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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Voice


 
I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isaiah 43:1)


In prayer,
complaining about our circumstances
and unmet expectations,
losing sleep over
unanticipated expenses,
frustrating delays
and revolving changes of plans.
 
Then the Voice interrupts my thoughts.
It catches me off guard.
“Did I send you there?”
 
Reflexively I respond, “Yes.”
I don’t need to think about it. I am sure of it.
“Then what are you worrying about?”
 
His question slowly settles over me.
It is gentle. Soft. Curious.
It quiets me.
 
Days later I read John’s gospel.
My eyes stop at His words,
“I am the good shepherd.”*
The Voice again catches me off guard.
And again it is gentle. Soft. Curious.
“Am I your shepherd?” 
He emphasizes ‘your.’
 
Reflexively I respond, “Yes.”
I don’t need to think about it. I am sure of it.
“Then what are you worrying about?”
 
Not yet finished, He reminds me
of a text I memorized:
“When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And through the rivers,
they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.**
 
And the Voice asks,
“Am I with you?  Now? Here?”
 
He knows what I will say before I say it.
He does not need to ask the next question.  
Already I am thinking it:
“Then what are you worrying about?”
 
This is not the first time
in forty years of walking with Christ
I’ve struggled with failed expectations
of what God will do and when He will do it.
And, knowing myself as I know myself,
neither will this be the last time He and I
will need to have this kind of talk.
 
I think God is okay with that.
I think He expects such fears
and frustration
and confusion
from me.
 
He knows I am only dust.
He has compassion on me
as a parent has compassion
on his child.***
 
But what of you?
 
Do you struggle with frustration
and delay
and difficulty?
Has God again failed to meet your expectations?
 
Then hear His Voice.:
“Am I your good shepherd?” He asks.
“Am I with you? Now?
Here?”
 
And you will also hear Him say . . . .
 
 
* John 10:11
** Isaiah 43:2
*** Psalm 103:13-14

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A House Divided

Since becoming a Catholic in 2005 I've grown increasingly aware of the disastrous division Satan has fostered within Christ's Body, which is the entire Church (e.g. Ephesians 4:1-6; Colossians 1:24). I wrote this essay a couple of decades ago -- long before I became a Roman Catholic in theology, and from my experiences over those years I can recognize the truth in the Lord Jesus' words: a house divided against itself cannot stand.

And so I pray the Holy Spirit unify us. Our world is at the precipice of eternal destruction while Christ's sheep bite and devour each other. Will you join me in prayer?
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I don’t know if the Hollywood version of the battle is true, but the story makes for an intriguing spiritual parallel. Tobruk, Libya’s north-eastern port city was site of many prolonged and bloody battles during World War II. German troops and their Italian allies recognized the value of its strategic location. And so did the British.
 
During the height of the war, a small group of commandos set out across 800 miles of Libyan Desert to destroy the German fuel-depot at Tobruk.  Several nights into their trek they spotted a dust plume on the horizon. It belonged to an Italian convoy wending its way toward them. Fortunately for the Allies, a large sand-dune hid them from the enemy column. Without safe alternatives, they settled down to wait for the Italians to pass. However, when the convoy reached the other side of the dune, the Italians stopped their tanks and began setting camp for the night. The allied commandos could do nothing but wait for day-break when the Italians would continue on their way.
 
The night wore on without incident until commando scouts spotted another string of armored vehicles moving toward them from the opposite direction. This one belonged to Germans.
 
Caught in the middle, the allies knew it was only a matter of time before one group or the other discovered them. In desperation, they executed a daring coup de grace and fired mortars toward the Germans while simultaneously firing across the dune at the Italians. The commandos hoped each army, hidden by the dark, would think the other fired on them.
 
The plan worked. Within moments the Germans and the Italians rained destruction on each other. In the conflagration, the commandos escaped into the night. A few days later, the fuel farm at Tobruk exploded in flames. The small band of warriors successfully completed their mission.
 
Scripture repeatedly makes the point; I believe so we won’t miss it: humanity is engaged in a deadly, bloody spiritual warfare waged by an enemy whose mission is to destroy us. All of us. The only force able to thwart Satan from completing his objective is Jesus Christ’s Church -- His Body (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 6:10-18).

Knowing the Church is an overwhelmingly superior force, Satan has for millennia executed a nearly flawless strategy against it. Instead of a direct frontal attack, he hides in darkness, firing volleys to generate bigotry, exclusivity, pride, and greed at different groups within Christ’s Body. Group A, thinking Group B to be the enemy, diverts its energies from the Great Commission and wages battle against it. Meanwhile, group B thinks likewise of group C, and before long D through Z enter the fray until the Church is embroiled in a seething cauldron, devouring each other – and freeing Satan to move on toward his ultimate objective.

When the Germans and Italians surrounded them, no one in the small group of commandos cared about the race or denominational label of the person in the next foxhole. Only one thing mattered: work as a team to win the objective.

The Lord of the Church has called us to win our world for Himself. That Great Commission requires the undivided efforts of everyone on Christ’s “team.” Oh, Lord! Help us to turn our weapons away from each other and take aim against the true adversary.

 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Refuge -- If We Want It

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;  Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. (Psalm 46:1-2)
 
As soon as I looked over my shoulder at my eleven-year-old son, I knew something was wrong.
"’You okay?" I stopped swimming and began to tread water.
"Uh-huh," he gasped, straining to keep his face out of the surf as he dog-paddled toward me. "I guess so."
"You look like you’re pretty tired," I called back.
We'd been snorkeling around the coral reefs for nearly a half hour when I realized the tide had pulled us much further from shore than I felt comfortable with. Though Nathan had his life-vest secured around his chest, I could tell from his eyes he would not be able to swim the 200 yards to the beach, especially against the tide.
I moved closer and held out my hand. "Here," I said. "Grab hold and let me pull you."
Relief flooded across his face and he eagerly reached for my fingers. I’m not sure how long I pulled him through the water. Perhaps ten minutes. Maybe longer. I only remember my own relief when I tested the water’s depth and finally touched bottom. A few minutes later we stood on the warm sand.
"Thanks, dad," Nathan smiled as we slipped out of our snorkeling gear. "I sure got tired out there."
I also smiled – and at the same time kicked myself for allowing us to get caught in that dangerous situation. As we walked toward the car I breathed a prayer of thanks that we safely reached the shore.
That evening, as I reflected over the afternoon’s incident, I recognized a spiritual application between our swimming experience and life’s ebbs and flows. How often do our days drift effortlessly into weeks, and then months? Significant troubles pass us by. Life is good and we enjoy the gentle rocking of the surf. Then things suddenly take a bad turn. A devastating illness or accident crushes our health. A divorce fractures the family. A loved one dies, or we struggle against overwhelming financial burdens. Whatever the trial, we look around only to discover we’ve drifted far from safety, and it’s all we can do to keep our head above water.  Getting home, we know, will take more energy than we have.

"God is our refuge and strength." I love that promise. "A very present help in trouble. Though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea,” God is with us. Calling to us. Reaching for us.

I'm sure the Psalmist never went snorkeling with his son, but the Psalmist understood God’s protection. He knew from experience – just as I re-learned that day – when we’ve drifted far from safety, our heavenly Father is always alongside, reaching out His hand. As we strain to keep afloat and nothing stands between us and disaster, He calls out: "Here, grab hold. Let me take care of you."

Yet, though I’ve known this to have always been true in my life experiences, I am often bewildered when I meet people struggling through their own near-hopeless trials but won’t reach out and take hold of Him. I’ve even known some to have drowned -- lost their lives or their families -- because they thought they didn’t need His help; Or they didn’t want it.

How can we be so stubborn. Or stupid. Or spiritually blind . . .

Or a deadly combination of the three?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Walking Across Life’s Parking Lots

Do not be anxious, then, saying, “What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33 NASB)
 
           On my knees for the hundredth time, I felt abandoned.  Did I need more faith? Did God hear me? Was my attitude wrong? Did I have unconfessed sin in my life? Trapped in a cycle of self‑examination and self- recrimination, I spiraled downward until I nearly crash‑landed.
Then a nearly forgotten incident filtered into my thoughts. I remembered when, many years earlier, my eight-year-old son and I walked across the mall parking lot. At the top of his little lungs, Nathan screamed, "Daddy, Daddy, can you hold this box?" The elderly couple several yards ahead of us turned to see what all the commotion was about. Probably half the customers in the mall stopped to stare in our direction.
Red-faced with embarrassment, I growled in my best can't‑you‑see‑ I'm‑standing‑right‑next‑to‑you voice, "What are you shouting for?" 
Undaunted by – and more likely oblivious to – my chagrin, Nathan's eyes sparkled with childlike composure. "I wanted to make sure you could hear me," he said.
          In my walk with God across life’s parking lots, how often have I acted as my eight year old, worrying: Does He hear me? No wonder I grow anxious when nothing happens, and I wring my hands, convinced He’s not listening.

         "Can a woman forget her nursing child," The Lord chides through Isaiah. "Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands" (Isaiah 49:15‑16, NASB). And again Scripture reminds, "The Lord's mercies indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22,23).

          Yes, of course He hears. Yes, of course He knows. As a compassionate and loving Father, He listens. Before our words even cross our lips, He knows our very thoughts (Psalm 139:4).

          Because of my relationship with God through my faith in His Son, I don't need to shout as if God is on vacation in some distant part of the Universe. I don't need to pray with an anxious heart, as if He is too caught up with the affairs of our world to give heed to my needs. Delays do not necessarily mean denials.

          He hears me. He hears each of His children. He hears our deepest cry whispered in the furthest recesses of our hearts.

          And so I can wait in confident hope for His response – whenever it comes, and whatever His answer may be:

         “Yes.”
           “No.”
           Or, “Not now.”

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Circumcision and Abortion


I posted this a couple of years ago – May 2011 to be precise. Judging from the vitriol that continues to spread across internet social media sites, I suspect nothing has changed since I originally wrote this. I decided to repost it because how one acts and votes on this issue of abortion will surely help determine his or her eternal destiny.

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Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:44-46).

I had a disturbing internet exchange with some strangers yesterday. A social media friend posted an article about the proposed San Francisco ban on circumcision that will make its way to the ballot.

I responded that I find it curious that so many people are concerned about cutting off a boy’s foreskin and yet at the same time be so nonchalant about slicing apart little boys (and girls) bodies in the womb during an abortion.

That started a minor firestorm. One woman responded, “I'll keep my scalpels off your body, you keep your filthy religion off mine. Sound good?”

I am not sure what caused her to knee-jerk into the accusation of religious-mongering (I hadn’t brought God into the discussion). But there it was. The gauntlet was down.

I tried to redirect the discussion and responded, “It doesn't require faith in God to know that what is in the womb is a human being. That is science. And cutting it apart is cruel and inhuman punishment. That is truth.”

A moment later a guy entered the fray with something equally specious about sperm and DNA and how the fetus is not actually alive  To which I suggested the two search the internet for key words such as “fetal development” (such as here and here).

The woman shot back (clearly without bothering to read anything about fetal development) that the fetus doesn’t feel pain until late in the pregnancy, and that the fetus is not conscious. I responded if that is the criteria we use to assess life, then we are in great danger as a people.

Within minutes, I was accused of being insensitive to the “plight of millions of women and their families around the world,” and I was “too (expletive) stupid”  and that I am “wasting air someone else could be using.”

In other words, society would be better off if I were dead.

I bowed out of the discussion that was clearly going nowhere.

But I thought a while about the virulence hurled at me by strangers when I asked how anyone can be concerned about circumcision, and not recognize hypocrisy in their pro-abortion position.

I know nothing of the religious faith of the people who called me stupid and wished me dead. I assume they do not consider themselves Christians. But that is not necessarily a valid assumption. I have met far too many people who call themselves “Christian” and “Catholic” and “Protestant” who not only support abortion, but vote for candidates who are demonstrably pro-abortion.

If Scripture is true, and Church teaching has any influence on how we live our Christian faith, then a pro-abortion sympathy is an eternally deadly position for a Christian to hold. If we feed the poor and visit those in prison, as Jesus said in the passage above, but we do nothing to protect the unborn – indeed, if we (God forbid!) actively or passively promote abortion through the ballot box – do we really believe we will avoid the eternal punishment Jesus warned about in that passage cited at the beginning of this post?  Or in this one below?:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus warned, “But only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

I expect people who deny Jesus as their Lord to rationalize away the idea that abortion is nothing less than wickedness and worthy of eternal punishment. But those who claim Jesus to be their Lord ought to pay very close attention to His warnings.

As St. Paul put it: Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. (Galatians 6:7)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Going Out of His Way

I posted this several years ago. It still rings true for me.
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They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him . . . (Mark 5:1-2)

As I'm reading through chapter 4 of St. Mark, and then into chapter 5, I mused over the scene in my mind. In verse 35 of chapter 4, the Lord tells the disciples: "Let us go over to the other side." From the details here in St. Mark's gospel, and the parallel accounts in Luke and Matthew, there doesn't seem to be an apparent reason why the Lord decided to cross the Sea of Galilee.

But we know what happened when He arrived:

When [Jesus] got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.

I saw the man in my imagination. Dirty. Reeking with dried urine and feces. Filthy beard and hair. Wild look in his eyes. His face contorted with fear, or rage, or helplessness . . . or maybe all three.

The text continues: Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him . . .

If you remember the story, you know the Lord instantly healed the man and then cast the demons into a herd of pigs. When the people of the place heard what Jesus had done, they begged him to leave their country.

I've read that story dozens of times. But this time I noticed something new.

The Lord could have stayed on the other side of the lake and ministered to the hundreds who came to Him. But the Good Shepherd knew of a lost sheep across the water. Bound with chains stronger than iron, no one could free him from his demonic masters. He was their toy. Their plaything who did whatever their cruelty wanted him to do. And he would be imprisoned by them for as long as he lived.

But . . .

I'm so glad for the "buts" of Scripture.

But Jesus knew of the man. And that changed forever the man's destiny.

A changed destiny.

Who thinks Jesus is not the same today as He was yesterday? Who thinks the Good Shepherd does not still go out of His way to meet us in our desperation? Our helplessness? Our bondage to sins that drive us to one failure after another?

The text tells us when the man saw Jesus from distance, he ran toward Him and bowed at His feet, which is what everyone today -- bound by the past, bound by the present, and in fear of tomorrow must do -- lift our eyes to Jesus, bow at His feet, and receive His salvation.

As St. Peter promised: All who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:21).