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

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Holy Mother Church and Child Abuse


I posted this a year ago. I think it worthwhile to bring it forward again.

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I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him . . . (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).


As my mother approaches her 84th birthday, my thoughts take me to my childhood home. I never doubted Mom’s love for me – and I never doubted what she expected of me.

Principally, obedience.

When she told me to share with my younger sister, she wouldn’t tolerate my selfishness. When she told me to be home at 5 PM, I knew I’d be in trouble if I opened the door any later. And the time or two I defied her to her face, my backside bore stinging testimony that she wouldn’t tolerate rebellion.

So great was my respect – and yes, my fear – of Mom, by the time I was 17, outweighed her by 50 pounds and stood several inches taller, if she told me to be home at 11 PM, I was home at 11 PM.

As an adult with three children of my own, I know why Mom did as she did. Had she not set clear standards – and enforced those standards – I do not doubt for a moment I would not be the successful person I am today.

Sappy, indulgent love, is not really love. It’s cowardice and it’s destructive of the very one we say we care for. That’s not my idea; it’s God’s. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the prophets, warned: Do not hold back discipline from the child; Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.1 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.2 He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. 3 And “But if you are without discipline . . . then you are illegitimate children and not sons.4

Everyone reading this paragraph knows what it is like to be in the same area as a rude and disobedient child. Whether on a plane, in a restaurant, at a supermarket, or on a playground, incorrigible children ruin the tranquility of every environment in which they set foot. And I have often watched the child’s mother smile apologetically at the nearby adults and shrug her shoulders as if to say,“What can I do? I’m showing little Suzie how much I love her.”

And we also know what kind of incorrigible adults disobedient children become. Which is why what I see and hear occurring today in the Church causes me a great measure of angst. My experience and my knowledge of Scripture wants to scream at some leaders in Mother Church who – in the name of sappy, indulgent love – refuse to discipline her disobedient children. Nor does it seem to matter how terrible their behavior or scandalous their disobedience.

What Catholic does not know of priests – or even bishops – who permit lay members of their congregation to lead choirs, act as lector or usher, teach Faith Formation or adult Bible studies, and yet flaunt their sins and are openly critical of Church teaching about sexuality, marriage, abortion, the priesthood and other doctrines central to Catholic faith?

Worse yet, what Catholic does not know of priests -- or even bishops -- who permit  such openly rebellious and unrepentant Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist?

To most Catholics and non-Catholics, it seems Mother Church is simply smiling, almost apologetically, as if to say, “What can I do? This is how we demonstrate our love for little Suzie or Johnnie.”

As my mother approaches her 84thbirthday I plan to thank her for loving me enough to swat my diapered rear-end when I got sassy. I will thank her for loving me‘tough’ enough to do the hard things like restricting my freedom, taking away privileges and yes, slapping me across the face when I so rightly deserved it as a teenager.

From my perspective, Holy Mother church needs to do the same with her rebellious sons and daughters. To do as she is currently doing is cruel. And maybe borders on child abuse.

1. Proverbs 23:13-14
2. Proverbs 29:15
3. Proverbs 13:24
4. Hebrews 12:7-8

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cups of Wine and Full Bellies

Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. – Mark 13:33


I’d always faulted them for falling asleep. Their best friend had asked them to pray with Him. “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death,” He said.  I can almost hear the anguish in his voice. “Keep watch with me.”

How then could they just close their eyes and slumber?

You know the story. While Jesus agonized in prayer, Peter, James and John turned over in their sleep. Twice more the Lord came to them, hoping for their support. And each time – except for the last, when the soldiers surrounded them – they were asleep.

Again I asked myself, how could they?

But I had never put myself in their places. They’d just finished a full meal – the last supper, the Passover Seder. The meal of lamb, vegetables and unleavened bread filled their bellies. And then there was the wine. According to Jewish tradition, the disciples would have drunk at least four cups, including the one over which the Lord said, “This is the cup of the new covenant in My blood.”

Four cups of wine and a full belly. It was night. A gentle and warm breeze swept across Gethsemane. It’s not all that surprising that their eyes grew heavy. Yet, the Lord, aware of our tendency to fall asleep after a full meal and a little wine – the lord nonetheless implored them to stay awake and to pray. “The spirit is willing,” He said knowingly, “but the flesh is weak.”

The disciples couldn’t have known soldiers were gathering a short distance down the road, and would soon overrun them.

My wife and I were talking one evening around the dinner table about the current state of morals in our country. Nancy and I are in our early 60s, and it astounds us how rapidly – like flashes of lightning – morality across America (even the world) has slid into darkness. And only those who are our ages probably recognize it. To those in our children's generation and younger, the way things are today seem normal because they've nothing with which to compare the growing evil. Compared to what passes as morality today, the era of 'sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll’ through which Nancy and I lived in the mid-1960s seems like an age of innocence and virtue as pure as unsoiled snow.

Like the disciples in the Garden, our generation – and more importantly, the Church – fell asleep. It was perhaps easy to do. In those years our economy blossomed. Prosperity opened doors to us that our parents and grandparents could only dream of. The comfort and safety of our communities lulled us into carelessness. Our eyes and our spirits grew heavy with the good food and wine of complacency. Nonetheless, even through those days the Lord implored us through Christian leaders such as Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Francis Schaeffer, Pope John Paul II, Jerry Falwell, and Billy Graham to watch. And pray.


Oh, our spirits were willing. But our flesh was so very weak. And evil, perversion, and corruption gathered on the horizon.  And now they are upon us.

Only when soldiers shattered their comfortable and sleepy world did the disciples fully awaken. By then, it was too late – which brings me to my point: Will we shake ourselves awake before it is too late? Will we do what must be done so that God gifts us with revival and a resurgence of a culture that – if nothing else – resembles what we had only 40 years ago?

How much has changed in only 40 years! And only God knows what America and the Church will look like just a few more years down the road.

So how then can Christians stir ourselves in this time? Repent for our complacency and complicity in our nation’s moral mess? Absolutely. Pray for the salvation of men and women and a return to godliness? Of course. Fast? Not a bad idea. Read, study and meditate on God’s word? That’s always a good plan. And for Catholics, receive the body and blood of Jesus with a proper disposition of the heart, and not be a stranger to the confessional? To that I say, ‘Amen.’

But I will suggest one more thing, a fundamental, foundational thing that we must do: Fall in love with Jesus. Deeply in love with Jesus. Implore the Holy Spirit to impassion us toward Jesus, enflame our hearts for Jesus.

How does one fall in love with Jesus? Perhaps more important, how does one stay in love with Jesus? Most important still, how does one mature in his or her love for Jesus?

The answer is not at all complex or complicated. Falling, staying and maturing in love with Jesus requires the same thing as of a man and woman who fall in love, stay in love and grow in love with each other: It requires time.

That, dear Christian, is the answer to the question. Spend time with Jesus, as much time with Him as you would spend with someone you hope to know better – and to love better. Make time to spend with Jesus. Morning, evening and through the day, make time to spend with Jesus.

I am reminded of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, who taught: “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."

The days are shorter than we realize. Listen carefully enough and you can hear the torch-carrying mob descending on our Garden. The night is close at hand. Oh, God! Stir us fully awake to do what we must do that You will restore our land and Your Church to its holy roots.

 

 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Simple Secret

I wrote this several years ago. It appears in my second book, Lessons along the Journey. You can also follow this link to my various strategies for prayer.
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My secret is quite simple: I pray. – Mother Teresa

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)
 
 
            I relish walking into a kitchen warm with the aroma of fresh-baked bread. I savor the fragrance of honeysuckle when it blossoms outside my window. I make a point to walk down the coffee aisle where the scent of roasted beans lingers near the decanters. But chocolate . . . there's nothing like stepping into a specialty shop where the fragrance of fudge, toffee and truffles saturate the air.

            Many fragrances attract us each day – and because God created us in His image, it shouldn’t surprise us that our Creator has His favorite fragrances, as well. One of them is prayer.

            The psalmist wrote, "O Lord, may my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:2). Later, in the New Testament, the apostle John saw a vision of four living creatures and twenty‑four elders around God’s throne "holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8).

            God loves the fragrance of our prayers, so why, when prayer or praise begins to flow from my lips, do I cut it short before God has a chance to catch even a whiff? Because I talk myself into believing I have other (more) important things to do.

            How sad is that?

            You might be familiar with the names of prayer giants in church history such as St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, Pope John Paul II, St. Padre Pio, St. Theresa of Avila, and Mother Teresa – men and women who knew what it meant to spend hours in prayer.

            Hours? What could anyone pray about for so long? My mind tended to wander after only a few minutes. I doubt my prayers during my first thirty-two years walking with Christ lasted ten minutes at a time. Most ran less than five. So, when I discovered how long some men and women in church history prayed, I was forced to ask myself, what did they have that I didn’t?

            I pondered that question a long time before finally admitting to myself the truth – a truth I didn’t like: I left the prayer closet so quickly because I'd not fallen in love with Jesus as much as I liked to think I had. I left because I wanted to do something more interesting or enjoyable – like watching television, eating, or taking a nap.

            That's not at all easy to admit – to you or to myself. It’s as if, for thirty‑two years, I stood on a beach, holding a glass of water and believing I held everything I needed to experience a maturing love for Christ. Hadn’t I read the Bible dozens of times? I shared my faith, taught Sunday school, memorized long passages of Scripture, and had daily devotional times with the Lord. How much deeper into the faith could a person go?

            Then I felt water lap at my feet. When I turned, I saw an expanse of water as deep and wide as the Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon.

            In his Catechism on Prayer, St. John Vianney wrote: “Prayer is nothing else than union with God . . . In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they cannot be separated. This union of God with His little creature is a most beautiful thing. It is a happiness that we cannot understand.”

            I'm sure St. John Vianney’s concept of “intimate union” involved more than five minutes on his knees before God.

            So what's the point? During my three-decade journey with Jesus, holding my glass of water, doing all the right things I'd been taught to do to "know" God – I forgot God is a person and my relationship with Him needs to be nurtured on more than rituals and how‑to's. For too long, God longed to catch a whiff of my prayers while I satisfied myself with tossing a few words in His direction.

            What is the solution to finding intimacy with God? I think it is simple. Until we tire of holding a stupid glass of sea water, until we weary of chasing elusive dreams, until we beg the Holy Spirit, "Stir within me a longing to come to Jesus," our minds will shut down after five minutes of, "Lord, bless me, mine and ours."

            Relationship‑nurturing prayer, entering into His presence with that fragrant aroma He savors, is not something we do by our own strength, will, or self‑imposed schedules. The Lord Jesus said those who would worship God must do so in spirit and truth. Aromatic prayer is a supernatural event, a sacred and mystical communion with the Almighty, enabled only by and through His grace. "Unless the Lord builds the house," the Psalmist recognized, "its builders labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1). Unless the Lord revives our hearts to love Him, to seek Him as a deer pants for water, we will content ourselves with ritual and form.

            That's why I am convinced it's so vitally important that I continue to ask, seek, and knock at heaven's gate until the Lord draws me deeper into those ocean waters. That kind of prayer – prayer to grow more in love Him every day, is my answer to a long history of self‑satisfaction with rote and form. It's my answer against choosing other things I often believe more important than to sit like Mary at the Master’s feet (see St. Luke 10:39-41).

 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On Whom Will We Rely?

I posted this in 2009. I thought about again it during a recent reading through 2 Chronicles.
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So I'm reading through 2 Chronicles and I come to this verse in chapter 16: In the thirty-sixth year of Asa's reign Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah . . . . (verse 1).

What happens next is (for me, anyway) confusing -- and instructive.

But first, some back story. In chapter 14, Asa ascended the throne of David in Judah. Ten years later a million-man army from Ethiopia attacked Judah. When Asa prayed for help The Lord routed the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.(verse 11)

Think of it. The entire Ethiopian army -- chariots, horsemen, soldiers -- the whole million-man army fled before Asa's army which was half the size.

But twenty-one years later, we are at chapter 16. This time Asa is besieged by another army, but instead of relying on God for help, he paid a foreign king to come to his aid.

I put the Bible down for a moment and wondered what happened in the intervening 21 years between the million-soldier rout and chapter 16. Scripture is silent, so I can only make an assumption based on human nature -- and I know human nature pretty well. I've lived with myself for more than 60 years.

I believe Asa forgot Whose he was, and to Whom he belonged. During those two decades Asa stopped praying, stopped worshiping, stopped reading God's word. And his slow drift away from his anchor bore spoiled fruit when he faced a situation he could not handle alone.

His turn from God didn't happen overnight. It occurred by degrees, over the years. I know it happened that way because in my 40-plus years with Christ I've watched many Christians slowly lose touch with God. They stopped, by degrees, attending Church. They left their Bibles closed for a week. And then three. Then years. Their prayer life slowed to a halt, and they exchanged Christian friends for non-believers. And to no one's surprise, when difficult situations fell across their path, they relied on anything else but God.

I know it happened that way because I remember the many times the spiritual desert loomed around me, and I nearly forgot Whose I am and to Whom I belong. The temptation to leave my Bible closed, or toss a quick and nearly mindless prayer toward heaven, or to sleep in on Sunday whispered its seductive arguments at me, almost quite convincingly.

Christian, listen to me. All of us are at risk of following in Asa's footsteps.

And all of us can learn from his error.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Every Thought Captive

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.  (Luke 7:39)
 
They knew her only as the harlot. The outcast. Pariah. Even as she wet her lord’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, they despised her as ‘a sinner.’
 
But they didn’t know what she knew. They didn’t see what Jesus saw. And I wonder if they would have even cared. Jesus changed her from the inside out. She knelt before her Lord as a new creation. His beloved and precious possession. She’d been born again. Mary was, as St. Paul would later describe, “Washed . . . sanctified . . . [and] justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
 
Do you think she might still have had her detractors until the day she died? Did some always call her ‘whore’? Human nature being as it is, I’m sure Mary heard the whispers and caught the glances for the rest of her life. Some never will see what God sees. They never will know the change God works in the heart of the penitent.
 
Of hers. Of mine.
 
Or of yours.
 
“You can’t.” “You won’t.” “You’ll never.”
 
We are today – now -- each in a deadly spiritual battle against the Father of Lies who, then as now, has many to do his bidding. He has many who wag their tongue at the Lord’s beloved, who rip at our confidence in God’s wondrous promises and His unfaltering love for us. He has many who labor with him to destroy our souls, who insist we are who we were -- and who will never accept who we have become in Christ.
 
Christian! Turn your eyes again and always upon Jesus. In prayer, meditating on the Scriptures, and in receiving the Eucharist, gaze into His wonderful face. And you will find the slanders of earth-minded people grow increasingly muffled in the light of Christ’s glory and grace.
 
Oh, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as St. Paul tells us, "The weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ." Teach us, Oh Lord, to take every thought captive to Christ. Amen.

And amen.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

God in the Shadows

This is probably my most favorite essay. It appears in my second book. I post it again to the blog and hope it is of value for you.

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I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. – John 14:18, 27
 
           Live long enough and you'll discover life can pitch a mean curve ball. Just when you think you know what the next one will look like, it slices past the radar gun at 110, and all you end up doing is batting air. Or worse.
            Serious illness. Financial ruin. Divorce. Any number of pitches can break toward us and send us diving for safety. But of the hardest pitches life might fire at us, rejection has to be right up there with the worst.

            I understand rejection. I met it when my father left my mom for another woman. I was five at the time. He seldom bothered to visit my sister and me afterward. When I met briefly with him thirteen years later, I asked why he left his children.

            Today, after fifty years swinging the bat, I still remember his answer: "Because I wanted to."

            I'm sometimes surprised how good can come from that memory. My father's rejection helps me empathize with others who never knew love and acceptance from those closest to them.

            Like Leah.

            If you remember the story (Genesis 29-30), Leah lived in the shadow of her younger sister's beauty. When Jacob visited the family, Rachel's beauty captured him. I suppose it's fair to say her beauty consumed him - so much so, he agreed to work her family's farm for seven years as payment to marry her. But on the eve of the seventh anniversary, Rachel's family pulled a classic bait and switch. When the new groom awakened the next morning, he found himself lying next to Leah. If Jacob still wanted Rachel, he'd have to work another seven years.

            He did, but it's not difficult to imagine how Leah felt – unloved, unattractive, unwanted, knowing her family had to trick Jacob into her marriage bed.

            Yet, the story grows more poignant. Scripture tells us: “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb . . . and (she) gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, ‘It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now’" (Genesis 29:31-32, NASB).

            I can almost hear the wistful yearning in her voice, "Now my husband will love me."

            Leah was not the first woman to hope, "If I have his child, he will love me." But that's not the way love works. It didn't work for Leah. It didn't work for my mom. It won't work for anyone.

            Ever the optimist, though, Leah conceived again. And then again. "Now at last my husband will become attached to me," she said, "because I have borne him three sons."
            Yet even after six sons, it was Rachel who remained the light in Jacob's eyes. Leah hungered for her husband's embrace. She longed for his touch, a kind word and to know in the core of her being she was loved. Yet, Jacob was deaf to her heartache and blind to her sorrow.

            God, however, knew it all – and that is the wonderful message of this story.
            I've read this chapter in Genesis dozens of times, but this time my eyes froze at the list of Leah's sons, and then refocused on two.

            Levi and Judah.

            Not only was Leah unaware that God was with her in Rachel's shadow, but she didn't know eternity would measure life and death through her offspring – not Rachel's.

            Levi and Judah: ancestors of Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Ezra, Ezekiel, Zechariah. All of Israel's religious and political leaders would spring from her womb.

            Including Jesus the Messiah.
            The apostle Paul tells us the things written in Scripture are for our benefit, that through the encouragement of God's word we might have hope (Romans 15:4). And that's what Leah's story is all about – great, ineffable hope. It's about God in our shadows, about God who never rejects us and who can turn the rejection of others into something of eternal value for a world longing to be touched by God's love.

            "For I know the plans that I have for you," God tells us through Jeremiah - another of Leah's descendants, "plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11, NASB).

           
Hope. St. Paul tells us the things written in Scripture are for our benefit, and that through the encouragement of God's word we can have hope (Romans 15:4). That's what Leah's story is all about – great, ineffable hope. It’s about God in our shadows, about God who loves us, and who knows our deepest hurts.

            And it’s the story of how God can turn the rejection of others into something of immeasurable value for those of us yearning to be touched by God's love.