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit and ever present at our right hand. Amen.

end

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

God Died

He who touches you touches the apple of His eye.
(Zechariah 2:8)
 
God is love.
Scripture says it so often
so we can't miss it.
 
It is of love,
 
as well as
holiness,
and justice,
 
that He emptied himself
of inexplicable splendor,
took the form of a man,
common dust of earth,
and endured hunger,
and thirst, and pain.
 
And death.
 
It is why He let us spit at Him,
punch His face,
slice His back
into bloody shreds,
hammer spikes
through His hands and feet.
 
Love let us do that.
Love for you. And me.
Our families and neighbors.
Friends and strangers.
 
God died as he died
to take on Himself
the penalty of our sins
so His love,
 
as well as His
holiness,
and justice
 
could declare us
blameless,
guiltless,
spotless in His sight,
that we could be with Him
forever.
 
But sin . . .
 
To do what we want,
when we want,
for as long as we want,
because we want it –
 
Sin turns us away from Him
who loves us
more than His own life.
 
Yet worse:
our sins influence others,
encourage others,
persuade others
beloved by Him
more than His own life
to rebuff His love.
 
Oh! How great must be
God’s sorrow over sin.
 
No wonder He pours His wrath
against sin,
and against those who persist in sin,
for sin –
and those who love it –
 rob God
of His most special delight:
To hold each of His beloved –
you and me,
our families and neighbors,
friends and strangers –
to hold each of us
close in His arms
forever.
 
God is love.
And holy. And just.
 
And zealously protective
of His beloved.
 
 It is reckless
and dangerous
to spurn His love;
 
And to our peril
 we cause others –
each for whom God died –  
to do the same.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Amen

This is the last essay in my first book (currently under revision). Perhaps you will find it valuable.

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Creed Statement: I believe . . . . Amen.

Today’s Focus: 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)

“I believe . . . I believe . . . I 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. Prayers go unanswered. Families shatter. Finances evaporate. And heaven seems silent.

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 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.

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.

 

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Very Own Frankenstein Monster

I published this essay in my book, Lessons Along the Journey.
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I think that if God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as higher tribunal than Him. – C. S. Lewis


          The  shadowy figure darted behind a tombstone and peered steadily into the darkness. When he was satisfied no one had spotted him, he thrust his shovel into the fresh grave – again and again. Soon, his spade thudded against the casket. A few minutes later, he lifted the corpse onto his shoulders and grunted.

          Dr. Frankenstein would be pleased.

          I'm surprised I still remember the 1950s horror film. Dr. Frankenstein zapped the cadaver with a bolt of electricity and brought the dead back to life. Unfortunately, the monster ended up terrorizing the countryside.

          Have you noticed how our culture seems preoccupied with death? Surf the TV most evenings or browse the sci-fi section in online streaming sites. The titles may surprise you. Even some Christians seem preoccupied with restoring life to things that ought to stay dead.

          Robert is a good example. He has a bad habit of digging around in graveyards – mostly his. He called me some time ago in a state of depression, "How can God forgive me?" he pleaded. "You don't know what I've done."

          That was not the first conversation I’d had with him over the same theme. I've lost count of the times Robert has called for assurance of God's forgiveness. And each time I remind him of Scripture’s promises, he responds with his characteristic, "Yes, but.”

          As he spoke, a mental image of the Frankenstein monster formed as Robert again dug up his past – a past covered by Christ's blood. I watched him piece together one old sin after another, assembling them into a monster that terrorized him and his family.

          This time, though, I could not find fault only with my friend’s needless despair. With seamless precision, my thoughts propelled me toward my own graveyard where "Yes, but” is etched on several tombstones.

          Like Robert, I know Scriptures that assure me of God's forgiveness. So why do I dig around in my past, piecing together my own monster? Why do I permit the creature that Christ put to death be resurrected and wreak havoc on my life and hurt my relationship with God and with others?

          I know why. Sometimes I doubt our Father’s trustworthiness. I am skeptical that Christ’s sacrificial death could cover my despicable sins. So, I revive my past, lifting each sin onto my shoulders as if to say, "Lord, if you really knew what I’ve done, you would never forgive me."

          On the other end of the line, Robert's litany of reasons why God was angry with him gained momentum. With each passing thought, he dug himself deeper into the Yes, but pit until I couldn't take anymore.

          "Robert," I interrupted.

          He stopped talking and I reminded him again – myself as well – of the promises which stand more sure than Earth itself, of promises more secure than any anchor, of promises that transcend all of our "Yes, buts":

          “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “[Therefore], now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

          Scripture after Scripture, promise after promise swirled though my mind and slipped across my tongue. I don't know if they helped Robert, but I know they helped me to once again place my monster back into the crypt. By God’s grace, I will leave it there. Life is too short, and the laborers too few, to waste time and energy carrying a dead man around on my shoulders.

God says to the penitent: Forgiven. Satan whispers: Guilty.
Whom will we believe?

 

 
 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Way of my Fathers

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock (Psalm 40:2)

I would have gone the way of my fathers, Al, and Tommy. 

Al contributed to my genes, and was rarely in my life after he left Mom a few years after my birth. He left because he wouldn’t stay out of other women’s beds. I’m told he had a brilliant mind, so much so that he worked on the nuclear bomb project during WW2. But after the war he chose to drive a cab for a living. He tossed away his life’s rich potential for the impoverished call of wine and women. He died at 75 in his sleep, lying next to his fourth wife.

Then there was Tommy. He married Mom when I was twelve and adopted me and my sister shortly afterward. I remember him for his explosive temper. We never knew what would set him off. He never hugged me, rarely spent time with me beyond the time it took to eat dinner together. I don’t remember him even speaking a kind or encouraging word to me.

But despite the rejection of my fathers, knowing myself as I know myself, I know I would have followed their examples, become as they, focused on my lusts, my pleasures, my whims. My trajectory began early in my teen years. The allure of drugs and sex without responsibilities wooed me; and I gladly followed. I lived for the moment because it was always ‘my’ moment. I didn’t care about my future because I chose to live only one day at a time. The future could wait until I was ready.

As I write this, nearing the age of 63 and remembering now who I was then, I know I would have become as they became.

But God . . .

Oh, how I love that phrase: But God.

In one of my rare sober moments when I was 22, I projected my life 25, 35 years into the future. That projection frightened me and I felt trapped, locked into a path I could never change. Spiraling into depression, with no hope for self-rescue, I called out to the God I’d for so long spurned and denied.

And He heard my cry.

People have told me God is a myth, a fable created by the weak, the needy, the desperate. But those who say such things have never met my God, have never felt His presence so close you can almost hear His heartbeat, have never heard Him whisper: “Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you. I have done it, and I will carry you; I will bear you and I will deliver you.”*

I know who I was and where I was headed. But God changed my life. Thoroughly. Completely. From the inside out He recreated me. And best of all, through confession of my sins – some of which were very dark and very evil – He cast them all as far from Himself as east is from the west.

People ask why I am so passionate about my God, about my Jesus. There are many reasons, but I will mention only a few. First, He is the only Father who has ever loved me. Al wanted nothing to do with me. Tommy barely put up with me.  But Jesus. Oh, my Jesus has been my Daddy ever since my conception. He never left me, never rejected me, even at my worst.

Then too, He reached out His nail-pierced hand and pulled me from my trajectory toward certain self-destruction. He saved my life even when others might have thought my life not worth saving. And then, in addition to it all, He filled me with hope and purpose.

Why else my passion? Because I have seen it again and again. What He did for me, He wants to do for anyone. My Jesus has never refused the desperate cry of any penitent.

Yes, I am passionate in my love for Him. How could I be less?

*Isaiah 46:4

 

 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Will We Say?


This appears in my second book, Lessons Along the Journey. I adapted it for this blog because the message is so timely in our current culture.

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For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . .  (Romans 1:16)

        When I was four, my family lived near the Atlantic Ocean. "Close enough to enjoy the water," my mother used to say, "but far enough that we don't have sand in the house."
One afternoon my father brought me to the beach to escape the blistering summer heat of our apartment. I still remember splashing in the water, squealing as the gentle waves surged and ebbed around me.

I suppose he was only a short distance away when he turned his back for a moment. But during that moment, a wave knocked me off balance and plunged my face beneath the water. Frantic, I fought to regain my footing as each successive swell threw me under again and again. Panic grew into terror as the current swept me deeper beneath the waves.

Then, from nowhere, strong arms suddenly pulled me free. Within moments, I found myself safely on the warm sand. The lifeguard had come to my rescue.

"Hey! What are you doing?" My father ran toward us, shouting angrily at the man who saved me. "I was watching him. He was okay." Then he looked at me. "You were okay, weren't you?"

I remember it was more a command than a question. Embarrassed and confused, what could I say? I stared at my feet and whispered, "Uh‑huh."

Vindicated, my father led me back to our beach blanket. I didn't feel like going into the water any more that day.

Years passed, and I discovered different waters in which to revel. Swept along by swells of ideas and temptations, I drifted from one immoral or rebellious pleasure to another. Life ebbed and flowed gently around me.

Then a wave knocked me off balance.

I fought to regain my footing, but each attempt met powerful and successive waves that pulled me deeper toward sin, desperation, and finally, despondency. I knew intuitively that my future promised little more than ever-increasing bondage to those very things I once thought gave me freedom. I knew I could no more stop doing what I knew to be wrong than I could prevent the ocean's currents. But oh, how I longed for forgiveness, cleansing – and rescue. In despair, I cried out to the One I had for so long ignored, and begged Him to deliver me from myself.

I still remember His rescue. The Holy Spirit led me to friends who told me of God’s promise of salvation and the power to change direction. All I needed to do was ask God for mercy.

Suddenly, from nowhere, strong arms pulled me free from sin's grip. Overwhelming guilt and fear gave way to assurance and peace. I’d been rescued. Lifted onto the Rock. Oh, how glorious was the sense of freedom, to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

But within days, friends and family rushed to my side. "You were okay, weren't you? You weren't really in trouble . . . .”

What could I say? What would I say?

It’s not surprising when pressure from friends or parents prevent a child from choosing right over wrong. But how should an adult react in the face of truth? Despite my self-assured fa├žade, I desperately needed help, and the Lord Jesus so graciously reached down to rescue me.

What could I say? The choice could not have been clearer. It was time to put away childish things. It was time to shoulder my responsibility and admit that the gospel is the power of God to rescue from sin’s bondage everyone who turns to Christ.
 
Could I – could anyone –say less?