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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah -- and Me?

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

My wife and I attended another church for Mass last weekend.  The Gospel reading was from John 6 where Jesus fed the 5000. I’ve heard an exposition of this passage by many pastors over the years. This time, I heard something new.

When the priest said the apostles “stole the bread and fish from the little boy and gave them to Jesus,” I believe he was simply trying to be ‘cutesy’ to add some humor to his homily. I thought his comment was an engaging – albeit, novel – way to introduce that story. The priest then went on to make the larger point about giving what we have to Jesus that He may multiply it.

But my comments now are not about the priest. 

They’re about me.

It was not until later did I realize what I’d done wrong. And I wonder – even now as I write this – if my relationship with the absolutely Holy, Holy, Holy God is in danger of slipping into a casual one, one that takes His utter and impeccable Holiness for granted.

I think that’s what happened to Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron the High Priest. After they’d eaten with God on the mountain, they offered “strange fire” during their sacrifices and were summarily killed by God. I think they’d become presumptuous about their relationship with the Holy One and had lost their respect and reverential awe of His holiness. (You can find their story in Leviticus 10 and Exodus 24:9-10).

I believe something similar also happened to the priest Uzzah. The Holy Ark of the Covenant had been in his home for 20 years (1 Samuel 7:1-2 and 1 Chronicles 13:1-5). And because ‘familiarity’ often leads to presumption, perhaps Uzzah no longer took holiness of God seriously – and died as a result (1 Chronicles 13:9-10 and 1 Chronicles 15:12-15).

As I thought later about my attitude during the homily I wondered how it can be that I did not take offense at the flippant remark about the apostles stealing the loaves and the fish. Why did my spirit not immediately take umbrage with the implicit idea that the holy apostles would steal, and that the Lord Jesus Himself would be party to it?

Maybe like Nadab, Abihu, and Uzzah, I have unconsciously lost my sense of God’s absolute holiness. I know about His holiness in my mind. But I wonder if it has slipped – even a little – from my heart.

Friday, July 24, 2015

We Really Do Need Each Other

"And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ . . . For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? What then is Apollos?" 
"And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." (1 Corinthians 3:1-6)
I have an idea – not that I haven’t had the same idea before . . . but here it is again:
In light of the present and growing threat of increasingly sinister persecution against Christians in America and across the globe, how about if we as Christians do this –
Instead of Catholics telling Protestants, “You’re wrong. Come over to our side”, and Protestants telling Catholics, “You’re wrong. Come over to our side” – how about if we each instead say to the other: “Grow deeper in love with Jesus. Read the Word of God every day. Study it. Memorize it.”
And then let’s trust God to cause the growth.
The growing animosity against Christians regardless of label will only increase.
And we really do need each other.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Know How it Ends

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5)

I finished reading Revelation again this morning. As I read the last chapter, three thoughts flowed into my mind, one on top of the other:

"In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?" (from Psalm 56)

"Oh death! Where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?" (from 1 Corinthians 15);

I even rejoiced aloud, "what can the devil himself do to me?" 

Although terrible and evil things are overtaking our nation and our world, I thank God I’ve read the last chapter of the Book.

I know how it ends.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mom, Me, and Calvary

I wrote this more than 20 years ago. The sentiment is unchanged. This essay is part of my second book, Lessons Along the Journey.

Though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, whatever cost to Him. – C. S. Lewis

            My son disobeyed, so I had to discipline him. But that bothered me because I wanted him to go to the ball game as much as he wanted to go. Maybe more so. 

            "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you," I said, jabbing the air with my finger.

            I don't know how many times I said that to our children while they were growing up in our home. Hundreds of times, I'd bet. And every time the words flowed across my lips, I knew from their eyes, they didn't believe me. I understood their skepticism because each time I mouthed those words I could hear my mother say the same thing to me so many years before.
            I never believed her either. After all, I was the one restricted. Not her. I was the one disciplined. Not her. I was the one . . . always. Not her.
            Mom did many things in those years while my sister, Andrea, and I were growing up . . . many things that hurt her more than they ever hurt us. In 1955, when our father deserted us for another woman, single mothers had little recourse to government aid. Welfare, as we know it today, didn’t exist. There were no food stamps, Medicaid, or rent assistance. Mom, an attractive twenty-eight-year-old woman, could have packed us off to an orphanage and gone on with her life. Instead, she went to work. Not one job, but two.
            I didn’t know it then, but Mom struggled to raise us. After Albert left, our family hovered near poverty. Yet we always had food – even if it was spaghetti with ketchup, or boiled potatoes and butter. We always had clothing, even if we used cardboard to cover the holes in the bottoms of our shoes, and our cuffs rose above our ankles. And I especially remember we always had warm arms to snuggle us into bed at night . . . before she left us with a baby sitter and hurried off to her night job.
            "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." I now understand the sentiment more than I ever could as a child. I understand because loving my children sometimes means sacrificing things important to me. Sometimes it means giving up my own time and money and dreams and desires so they might benefit. Sometimes it means giving when there is no more to give. And yes, sometimes it means saying no when it would please them – and please me – to say yes.
            "This is going to hurt me . . . ."
            That is why I often think of another Parent who spoke those words, at least in principle, so many centuries ago. Who can ever really understand His sacrifice? Who can fully grasp the horror of an absolutely holy God offering His back to the Roman whip so our sins could be forgiven? Who can really understand the heartache of the heavenly Father as He watched His creation shake a collective fist in His face and turn a deaf ear to His love? Can you and I ever hope to adequately understand texts such as Romans 5:8, "God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us"?
            As I grew up, and for years after I left my mother’s home, I never knew my sin hurt my heavenly Father so much more than it hurt me. I never knew my rebellion bore so much more heavily on His shoulders than it ever did on mine. I never knew it was my guilt that hammered spikes into His flesh. But in learning those truths, I found myself – and still find myself – increasingly grateful for His love, His forgiveness, and His sacrifice for me.
            Someday my children may have children of their own. And I suspect that, as the need arises, they too will say to their sons and daughters, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you."
            I can only pray that saying it will remind them of the King of Glory who said it most clearly on Golgotha – and waves of thankfulness will wash across their hearts.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

An Appeal to Young Catholics Leaving Home

So, you’ve graduated high school and you’re headed away from home for the first time. Whether your destination is college, the military, marriage – or anywhere else far from the familiar of family, church, and friends – you must read this. Your spiritual health will be tested many times, and how you handle those tests will determine the memories you will deal with thirty, forty years (and longer) from today.

I know what I am talking about. In the forty-three years I have been walking with Jesus, I have seen it happen over and over to young men and women who left home after high school. For a short while, it even happened to me.

I wish I had known then what I know now about the danger. And I wish someone had given me strategies that could have helped me avoid the moral failures I committed. So here are some time-tested suggestions to help you avoid the many hidden – and not-so-hidden – traps you will encounter.

1. Don’t succumb to pride which whispers in your ear, “It won’t happen to me.” 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).

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. 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, 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).

5. 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.

6. 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 failure.  

These strategies have proven effective for me over the last several decades 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 I hope you will apply these strategies to your life. You will not be sorry you did so – even forty-three years from now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Oh, Be Careful Little Eyes

“Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge.”  (Proverbs 14:7)  And who is the fool? “The one who says (and it can be argued, the one who lives as if) ‘There is no God.’”  (Psalm 14:1)

This is not the only time in sacred Scripture where the Holy Spirit warns us against hanging with fools.

Why? Because God knows our nature. He knows the longer we associate with those who mock God, who mock His Scripture and His Church, the more likely the danger that we will ultimately share their judgment.

I remember a children’s Sunday School song that speaks to this point:

“Oh be careful little eyes what you see. Oh be careful little eyes what you see; for the Father up above is looking down in love, Oh be careful little eyes what you see” The lyrics then cycle through ears, hands, and feet.

So, Christian, what are you watching? What are you reading? What are you listening to? Who are you hanging with?

There’s much wisdom in that children’s song – and even greater wisdom in that proverb: “Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge.”

Choose wisely.

Monday, July 13, 2015

What We Really Need

I recently read a news article titled: “Does the U.S. need a nationwide exorcism?”  You can read it here: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/does-the-us-need-a-nationwide-exorcism/

My knee-jerk response was to shout at the computer screen, “No!  What we need is a Church leadership to do the job they abdicated decades ago.”

Now that I’ve let the article percolate in my brain for a while, I’d like to offer a more thoughtful response:

Darkness cannot coexist with light. Not only does Scripture declare this to be true, but experience also testifies to it. Walk into any dark room and flip the light switch. Darkness flees even from the corners. But turn off the light, or shroud it with a thick fabric, and darkness floods back.

It is to that focus of darkness, of light, and of exorcism Jesus said what he did to those in the first century. And He says the same to us in the 21st.

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”  Matthew 12:43-45

If you skimmed that biblical text, please go back and read each word. Jesus’ comment specifically addresses the spiritually blind remarks you will read in that news article.

Jesus said of His ‘evil generation’ that the demon left its host for a while, only to return to find it swept, put in order – and empty. So the demon brought with it seven others more wicked than itself.

And therein lays America’s problem.

For the last several decades the Church has dutifully worked to sweep out despair, poverty, sickness, and hatred across this land. We’ve built hospitals and orphanages, we’ve established social agencies and raised vast numbers of men and women who feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and build homes for the homeless.

The record is easily accessible to anyone who cares to do the research, and so there is no need to itemize all the Church has done to sweep our American house and put it in good order. But in our sweeping, we neglected a critical element. And so our house is essentially unoccupied by God’s word.

I have witnessed in the past 40 years a slow, nearly imperceptible shift from teaching the fullness of God’s word to selectively proclaiming a most narrow picture of God – a picture framed exclusively in the word, “Love.”

When was the last time you heard the word, “sin” mentioned during a Sunday morning homily or sermon? When was the last time your pastor made specific reference to the multiple sins promoted, legitimized, defended, and commended in the media, the internet, our educational systems, our politics, our corporations – and even in our homes?

When was the last time your pastor warned of the ‘Lake of Fire’ promised by God for all those who persist in their ardent rebellion against His laws and the historic teaching of the Church? Where are the men and women of faith who are unashamed to proclaim the entire gospel of Christ – the full gospel which includes not only Christ’s great love and mercy, but also His many and dire warnings of judgment for those whose lifestyles betray Him worse than did Judas?

Our house has been swept and put in order, but we have dimmed the light of God’s word. In some places, we’ve extinguished it. And so we don’t now need to look further than tonight’s newscasts to see the dreadful evidence of our state being so much worse than at the first.

No, we do not need a national exorcism. We simply need God’s shepherds to do their primary job. We need them to fully, clearly, and courageously proclaim the whole of God’s word – not just selective texts here and there – but the word of God in all its truths, even truths we don’t want to hear.
Only then will His light dispel our every darkness.