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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

But God


Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)

 
Nancy and I recently moved from Washington State to Georgia. In doing so we left behind many friends, friends from our closely knit neighborhood and friends from our church with whom we regularly worshiped God together and studied His word – friends with whom we prayed together, laughed with each other, broke bread with each other.

Added to that loss was also the loss of the very rewarding relationships I so enjoyed on the job, relationships with my colleagues and relationships with my students. Further complicating the pressure cooker is also the burden of finding new employment, a new church, and a new community in which to live.

To be frank, this move has been an extraordinarily taxing time for Nancy and me – and the pressure has manifested itself in surprisingly ugly and angry outbursts against each other. I am ashamed to admit it, but perhaps my admission can help someone else cope better with his or her own stressors.

In recent years as I’ve studied the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit led me on several occasions to the phrase often used by St. Paul, “But God.” For example, Romans 5:8, But God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In other words, though I stood shaking my fist in God’s face, He sent His Son to die for me.
 
Another is Ephesians 2:4, But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . . .  In other words, when my heart, soul and mind were dead (the Greek word used here is the same from which we get ‘necrotic), God breathed life into me and I was born again through Christ Jesus.

Ah! How I love the promise and the power inherent in that phrase, But God.

So there I was this morning, reading the Scriptures and apologizing to Him again for my thoughtlessness toward Nancy, and He reminded me of an ancient hymn she and I sang from time to time when we worshiped in Protestant churches. It was written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Jesus, The Very Thought of Thee. Click here to listen to it. The lyrics reminded me of that very comforting phrase, But God.

    Jesus, the very thought of Thee
    With sweetness fills the breast;
    But sweeter far Thy face to see,
    And in Thy presence rest.
Nancy and I are burdened with what we are tempted to think is excessive stress, But God says: “Come to Me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the mem’ry find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest name,
O Savior of mankind!

We’re caught in a spiral of frustration, But God says:  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27)

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!

We’re confused and feel like we’re walking blindly, But God says, “Trust Me. ‘I know the plans that I have for you, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

All those who find Thee find a bliss
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.

Our minds race from one “what-if?” to another, But God saysRejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)

Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus, be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

In these last few weeks I’ve wondered, “What’s wrong with me that I act as I do?”  But God says “If you confess your sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive you your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. (See 1 John 1:9); and Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:8-10)

When I look at myself in the mirror of God’s word, I cannot help but wonder why He loves me as He does. But oh! I am ever grateful for the “But Gods” in Scripture, and that He loves me so very much, despite my many, many failures.
 
Amen 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Eyes to See

I posted this about a year ago.
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Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law . . . Do not hide Your commandments from me . . . Your servant meditates on Your statutes. Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors. (Psalm 119:18-24)


After all these years I still don't like wearing them. Never have. I always feel as if I am about to step wrong on the stairs or off the sidewalk. But because I can no longer read without them, reading glasses have become a necessary part of my attire. I always carry them with me – usually in my shirt pocket.

That's where they were, in my shirt pocket, while my wife and I enjoyed our meal at a local Italian restaurant. It wasn't until an hour later, when we were about to leave, that my eyes started burning from strain and I put the glasses on.

Then, for the first time that evening, I saw them: Water droplets on my iced tea glass, spots of tomato sauce beneath my plate, creases in the table cloth . . . . how did I sit at the table for nearly an hour and not notice them? Stains and wrinkles which had blurred into nondescript shadows suddenly  danced and shouted for attention. For a few moments I played with my glasses, shifting them on my nose, marveling at how different things look when you can really see.

And then I recognized a spiritual parallel.

How many spots and wrinkles within the fabric of our lives blur into unrecognizable shadows because we neglect to wear our spiritual glasses? When our Bibles lie closed on the bookshelf and we view our world and our life through the filters of friends and news broadcasts, sitcoms, movies and newspapers, is it any wonder that the crisp lines of God's "Thou Shalt Not" blur into "Maybe it's ok"?

The Lord Jesus is coming for a people without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27; 2 Peter 3:14), and He warned those who claim to have sight – but in reality are blind – to receive from Him salve to anoint their eyes that they may see (Rev 3: 17, 18).

If there ever was a time to see, it is now. If there ever was a time to acquire some salve, it is now. It is time we reopen His word and seek a clearer vision of His truth and not the culture’s.


Otherwise we risk being frightfully ashamed at His return because of our unrecognized stains and wrinkles -- unrecognized because we left our spiritual glasses in our pockets or closed on the bookshelf.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Soon. Very Soon

I wrote this many years ago. I still long for that day yet to come. I hope you also feel the same.
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For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)

Their question came as predictably as the sunrise. It didn't matter where we drove. The park for a picnic, the zoo on the other side of the city, the grandparents on the other side of the country . . . before we had been very long on the road a mournful cry rose from their seats: "Are we there yet?"  Over and over our children asked it; Every few minutes (or so it seemed). I remember turning to look at them. "Soon," I assured them. "Very soon, and we'll be there."
I understood their excitement. Their lives rambled along with carefree simplicity. One day followed another, snug within the safety and love of our home. A broken dolly? No problem; daddy will fix it. Skinned your knee?  Let me kiss it better. 

When I took the time to see life through their eyes, I caught glimpses of a freshness and vitality left behind in my own childhood, an effervescence which somehow and at sometime receded behind my "maturity."  Not that there is anything wrong with maturity - I suppose. Except when it reduces childlike eagerness to a ho-hum yawn. 

But every so often I sense within me a curious excitement straining for rebirth. Perhaps it is because I now realize I cannot fix every broken dolly, or soothe every hurting knee that I catch myself asking Him, with increasing frequency, "Are we there, yet?"  Over and over. Every few minutes.

Or so it seems.

Yes. I know the fields are "white already to harvest." I understand why we must work while we can before the "the night cometh, when no man can work." These truths, and others, float around in my mind, compelling me to teach, to share, to exhort. But my heart . . . oh, sometimes my heart longs as a child for that Day when Daddy will fix it.

Are we there yet, Lord? How much longer will it be? How many more days or even months must we wait until creation itself ceases its groaning? How much longer until You welcome your children home?

And then sometimes . . .every so often . . . if I listen carefully enough I can almost hear Him say it: "Soon. Very soon, and we'll be there."

Oh, Lord Jesus! Come quickly.
 

 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What’s All this talk about Holiness?


 But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him. (Habakkuk 2:20)


So I’m reading today in Numbers chapter 25 the story of Israel’s on-again-off-again descent into idolatry and of one particular brazen Israelite’s rebellion against God. Take a few moments to read this section copied from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition.

While Israel dwelt in Shittim the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate, and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel;  and the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel. . . .

And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.  When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation, and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the inner room, and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman, through her body . . . .

 And the Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace; and it shall be to him, and to his descendants after him, the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”

I paused in my reading as my mind replayed this scenario. God repeatedly commanded Israel to be set apart entirely and exclusively for Him. And here they were once again, thumbing their collective noses in God’s face. One of them even had the temerity to bring a foreign woman into his bedroom in broad daylight.

Please do not misunderstand my point. I certainly would never advocate we take swords and do away with everyone in the Church who willfully, openly and flagrantly causes scandal. But is it not instructive that God was so pleased with Phinehas’ zeal for righteousness that He blessed the man with a perpetual covenant “because he was jealous for his God”?

With all I hear from pulpits about God’s love, and nary a word about His judgment against sin, it is little wonder to me that we have so few Church leaders zealous and jealous enough for God’s holiness that they would even refuse the Eucharist to Catholics who openly snub their nose at Church teaching regarding morals and faith. With all I hear about God’s mercy from pulpits, and virtually nothing about God’s unremitting requirement that we live according to His laws, I am no longer surprised when our Bishops and priests do not excommunicate the unrepentant and openly rebellious congregants for the scandals they cause.

But by cowering from standing for Christ in the face of a demonic and worldly political correctness, and refusing for whatever other reason to do the hard thing – the godly thing – as did St. Paul when he ordered the church at Corinth to remove from themselves the one causing scandal (see 1 Corinthians 5) – by refusing to do the hard thing, do not our cowering Church leaders encourage sinners to continue in their sin? Worse, since unchallenged scandal can encourage others to follow the easy road of sin, do not leaders who shrink from doing the right thing merely teach their sheep to walk the path that leads ultimately to judgment and eternal damnation?

St. James wrote: Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).  St. Paul warned: If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
 
And so I pray, “Oh, God! Give us leaders with the boldness of a Phinehas, zealous for God, for holiness, and for truth – leaders not concerned with being friends with the world at the expense of being a friend of God.”

 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How to Read the Bible for all it's Worth

I posted this in a short series about a year or so ago. I thought it a good idea to revisit it.

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As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1)


In the last post I told of how the Holy Spirit used the Scriptures to give St. Augustine a new heart, a new life, a new destiny. We also saw how the Holy Spirit is trying to guide faithful Catholics into the same experience of St. Augustine – urging us through the Catechism of the Catholic Church to “pick up the Bible and read it.”

In this post I will suggest several aids to reading and understanding the Bible – aids I have used routinely since 1972 when I first committed my life to serving Jesus. You can also click this link to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for further (and sometimes, overlapping) information: http://www.nccbuscc.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/

1. Pray before you read. I never open my Bible without first asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate His word to my mind and my heart. My prayer goes something like this: “Holy Spirit, open my understanding to Your Word that I am about to read. Use it to reveal to me my sins, to guide me in my day to day decisions, to make me more obedient to Your will.” Often, when I read one of the prophets or the apostles, I will add (for example), “Isaiah, please pray for me now as I read the words the Holy Spirit gave to you to give to the Church. Pray also for me that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of my heart and reveal Himself to me.”

2. Be consistent. Set aside a specific time each day for reading the Bible. Choose whatever works best for you. I prefer the morning before my day starts, and the evening before turning out the lights. Along with the time of day, set a specific period of time – ten or fifteen minutes. Whatever you feel comfortable doing. The point is, consistency. Day by day. If you miss a day, don’t stress over it, just pick up where you left off the next day.

3. Select a Bible that is easy to read.  Only Catholic Bibles include the several books missing from Protestant Bibles, such as Wisdom, Sirach and Maccabees. Be aware that the commentaries included in the margins of any Bible are not inspired by the Holy Spirit as are the actual texts of Scripture. Holy Scripture is never wrong, but commentators can be – and have been – wrong in their musings.

I like the Navaree Bible and commentaries, but they are pricey. The New American Bible (NAB) is okay, but I do not like its translation of some words from the Greek or Hebrew to English. Nor do I agree with some of their commentaries regarding the dates and authorship of various Bible books. In fact, I believe the NAB is closer to liberal Protestant scholarship than historical conservative Catholic scholarship in those areas. Here is a link to Bibles approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.nccbuscc.org/bible/approved-translations/

Along with a readable Bible, buy a good Bible dictionary and a good lexicon. Lexicons aid your understanding of the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words used in the Scriptures. For free online resources, visit http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm, www.biblegateway.com and www.blueletterbible.org. I especially like the Blueletterbible site because of its easy access to lexical helps.

4. Don’t begin at the beginning. The Bible is not one book, but a collection of 73 books, written by dozens of authors over the course of nearly 2,000 years. While it is good to read the various books in their historical context (e.g. 1& amp; 2 Kings with Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel and others), I like to jump around within each Testament (Old and New). See this link for a reading plan I’ve recommended in the past: http://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2009/07/bible-reading-plan.html

If you are going to jump around, it will be important to annotate (usually in the Table of Contents) which books you’ve already read so you don’t re-read them before finishing the ones you’ve not yet gotten to. 

5. Skip tedious passages. As I mentioned in my Bible reading plan (see link to my blog above), there are a number of passages, even entire chapters, filled with lists, genealogies and other tedious verbiage that will significantly slow your reading – and probably bore you to sleep. For that reason, I strongly recommend skimming those sections of Scripture. Such tedious texts account for probably less than 5% of the Bible. Do not let that 5% dissuade you from mining the deep riches of the remaining 95%. This is not to say the Holy Spirit cannot teach us wonderful things from that 5%. He can and He has. But your first few times reading the Bible, I think it important to get the bigger picture.

6. Mark it up. Expect the Holy Spirit to answer your prayer about opening your understanding of the Scriptures. He will speak to you as you read. Perhaps not every time, but you will be amazed how often He does speak to us.

Underline texts He brings to your attention. Write your thoughts in the margins. When you come across something you don’t understand, put a question mark next to the text along with the date. I’ve many question marks in the margins of my Bible, along with the date(s) the Holy Spirit revealed to me the answers to my questions.

If St. Augustine had ignored the Holy Spirit’s voice through that of a child, “Pick it up and read it” he would have never become the man of God he was created to be. Likewise, if you and I ignore the Holy Spirit’s voice through the Church to “Pick it up and read it,” we will never become the man or woman of God we were created to be.

As the Psalmist said: Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Don't Call Me Naomi


Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Ruth 1:20).


Tragedy. For some, it seems to always lurk in their shadow. Naomi's story is one of tragedy. It is also one of God in those shadows. I wrote this essay about her several years ago, but story is worth retelling.

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Naomi – her name means “pleasant” – and her husband left Israel during a famine that swept across the nation. They settled in Moab, their two sons married Moabite women, and the family worked hard to provide for their needs. But over the course of the next several years, Naomi’s husband died. Then her two sons died, and Naomi was left alone and devastated by her triple tragedy.

When she and Ruth – the wife of one of her deceased sons – arrived back in Israel, the people of her hometown greeted her with unmuted excitement. But Naomi, her grief still raw, quieted them and said, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [which means, ‘bitterness’] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:19-21).

It’s not hard to empathize with Naomi’s despair. Life picked her up, threw her to the ground, and then kicked her in the gut as she lay in the dirt. And she did what so many of us are so often quick to do.

She blamed God for her tragedies.

Who doesn’t understand Naomi? Deep and gut-wrenching loss. Death. Debilitating injury. Chronic and life-altering illness. Financial disaster. It is a rare, rare person who gets through life unscathed by heartbreak. And it is little wonder that so many people – even those of us in the Church, children of God as we are, who’ve heard about faith and trust for years in homilies, who’ve read the books and sang the hymns extolling God’s love – it is little wonder that even those of us in the Church can find ourselves embittered about life.

And even about God.

Naomi didn't know it – in fact, she never discovered it – but through her tragedy, her daughter-in-law married a man named Boaz. Their son, Obed, had a son named Jesse. Jesse had seven sons, one of whom was named David.

David’s distant offspring was named, Jesus.

Naomi didn’t know – as many of us today don’t know, especially when we are in the throes of our bitterness – that God really does know what we go through. And He really is able to orchestrate events and people and circumstances in and through our lives to ultimately give birth to a wondrous beginning.

And – and this is important – God really is able to cause all things to work together for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (see Romans 8:28).

Life can be full of pleasantness, or full of bitterness. But circumstances themselves do not have the power to decide which of the two will rule us. Only our trust in the trustworthy God – or our lack of it – will determine what we call ourselves. Naomi . . .

Or Mara.