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

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Time is Too Short to Waste

Today if you hear His voice . . . . (Hebrews 4:7)

I couldn’t lay the book down. The author’s words astounded me. Like most Jews I knew while growing up in New York, my family never owned a Bible, and we rarely attended synagogue. If anyone had asked me why I was Jewish, I’d have shrugged my shoulders and replied: Because my mom is Jewish.
So when I read The Late Great Planet Earth in 1972, I had my first introduction to the Bible beyond my very superficial knowledge of the Ten Commandments. What Hal Lindsay wrote caused me to shake my head in near disbelief. The prophets of the Jewish Bible – the Old Testament – had predicted for centuries that God would send His Messiah to our people. Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 53; Daniel 7:9-14, Zechariah 12:10, Micah 5:2-5, and Psalm 22:1-18 were only a few of the hundreds of prophecies our prophets made regarding the Messiah. As I read them again and again, I knew they spoke about none other than Jesus.
My mind whirled with this new knowledge. I knew I’d found truth! Absolute, unalterable truth. Eternal truth so remarkable I dared not hide from it. Truth so full of hope I dared not ignore it, regardless of the personal, social or career cost it might require. Oh, the ecstasy of it all! I could be cleansed, forgiven and freed from all the selfish senseless evil I’d ever committed, wickedness that at times weighed deeply on my conscience. Killing my baby in the abortion clinic, turning young women into whores, helping turn young men and women into drug abusers, hurting others simply because I could – all of it, wiped away in an instant by the truth wrapped in the promises of God. But there was even more. Despite my wickedness, God loved me – certainly not what I’d done – but He loved ME. And He would adopt me into His family if only I turned my life over to Him.
What else could I do in the light of such life-altering truth? I knelt beside my bed and prayed: God, I believe Jesus is the Messiah. With that simple seven word prayer, God knew I was telling Him I would follow Him wherever He led, do whatever He commanded – and I didn’t care what anyone else thought. The Holy Spirit then showed me how to find more about this truth. I bought a Bible and began reading. Cover to cover, twice in that first year. When I didn’t understand a passage, the He led me to seek mature Christians who used Scripture to interpret Scripture to answer my questions.
That was more than 40 years ago, and God still leads me to seek truth through the pages of the Bible. Indeed, it was my continuing search for truth that ultimately led me to the Catholic Church a few years ago – truth previously hidden from me, truth so exhilarating about the Sacraments and the physical presence of Christ in the Mass I could not ignore it, regardless of the personal, social, or career cost it might require.
During the last 40 years I’ve spoken with many men and women who did not understand much about God or His word.  Most of them came to me with inquisitive hearts, honestly seeking answers to their questions. I always answered as best I could, while considering my own continuing journey to know more about Him. But there were also those who, like the Pharisees who came to Jesus trying to trap Him in some statement (Mark 12:13), or the Samaritan woman who at first wanted only to challenge Him (John 4:9-26), there were those who did not want to know truth, but instead wanted to justify their lifestyles or simply engage in an intellectual discussion for the sake only of entertainment.
In my earlier days as a Christian, wanting so much to share with others what I’d discovered about God, I made the mistake to argue. I should have taken my cue instead from Scripture and avoided such useless discussions. For example, St. Paul wrote, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). And Jesus said, “do not throw your pearls before swine, lest the trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6)  
I wish I had learned in those days what St. Bernadette knew: Our job is to inform, not to convince. It is, of course, only the Holy Spirit who can convince someone of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). Our job is to simply tell others what the Book says.
So I’ve recently changed my approach. When someone is honestly confused about Scripture and is seeking truth, I will explain what I know to the best of my current knowledge. But when I now suspect someone is simply looking to justify his or her sin-laden lifestyle, or to argue a point just to argue, I will give them an assignment to test their sincerity. If they are honest in their search for truth, they will take on the task. If they are not, they will brush off the assignment and we will have both saved ourselves from wasting time. Here is the assignment:
If you really want to know truth, then go to the One who is truth and read what He said. Read the New Testament. Even if you have read the Bible in the past, please do so again. Two chapters a day will finish the New Testament in less than four months.  
I recommend you use a good modern translation, preferably one without editorial commentary in the page margins. The New American Bible (Catholic edition), the New King James Version, the New American Standard Version, or the New Revised Standard Version (Anglican or Catholic editions) are some of the high quality translations available. Start at Matthew’s gospel and continue reading a couple of chapters a day until you finish Revelation. Keep a journal and each day write what you have learned, or what questions come to mind. Send me weekly updates on your progress so we can talk each week about what you are learning. 
When you finish the New Testament, we will sit and talk about any other questions you might have that still trouble you. We will talk for as long as necessary, months, if necessary.
I do not assign the New Testament because I consider the Old of little value; On the contrary, one cannot fully understand the New Testament without a fluent familiarity of the Old Testament. As St. Augustine wrote: The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. But the questions most people ask are more readily answered through the pages of the New Testament.  
My God has done so much for me that I yearn to tell others of His great love and promises. But the older I get, the more I realize time is too short and too precious to waste discussing truth with those who are not really interested in more than sound-bites. Those who play theological games with God ought to be wary, for God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). But to those who seek Him with an honest heart, caring not about  the cost, God says, You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).


Melanie Jean Juneau said...

the old model of evangelism was word evangeism, from the pulpit or great speakers like Billy Graham and Fr, Fulten Sheen. with the catholic Renewal came power evangelism with healings and the gifts of the Spirit. But now I think it is PRESENCE EVANGELISM. We speak but it is more the presence of the lord in us that people sense, yearn for. My presence gift is joy. it bubles up unexpetedly when I meet, talk or write and it is contagious. I simply am myself but he shines His joy through me. people's spirits are touched more than their intellects

Rich Maffeo said...

Hi, Melanie. I am not sure what you mean when you say "word evangelism" is the old model. And while I certainly agree with you that 'presence evangelism' (which I interpret as 'walking the talk') is absolutely critical to our witness for Christ, there are so many texts in Scripture that command us to tell others about the gospel.

The way I interpret the New Testament texts regarding evangelism and Church teaching in the Catechism about evangelism, 'word evangelism' is and has always been the primary model for bringing others into the kingdom.

If you disagree, please let's continue the discussion.

Rich Maffeo said...

Rosemary, it sounds like you and I (and others like us) learned evangelism from the same person ;)

I am glad to know better now. Thanks for your comment.

(I made a typo in my original comment and the typo changed what I wanted to say . . so I deleted it).

Rich Maffeo said...

Yikes! Rosemary, I hit the wrong button and deleted YOUR comment, thinking I was deleting MY comment!

I hope you will repost it. I am really sorry! I shouldn't edit my blog when I haven't had good sleep the night before.

Rich Maffeo said...

This is what Rosemary posted. I deleted it by accident:
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Time is Too Short to Waste":

My very first (Protestant) tries at evangelizing were often heavy-handed attempts to hit everyone over the head with Scripture in order to batter them into submission. This approach seldom (if ever) bore any good fruit. Those "convinced against their will were of the same opinion still", and those who were truly seeking truth were sometimes driven away by my attitude. I finally realized that I was trying to usurp the office of the Holy Spirit; it is HIS job to convert hearts and minds. Sending genuine seekers to read the Word is essential. Today as a Catholic, I know that when I plant, fertilize, and water the seed (in accordance with the Vineyard-Owner's instructions) if the soil is good there will be "much fruit". Great post! Thank you. ~ Rosemary in Ohio

Anonymous said...

No problem! Hope you sleep well tonight! ~ Rosemary in Ohio

Rich Maffeo said...

Yeah, I'm headed in that direction shortly :-)

Barb Schoeneberger said...

In our family we have arguing Christians who look to prove the Church wrong using Sola Scriptura. They really don't want to know about Mary from the Scriptures, they just want to argue. I've learned not to engage and just let God be the one in charge.

I like the quote from St. Bernadette. Yes, we must inform when the opportunity arises, and like you say, work with those who are sincerely seeking. We also need to realize that it's not our job to convert everyone we meet, but to witness to Christ in our words and deeds. Docility to the Spirit will help us know how far to go with someone.

Joann / lioness said...

Rich, you are right, time is too short to waste. I think about Paul and his preaching,“Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified” as the crux of the matter.

Rich Maffeo said...

Joann, yes . . . and let the Holy Spirit do as He will. I also am reminded of St. Peter's comment: " . . . , but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet 3:15). I get caught at the gentleness and reverence part.

Rich Maffeo said...

Barb, I don't think Sola Scriptura is the problem. The INTERPRETATION of Scripture is, I think, the root. The Church uses Scripture to support its positions as do many Protestants. We believe, from Scripture, that Christ gave the Church the authority to INTERPRET Scripture.

For example, John 6 about eating the body and blood of Jesus: Protestants interpret Christ's comment as figurative or symbolic. The Church interprets it as literal. Who is correctly interpreting? Scripture says Catholics are (e.g. Matthew 16:18ff, Acts 15, 1 Tim 3:15, and so on).

But to argue the point? I don't see a point to argue the point. Only the Holy Spirit can change a person's mind -- as He changed mine several years ago as I read the Scriptures.

Colleen said...

I used to argue. I guess I thought I needed to "win" somehow. But it would always get me agitated, which was certainly not from God.
Now I just witness. I love St Bernadette's quote. Thanks!

Rich Maffeo said...

Colleen, it never ceases to astound me that people cannot see truth. It must be, in some cases anyway, spiritual blindness.

Melanie Jean Juneau said...

By evanagelism ot the WORDI mean a preached sermon or talk by a well-known evangelist was the primary way Protestants came to commit their lives to God.This is still a good tool but the primary way the Holy Spirit touched people in large crowds in the 70's, 80' and 90's was POWER evangelisn, healings, the Spirit fell in a tangible way. i rmember one catholic Charismatic Conference in Saskatoon, Sakatchewan, Where 10,000 people sang gently, harmoniously like angels, I am sure with angels. It was not all the shouting of the Pentecostals, no show man tricks but the Holy Spirit was allowed to control the conference. Now it is more grassroots, people are drawn to me because they sense the love and power of God. Stranded for 10 hours in an aiport, 4 years ago, an East-German archeologist spoke of his work and I shared funny stories about living with nine kids. I did not preach until he asked because he was flabbergasted. "What IS it about you. You are the most powerful person I have ever met. it had nothing to do with a sermon, I did not heal him, I simply made him laughbut the inner power of the Holy Spirit flowed with a joyful love that was thick, It was tangible. That is PRESENCE evangelism

Melanie Jean Juneau said...

p.s. I agree with you- not heavy handed preaching but listening to the Spirit and only saying what He prompts us to say with sensitivity

Rich Maffeo said...

I now understand better what you mean by Presence Evangelism. And I certainly agree. This interview further supports that idea. The bishop tells the audience that as a child it was the lifestyle, the 'presence' of adults that stirred within him that urge to seek what they had: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtASQd1E1g8&feature=player_embedded#at=71

Thanks for clarifying, Melanie.