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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I Can Love You Like That

For Your love is better than wine!  -- Song of Solomon, 1:2

The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I learn to love Solomon’s Song. You will find it in the Old Testament just after Ecclesiastes. If you have time today, spend 15 or 20 minutes reading it. As you read, pay attention to what the Bride, the Groom, and the Chorus each say.

For two millennia theologians have viewed the Song of Solomon as a love song – not only between Solomon and his beloved, but also between Jesus and His Beloved – which is His Church, His Bride.

In other words, it is a love song from Jesus to those who love Him. It is a love song from Jesus to me. And to you.

During my recent time with the Lord, I thought of Solomon’s Song as I listened with my eyes closed to John Michael Montgomery’s, I Can Love You Like That. With very few modifications in the lyrics, it was easy to imagine Jesus singing the song to me because the lyrics so closely mirror Scripture’s repeated declaration of Jesus’ love for me.

And for you.

Here is the song on YouTube. Close your eyes as you listen, and imagine your beloved Jesus singing it to you – because He will be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xegmdki9krw

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Open Letter to Young Christians Leaving Home

Whether Catholic or non-Catholic Christian, these principles are critically important for young people to take to heart.

So, you’ve graduated high school and are headed away from home for the first time. Whether your destination is college, the military, marriage – or anywhere else far from family, church, and friends, you will benefit from reading this article.

All humanity is engaged in a spiritual warfare. We have no choice in the matter. As St. Peter tells us:  Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Or St. Paul: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12).

When you leave home your spiritual mettle will be tested many, many times. How you handle those tests will determine the memories you will have to deal with thirty, forty years (and longer) from today. I know what I am talking about. In the forty-two years I have been walking with Jesus, I have seen spiritual compromise and disaster happen over and over to young men and women who left home. Even years after high school, when I was 23, it happened to me. 

1. Don’t succumb to pride which whispers in your ear, “It won’t happen to me.” It can happen to you. You are subject to the same enticements of sin to which everyone else is subject – regardless how long you have been a Christian. Solomon warned, “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  St. Paul picked up that same theme in his letter to the Corinthians, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” 
(1 Corinthians 10:12). Be on guard against pride.

2. Make up your mind ahead of time to avoid situations and places where you can be tempted to sin. Be doubly vigilant to avoid being alone in a house or dorm room with someone of the opposite sex – even if he or she is a Christian. Such a situation is a recipe for bad decisions.  Remember what St. Paul said to Timothy: “So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Memorize this maxim: Sin will take you farther than you want to go. It will keep you longer than you want to stay. And it will cost you more than you want to pay.

3. Avoid hanging with people who do not share your faith in Jesus. Again, King Solomon advised: “Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Proverbs 22:24-25). One can easily substitute “drunkard,” or “an immoral person,” or “liar,” or “cheat,” or any other ungodly characteristic into this text, and the principle remains constant. As St. Paul wrote: Bad company ruins good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).

4. Alcohol, and any other ‘recreational’ drug, will cloud your judgment and make you much more willing to do things for which you will be very sorry afterward. The evidence for this is indisputable. And if your friends poke fun at you because of your abstinence, find other friends.  
5. Pray each morning for God’s protection. Each evening, review your day and thank God for specific situations in which you made the right decisions. However, if you did fall into sin, do not wallow in guilt. Be quick to confess, repent – and determine with God’s help to avoid doing the same thing again. The Holy Spirit’s promise through St. John has always proven a comfort for me when I sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

6. Establish a habit of daily prayer and reading Scripture. Be consistent with this. It is no surprise the psalmist wrote: How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word . . . . I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9, 11). Do you remember Jesus’ experience in the wilderness during Satan’s three-fold temptation? At each test, Jesus responded with Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11).

For decades I have practiced what I call the 2+2 = 1+3 Scripture Reading Method. If you read two chapters of the Old Testament every morning and two of the New Testament every evening (or vice versa), by the end of the year you will have read the Old Testament once and the New Testament three times (2+2=1+3). On average it takes less than 10 minutes to read two chapters of Scripture. In five years you will have read the Old Testament five times and the New Testament fifteen times. In ten years – well, you can do the math. With so much of God’s word sown year after year in your heart, think how the Holy Spirit will mature you more quickly into the image of Christ.

7. Establish a habit of weekly attendance at Mass and frequent reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Prayer, the Scriptures, and the Sacraments are supernatural gifts the Holy Spirit gives to empower believers on their faith journey. Fighting spiritual battles without those spiritual “weapons” is nothing less than a guarantee for disaster. 

8. Christian faith nurtured in your home laid the foundation for what must now become a mature, adult faith. Part of that maturing process will occur as you interact with people who will not share your understanding of God, of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. You will meet many who are actively antagonistic toward your Catholic faith. But your situation will be no different than what the faithful have faced for millennia. The ancient worship of Baal is a type of 21st century compromise with the anti-Christ philosophies permeating our society. Yet what the Holy Spirit said to Israel through Elijah, He says to us today: ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him’ (1 Kings 18:21). In other words, decide today – and every day hereafter – that you will follow Jesus and obey the Church regarding faith and morals. This is a choice you must consciously make, day after day. And it is a choice you must every day ask God to help you maintain.
These strategies have proven effective for me over the last 42 years of my walk with Christ. And they will also help you avoid many of the spiritual traps that lay ahead of you. Satan is a cruel and merciless liar, thief, and murderer. We must not be ignorant of his schemes (see John 8:44 and 2 Corinthians 2:11).

As you prepare to leave home for the first time, please apply these strategies to your life. You will not be sorry you did so – even 42 years from now.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Day Will Come

I published this several years ago. Nothing has changed, except my age. 

. . . for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will come to light . . . (1 Cor 3:11-13).

Linda stood behind the podium. From my seat, I could see her eyes water. “Has it really been twenty-eight years?” She seemed to ask it more of herself than of those gathered at her retirement ceremony. Decades of conflicts and triumphs, of paperwork piles and project deadlines, of exhilarating new tasks and the lumbering routine of others blended into a half-forgotten dream.

After the framed certificate, the engraved plaque, and the punch and cookies in the foyer, life will move on. Younger employees will step into her varied roles, and the organization will continue with business as usual.

“I thought this day would never come.” She tried to smile.  “But here it is.”

While Linda spoke, my mind drifted to the many times I’ve said, “I thought this day would never come”?  How many important events passed before I knew they were close upon me? Birthdays, graduations, weddings, births, more weddings, more births. My life has moved almost seamlessly from sunrise to sunset, seasons to years, anticipating one milestone and then another. All the while I’ve been too busy to notice the calendar pages disappear like vapors in the wind.

I don’t often think about my final milestone. I still hope to enjoy many more graduations, weddings and births before I start thinking much about that particular day. Yet, when it comes, will the decades of my life also seem as a brief moment? The conflicts, the joys, the deadlines, the routines . . . I know life will move on without me.

When Linda received her plaque, I wondered what kind I will receive when I stand before the Great Cloud of Witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1).  Will it be engraved with the names of those whom I have touched during my service for the Master? Or will it be an empty testimony of misplaced priorities during my earth-bound journey?

I just passed my 64th birthday. 64!  Oh, how the years have flown.  But as I draw nearer to my final birthday, whenever that will be, those questions whisper from the corners of my thoughts with increasing urgency. Life really is shorter than I realize, and everything I now consider so important -- money, popularity, passions, career -- will smolder on that day like charred timbers after a house fire.

When the day I thought would never come finally arrives, I want to hear more than pleasant words at a ceremony. I want to enjoy more than punch and cookies in the foyer. I want to hear from the men and women standing with me before His throne, “Thank you for using your time, your talents, your resources to tell me about the Savior.”  And oh, how I want to hear from the lips of the King of Glory, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (See Matthew 25:21).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hide or Seek

Most realtors will tell you the three most important things to consider when buying a house are Location, Location, and Location. And one might speak similarly about Scripture. The three most important things about reading God’s word are Context, Context, and Context. I thought about the “context” principle as I read again through Matthew 11.

My favorite verses in that chapter are 28-30: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. But this time as I read my eye slowed at verse 16, and for the next ten minutes I read and reread the context of verses 28-30, beginning at verse 16.

The Lord Jesus said in verses 16-19: But to what shall I compare this generation? . . . . For John [the Baptist] came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  . . . . Just as the rebellious found fault with John the Baptist, and then with Jesus, those who make a conscious choice to not follow Christ will often find fault with the messenger. That way they will not have to consider the message. 

In the next few verses (21-24) Jesus gives His listeners a short history lesson about those who saw God’s supernatural works, yet continued to make conscious choices to turn aside from God’s laws: Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.

I’ve heard it before, and perhaps you have, too: To him who believes, no evidence is necessary. To him who will not believe, no evidence is sufficient. I can’t count the times people have said to me, “If God shows me a miracle, I will believe.” That’s nonsense. If we do not believe what God has already told us in Scripture, we will not believe even if someone returns from the dead. In fact, Jesus warns about this in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (see Luke 15:19-31).

The Lord then continues in verses 25-26 with what I think is one of the more frightening texts of Scripture: I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

To those who refuse to see the evidence before their eyes, God hides further evidence from them. Such concealment is not without historical precedent. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to truth when Pharaoh first hardened himself against God (Exodus 3:19; 4:21; 8:15, 32). Centuries later, Solomon warned of spiritual blindness sent by God to those who mocked Him and His laws (Proverbs 1:20-31). And centuries later still, the Holy Spirit warned through St. Paul: For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (for context, see 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

The Lord continues now with verse 27 in the Matthew passage: No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. In other words, we cannot find Jesus on our own. St. Paul tells us we are all ‘dead in our transgressions and sins” before becoming a Christian (Ephesians 2:1). The Greek word he uses for ‘dead’ is nekros, from which we get the English word, “necrotic.”  Dead people see nothing. That is why the Lord next says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (28-30). When the Holy Spirit infuses His life into the dead, they see Jesus -- and they come to Him.

When the Lord Jesus offered rest to those who labor and are heavy laden, He did so in context with several prerequisites inherent in the context. Those prerequisites include our willingness to make conscious choices -- choices to obey God, to not hide our sins, to seek His forgiveness, and to bend our knees in homage to Him. To refuse any of those prerequisites puts us inexorably in danger of becoming further hardened against God, unaware – until it is too late – of the horrible and eternal destiny that awaits those who turn Him away.

Oh Holy Spirit, draw us that we may come to Jesus, that He may give us eternal life. Teach us to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him who is gentle and lowly in heart, and we will find rest for our souls. Amen