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

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Personal BC and AD

2017 years ago the One who created history separated history into B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, meaning ‘Year of the Lord’).

I know some have labeled history before Christ as B.C.E (Before the Common Era), and history after Christ as CE (Common Era). But history labeled with any other letters is still measured by God as ‘Before the Manger’ and ‘After the Manger’ -- Because God designed it that way.

But that's not the end of it.

Here is some good news for our personal histories: As God separated human history, He offers every man and woman an opportunity to separate their own history into a ‘Before Christ,’ and ‘After Christ.’

Here is what the Holy Spirit tells us through St. Paul: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthian 5:17).

Are you a new creation in Christ? Are you ‘born again,’ as Jesus defined it in John 3? If so, then thanks be to God that your life’s story has a ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domini’’ record.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Seven Words (repost)

A few minutes ago I got to thinking about the seven words I said to God 44 years ago. As my thoughts lingered on that memory, I thought it might be good to post this essay once again. It originally appeared here a couple of years ago.

On this day 44 years ago I said seven words that changed my life. “God, I believe Jesus is the Messiah.”
Christmas Eve. 1972. I was 22 years old, kneeling beside my bunk in Barracks ‘M’ on the navy base in Yokosuka, Japan.

Back then I knew nothing about theology. I knew nothing about the Sacraments. I knew nothing even about the Scriptures. What I did know, after reading Hal Lindsay’s book of Bible Prophecy, The Late Great Planet Earth, was Jesus is the Messiah God promised to Israel and to the world.

Jesus. The Lamb of God who would take away our sins; even my sins. Even the worst and the darkest of my many sins.

Seven words. “God, I believe Jesus is the Messiah.”

No telling Him what He already knew of my past. No promise of repentance, or a plea for His forgiveness.

Just, “I believe.”

But what I did not say to God with my mouth, I said to Him with my heart : “From this moment I’m going to live for you. With your help, I'm going to walk a holy life. With your help I'm going to serve you for the rest of my life.”

Without even thinking to punctuate my words with action, I got up off my knees, walked to my chest of drawers, grabbed the plastic bag of marijuana and emptied it into the toilet. Then I went to my footlocker, grabbed the porn magazines, and threw them into the dumpster behind my barracks.

On Christmas Eve in 1972 God gave me the most wonderful Christmas gift I could have ever received. In a moment of time, like the twinkling of an eye, before the seven words had even crossed my lips, God gave me His gift of eternal salvation. He made me a new child in Christ. Old things had passed away. Everything became new. And on that same Christmas Eve, I gave God the best gift I could ever have given Him. I gave him my life. Forty-four years later, it still ranks as the best thing I have ever done. And Oh, I still love to sing it:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

(I hope you have at some time in the past said to God something similar to the seven words I said with my mouth and with my heart – and that you still live those words.  If not – please know that you still can do so).

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Why We Say, "Merry Christmas"

I am sure Joseph was confused. I suspect he was also angry. His beloved Mary was pregnant, and the child was not his.  But because he loved her, he would not disgrace her. Instead, he decided to send her away secretly.

Then Gabriel spoke to him: “[D]o not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” *

St. Matthew, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, then writes: "Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

Christmas is not at all about brightly wrapped packages under a decorative tree. Christmas is not about hot cocoa around the fireplace, and family gathered around a dinner table – although there is nothing wrong with any of these things.

The first Advent we celebrate at Christmastime is about the One who “was rich, yet for [our] sake He became poor, so that [we] through His poverty might become rich."

It’s about the One “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be [asserted], but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men."

It's about the One who though sinless, became “sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

It's about the One who “had to be made like [us] . . . so that He might . . . make [atonement] for the sins of the people.”

The first Advent had its supernatural beginning in the womb of the Virgin so her Son – fully human on His mother’s side, and fully God on His Father’s side – so that God-Made-Flesh could do what only the supernatural and sinless God could do: Pay the penalty your sins and mine deserve.

It is because of the first Advent, culminating on Golgotha’s cross and an empty tomb, that each sin-sick man, woman, and child who believes in Christ will not only receive forgiveness for their confessed sins, but also have eternal life.

Oh, think of it! Forgiveness and eternal life. THAT is why we say to one another, “Merry Christmas!”
* Texts quoted in this essay are (in order of use): Matthew 1:20-21; Matthew 1:22-23; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:6-7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:17

Monday, December 19, 2016

To Christians Contemplating Marriage

I remember it well. I was 22, on active duty with the US Navy in a foreign country – and very lonely. I wanted to get married before I got too old and lost my opportunity to find a suitable life-mate.

I was a new Christian, and so I spent a lot of time praying for a wife. But prospects on the Naval Base at Yokosuka, Japan didn’t look promising.

Then out of the proverbial ‘blue’ I received a letter from an old girlfriend. We’d dated for several years before we broke up around the time I enlisted in the navy. So we exchanged letters for a while – and then I called overseas to the States to ask her to marry me.

She agreed, and I celebrated to know I’d soon be married. A few days later I visited my pastor, Billy Dodson. He was one of the chaplains on the naval base. When I told him my good news, he sat quietly for only a moment before he asked the question I feared he would ask.

“Is she a Christian?”

He didn’t have to cite the Biblical passage from 2 Corinthians. I’d already been trying to ignore it. “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).

“Is she a Christian?” He pressed.

Deflated, I struggled at a bleak crossroads. I could ignore the chaplain’s advice – after all, what did he know, or care, about my loneliness?  Or I could obey God – even if it meant remaining alone.

I made the right choice, but that choice did not take the edge off my loneliness.

Six months later I received another letter – this one from a different former girlfriend. We corresponded for a few months until – yes, you probably guessed it. I asked her to marry me.

Again joyful – but more subdued than the last time as I walked into the chaplain’s office – I told him of my latest proposal. He looked into my eyes, hesitated a moment, and then sighed. I pushed myself into the back of the chair and my fingers gripped the arm rests. I knew what was coming.

“Is she a Christian?”

She was not.

He didn’t need to open the Bible on his desk. He simply reminded me of that passage in 2 Corinthians.

Aching in the pit of my stomach and my head bowed low, I left his office. I knew he was right. I struggled again with the same choice, but now with a different person. I decided to obey God, but now wondered if I’d ever get married.

After my second defeat, I changed my prayer. Instead of simply asking the Lord for a Christian woman, I was more specific. I wanted to spend my life with a woman who was not content to simply warm a pew each Sunday. I wanted a woman who determined to know and serve Christ with as much passion as I had to know and serve Him. And perhaps most important: I wanted to love and be loved by a woman who loved Jesus far more than she loved me.

As I write this in December 2016, Nancy and I are approaching our 42nd wedding anniversary. We met on the naval base several months after I broke my engagement with the second woman. Chaplain Dodson grinned broadly when I answered his question – this time for the third time – “Yes. Nancy’s a Christian.”

It is easy for me to extrapolate from my experiences as a young adult to know what my life would be like today if I had not obeyed the Scripture. I know I would never have been as fruitful in my work for the Lord if I’d married either of the two other women. I wonder if I could have managed even a distant relationship with my Lord if I’d married either person. Oh!  I shudder to even contemplate such a tragedy!

Christian – if you are contemplating marriage, please hear God’s word: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

Yes, it is often difficult to say no – to ourselves and to someone we love. But it is always the best choice to obey God than to compromise His commandments.

Billy Dodson died many years ago, but the legacy he left me remains a vital part of my life together with Nancy. Billy cared enough for me to challenge me to obey God without compromise.  He could not have given me better guidance.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Simple Christmas Message

I have posted this for the last two Christmases. It preaches a great message to myself each time.

A Simple Christmas Message 

by Richard Maffeo

So my wife and I are driving south along I-85, scanning the radio stations for something worthwhile to listen to on a Sunday afternoon. And we came across a preacher – a Baptist, we learned at the end of his message – we came across him in the middle of his sermon. From the way he spoke – his vocabulary and his manner of delivery – I conjured an image of many of the preachers Nancy and I sat under during our three decades in evangelical churches.  There was nothing erudite about his delivery, or for that matter, what he said. But, oh! He captured our attention.

“Thank God for Jesus.”  He repeated that phrase again and again during the several minutes we listened to him.
He reminded his congregation, “Jesus came as a baby and lived 33 years so that He could die for your sins and my sins.  Thank God for Jesus.”
“He was glad to do what He did because of His great love for you and me.  Thank God for Jesus.” Then he asked his congregation, “Do you thank God for Jesus?”
Nancy and I heard a few voices in the congregation call out, ‘Amen,” and “Yes, we do.”
Then he said, speaking out of what I recognized was chapter 16 of St. Matthew’s gospel, “Jesus said to the people, ‘Who do you say that I  am?  And some said Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”  And then Jesus looked at His disciples and said: ‘But who do YOU say that I am?”
The preacher paused a moment and then continued to paraphrase from the text: “Peter said, you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  And Jesus said to him, “You are blessed, Simon, son of John, because flesh and blood did not reveal that to you, but my Father in heaven revealed it to you.”
“Thank God for Jesus,” the preacher said again. And then to his congregation he asked, “Has God revealed who Jesus is to you? Are you a child of God? Is Jesus your Lord?”
He continued, “Do you know of Jesus because your preacher told you about Jesus?  Do you know about Jesus because your parents told you about Jesus? Or do you know Jesus because God told you about Jesus?”
“Do you thank God for Jesus?”
A few moments later, his simple sermon ended.
We turned off the radio and talked about what we’d just heard.  The preacher, simple as his message seemed to be, reminded me of what the very erudite St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”  (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
This Christmas, as we open the gifts set for us under the tree, Oh, may God help us reflect on the gift He gave us: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.  (John 3:16)
And, please God, help us say from our hearts, “Thank God for Jesus.”

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Me and Jesus -- repost

I posted this in April 2016. I decided to post it again because I just love the realization the Lord gives me each time I meet with Him in prayer -- that He and I are in a very intimate and personal relationship. I do very much hope you can say the same thing.


Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus and you . . . will be saved (Acts 16:30-31).

I should be calmer when I hear the disdain of those who, by their education and training, should know better. Yet despite such education they ridicule the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus. 

I should be calm, but I am not. The idea of experiencing a vibrant relationship with Christ is too much a part of me to let such wrongheaded challenges go unanswered. I get annoyed to hear them say Jesus’ salvation is not an individual experience, but rather a communal experience. "Me and Jesus” – they say – is erroneous theology, unknown to the Church until the post-reformation period.

It could be that those who scorn the idea of “me and Jesus” mean something other than what it sounds like they mean. It could be they find no place in Scripture for ‘me-ism” Christianity. 

And such an assertion would be correct. There is no place in Scripture for a maverick faith, no Biblical reason for a Christian to avoid fellowship with the larger community (e.g. Psalm 95:6; Psalm 133; Hebrews 10:25). Nevertheless, there have always been (and probably always will be) Christians who offer many excuses to hold themselves aloof from the Body.
I’ve met people like that. Who hasn't? But as St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Romans 3:3-4).

So, perhaps that is what those who mock the idea of ‘me and Jesus’ mean when they disparage the relationship I and so many millions of Christians have enjoyed over the millennia.
But if that is not what they mean, their viewpoint irritates me because not only have I had a personal, intimate and maturing relationship with Jesus during the last 43 years, but a personal salvation is clearly illustrated throughout the Scripture – and has been the experience of millions of Christians throughout Church history, dating to the apostles themselves.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy, It is a trustworthy statement, worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost (emphasis mine). The apostle also wrote, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 121); and, If any one be in Christ he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). St. Luke recorded Jesus’ words about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (Luke 15). St. Matthew records Jesus’ promise that the hairs of our head – yours and mine – are all numbered by the Father (Matthew 10:30).

As I sit here typing, dozens and dozens of Biblical texts are rolling around in my memory -- and perhaps also in yours --- all of which shout the truth that ‘me and Jesus” is a God-ordained and God-desired Biblical experience rooted in the supernatural relationship that God offers individuals like me and you.

A personal relationship.

What else could king David have meant when he wrote, O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all (Psalm 139:1-4).

A personal relationship.

Why else would the Lord Jesus have left the ninety-nine sheep in the fold of the community and search for the one individual? For someone like 'me.'

And you.

As I said, perhaps those who snipe at the ‘me and Jesus’ idea really take issue with the unsupportable position of maverick Christianity. But if they believe -- as their accusations seem to imply -- that there is no Biblical justification for "me and Jesus', then I hope they will reconsider the whole of Scripture, and not just texts taken out of context. 

"Me and Jesus" is a Bible-based reality that can change our lives forever.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

All They Need to Know (repost)

This essay has its root in my severe bout with sciatic pain. I wrote it in 2010, but the message remains timeless.

Though He slay me, I will trust in Him (Job 13:15)

There is something visceral, something I would call evil, about sciatic pain. It burns, twists and tears deep in my right buttock – so much so it sometimes nauseates me. And the pain is unrelenting. It hurts when I sit, when I stand, when I kneel, lie on my back, or stomach or either side. It overwhelms my thoughts during the day and taunts my sleep at night. It is the worst pain I have endured in nearly 60 years of life – worse than my two broken arms, two shoulder surgeries and a broken knee-cap. Narcotics don’t help. Anti-inflammatory meds are useless, as are sleep aids and other pills prescribed by my physician.

The other morning as I lay on the floor trying to pray, my mind drifted to Golgotha’s hill. I’ve been there many times in the past several months during my reflections on Scripture or on the crucifix across from my chair, or on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. I’ve been there so often, I can go there in my mind without much effort.

And so I saw myself kneeling before Him. His nailed feet were at my eye level. Each time He moved, a little more blood seeped from around the spike. I lifted my gaze. His body leaned forward from exhaustion. His hands held taut by the spikes. His eyes had rolled back into His head and all I could see were the whites. They were blood shot. From behind me I heard the voices. “There is no help for You in God.” “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross.”You saved others, can’t you save yourself?”

Then suddenly – so suddenly it startled me as I watched Him – Jesus arched His back. His feet pressed against the nail holding them to the wood. And from deep in His spirit He cried a mournful, frightened, confused: Eloi. Eloi. Lama Sabacthani. I’d never heard Him speak so agonizingly in my earlier meditations. He sounded desolate. Desperate. Despondent.

I knew what the words meant. I’d read the passage many times. “My God, my God. Why have You forsaken Me?”

As I lay on the floor trying to focus on what I saw in my mind’s eye, I heard the crowd again: “There is no help for you in God.” “If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross.” “You saved others, can’t you save yourself?”

But Jesus, having cried out, fell back to a near-limp position. If not for the nails holding Him, He’d have fallen headlong to the ground. I watched His breathing. It was labored. Almost painful. And I thought, The One who turned water to wine could have easily turned the spikes holding Him to straw. The One who healed Malchus’ ear could have easily healed His own wounds. The One who drove religious crowds from the Temple could have easily stepped from the cross and driven the mob from that hill.

Yet despite His searing pain, despite the mocking crowd, and despite even His tortured sense of abandonment by God – Jesus stayed on the cross.

Because He knew it was His Father’s will.

Many Christians endure unspeakable, devastating pain or loneliness – or both – and not just for two weeks as I have, but for decades. You probably know of some. Perhaps you yourself are among them. And they hear the whispers all the time, “There is no help for you in God.” “Why do you serve a God who treats you this way?” “Your cross is too heavy. Give it up.” And it is reasonable to ask ourselves why they continue doing the right thing.

They continue as they do – they even stay on their cross – because they know the Father loves them, He is aware of their suffering, and for some reason as yet unknown – it is His will.

And in the midst of it all, that is all they need to know.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bad Things and Good People (repost)

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

When I was 12 or 13 I prayed a nightly prayer as I prepared to go to sleep: “Oh, God, please God. Don’t let anything happen to me, Andrea (my sister), my father or my mother.” Night after night. For two or three years, if my memory is reliable.
I don’t know how I came up with that prayer, how I formulated it in my pre-adolescent mind, or why I prayed it each night. I never heard my parents pray, other than once a year during Rosh Hashonna when mom prayed over the Yahrtzeit candles for her deceased mother.  Now that I think about it, more than 50 years later, I probably learned to pray from watching movies on television.

“Oh God, please God, don’t let anything happen to me, Andrea, my father or my mother.

In more recent years, however, I’ve wondered what might have happened to my fledgling faith if something bad did happen to me, Andrea, my father, or my mother. As a child who thought like a child and reasoned as a child, would I have put aside my childish faith? Would I have been angry at God, thought Him impotent, or uncaring, or absent, for permitting something serious to fall over us? I’ve talked with many people in the last 40 years of my walk with the Savior to whom exactly that had happened. They’d prayed fervently, sometimes day after day for years for a loved one, or for themselves, for good to happen – and the opposite occurred. Death. Divorce. Loss . . . .
Although this is speculation on my part – I like to think if something bad had happened to one of us, and I laid aside my youthful faith, I like to think that when I became a man I would have recovered from my earlier rejection of God. I like to think I would have grown to know God for who He really is: Not impotent, but almighty. Not uncaring, but the very essence of love. Not absent, but always with me, never leaving me, never forsaking me.

Why do prayers sometimes – some might say many times – why do they go unanswered? Why do loved ones – even children -- die in accidents, or by illness, or murder, or suicide or . . . . ?  Why do lovers separate?
Why do bad things happen to God’s people?

Once upon a time, I thought I knew why. I could cite a dozen reasons, and come up with as many scriptures to explain God’s actions or inactions. But now, after so long walking with Jesus, I confess I am no longer sure why He does what He does, or does not do what He does not do.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror,’ St. Paul continued in his 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. ‘[But] then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

After all the decades of unanswered and sometimes desperate prayers I’ve lifted toward heaven, I now believe faith in God – faith that abides despite dead loved ones, or divorce, or long and arduous sickness, or any other terrible trial that falls so often over so many of God’s children – I now believe a stick-to-it faith in God is nothing less than a supernatural gift He gives to those who still seek Him, even after terrible and unyielding disappointment.

I believe abiding faith is as great a supernatural gift, it is as great a grace, as that of being healed of sickness, or resurrected from a dead relationship. It’s the kind of grace that enables us to put childhood thoughts and reasoning behind, and fix adult eyes on things unseen, or unknown -- and simply be content with that.

I wish I had a better answer – for myself, and for those who ask me the often unanswerable question, “Why?”

And so I continue to pray, “Oh, God! Give us your gift, give us your grace to say – even from the depths of our personal hell: “Jesus, I trust in you.”