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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

To His Last Breath


(I wrote this last year for Lent. If you didn't see it, here it is again).
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The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the third of the seven:


When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:26-27)

Most representations of the crucified Jesus are remarkably sanitized. Rarely have I seen more than a few streaks of red paint around the wounds in His hands, forehead, feet, and side. But that is not at all what Jesus looked like when He died.

It started with flogging. Soldiers tied Jesus’ hands to the whipping post and stripped off his robe. Then one of them swung rock and bone- embedded whips against Jesus’ back, buttocks, and legs, slicing into His flesh until strips of skin hung from his body. Small veins and arteries oozed and spurted blood with each heartbeat and dripped down His back, His thighs, His legs. The pavement at His feet was moist with dirt and congealed blood.
         
Jesus was so weakened by the vicious beating, He was unable to carry His cross along the road to Golgotha. Soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to drag it for Him. When they got to the top of the hill, they tossed the wood to the ground and threw the Lord onto it. The spikes they hammered through His wrists and feet tore through exquisitely sensitive nerves. Electrifying pain exploded along His limbs.

As He hung between heaven and earth, breathing became an all-consuming struggle. Gravity pulled relentlessly on His diaphragm, forcing Him to repeatedly push against His feet and flex His arms to breathe. Yet, every movement intensified the strain on His ravaged nerves, and each breath forced His bleeding back against the splintered wood, reopening the raw wounds. Every breath, every movement, every moment on the cross inflamed His torture.

It is that picture in my mind of His horrific and bloody death that makes His Third Word – this one to His mother and His disciple – so poignant. And it is there that I so often miss the significance of the moment.

Jesus – his eyes alternately glazing over from dehydration, exhaustion, and throbbing pain, and then focusing on the soldiers gambling for his clothing, and the mob cursing and jeering – at one point His eyes locked with His mother’s.

I have sometimes wondered what she was thinking as she watched her only Son suffer. It must be a parent’s worst nightmare to bury a child, and Mary was living that nightmare. Surely Simeon’s prophecy bit at her memory, “A sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35).

Jesus gathered His rapidly waning strength and, in the language and culture of the day, fixed His eyes on hers and spoke tenderly, “Woman, here is your son.” And to John, He said, “Here is your mother.”  In 21st century language, He said, “My dear mother, My work is nearly done. John will now take care of you.” And to His beloved disciple He said, “John, I am counting on you to take care of My mom. Treat her as your own mother.”

St. Paul would say decades later, “Whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).  St. James would write, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress . . .  (James 1:27).  And speaking to those who thought themselves religious, Jesus responded, Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) —  then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God” (Mark 7:10-13).

Despite his nearly incomprehensible agony, Jesus continued to do what was right and necessary. In one of His last acts in life,HH He made certain His parent would be taken care of after His death.

True religion is not simply attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments, devoting ourselves to prayer and the study of the Scriptures. True faith requires we take care of others – and especially our parents, if they are still alive.

Are we tender toward them? Patient toward them? Do we treat them with dignity and respect? Do they need financial help? Do we often call or visit? Do we model the Christian lifestyle they taught us and lived before us during our years in their home?  St. John, in his third epistle wrote: I have no greater joy than to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 4). Oh, how great a joy it is for aging parents to know their children walk in Truth.

To His last breaths, Jesus took care to take care of His mother. How ought we who follow in Christ’s footsteps behave toward our parents?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mutually Exclusive Choices

I deleted this post because the Lord convicted me AGAIN that my job is to build up, and not tear down.  I hope this time I have learned my lesson.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

The One in the Middle



The Second Word of Jesus on the Cross:
Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.
(Luke 23:40-42)

Two men hung between heaven and earth, nailed to crosses on either side of the One in the middle. Two men, thieves, struggling against death, knowing it was only a matter of hours before death sunk its talons into their flesh.  

One thief, even in the midst of dying, joined his voice to the crowd as they mocked, cursed and blasphemed the Stranger in the middle. 

There is a lesson in that thief for all of us, for we also always have a choice to join the crowd, to follow the popular, the politically correct, the praised. We always have a choice to enter the wide gate toward the broad way, or the small gate and the narrow way. We always have a choice to turn from the Savior. We always have a choice to believe His words or reject them.

But the other thief would have none of the mockery. What are you doing? He rebuked the first thief. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And then he did what everyone must do at some time in their life. Rather, he did what everyone must do over and over and over again throughout their life: He acknowledged his sin, which is nothing less than agreeing with God that we are wrong in what we have done, and He is right for requiring of us something better. It’s called being humble before God. It’s called repentance.

Repentance does amazing things in and for our soul. It lifts us to where Jesus hangs between heaven and earth, face to face with His nailed and bloodied body – brutalized because of our sins. As the Hebrew prophet Isaiah foretold centuries earlier, He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6). 

Repentance frees us from ourselves. It frees us from our arrogance that binds us to eternal death. Repentance teaches us humility and unveils for us our fleeting mortality – and our desperate need for an eternal savior. Yes, repentance even brings us into an intimate relationship with the King of Glory, a relationship reserved only for the penitent.

So the good thief turned to the One no longer a stranger in the middle and pleaded, Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” The dying man recognized Jesus had a kingdom and Jesus was Lord in His kingdom.

And the thief wanted to be there with his Lord.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” The man spoke less than a dozen words. But short prayers from the heart are far more efficacious than long soliloquies without humility.

Jesus, remember me.

Yes, Jesus is Lord of His kingdom, but the critical question I routinely ask myself is this: Is Jesus lord of my kingdom? Am I on the throne of my heart, or is He? Do I daily seek to follow in His footsteps, to go where He wants me to go, to stay where He wants me to stay, to willingly do His bidding . . . or am I more likely to go my own way, on my own path and through doors of my choosing?

Jesus, remember me.

Oh, how the King loves to hear our plea born in a penitent heart – and it is always true, what He said to the penitent thief, He promises also to us: Truly I say to you . . . you shall be with Me in Paradise."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Forgiveness


Most Christians know we are now in the period of the Church calendar known as Lent. According to Wikipedia:

Lent is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations that begins on Ash Wednesday and covers a period of approximately six weeks before Easter Sunday. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial. This event, along with its pious customs, is observed by Christians in the Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran, Methodist, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.

Last year during this Lenten season I published essays surrounding all seven of Jesus' last words on the cross. This year I will repost them because the message of each essay is worth reading again.
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The First Words of Jesus on the Cross

 “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).


The more I think about what Jesus said, the more I am encouraged.  
Forgive them.

Just a few hours earlier, in the Gethsemane Garden, soldiers led by the Jewish priests surrounded Jesus and the disciples. Peter drew His sword and came within a hair of cutting the skull of the high priest’s servant. He sliced off His ear, instead.

But Jesus would have none of the fight. “Put back your sword, Peter,” Jesus commanded. “Don’t you know I could call just now to my Father and He would put at my disposal 12 legions of angels to defend me?”

A Roman legion consisted of 6,000 soldiers. In other words, the Lord could have called for 72,000 angelic warriors, swords unsheathed and glistening in the firelight, and the ground would have been drenched with the blood of those who’d come to drag Jesus away.

But He didn’t call for them. Instead, God-in-the-flesh-of-a-man, God their Creator, the Almighty God permitted His creatures to spit at him, pull His beard, punch him in the face, and haul him off to court.

And now, hanging bloodied and bruised on an old rugged cross, crowds of priests, soldiers and rabble mocking Him, cursing Him . . . .

I wonder sometimes if the thought crossed His mind even for a nanosecond to glance toward His Father and ask for those angels. If it did, He put it from His mind and said instead – Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.

Forgiveness. 

It is why we can come anew to Jesus in our continuing journey toward the Kingdom. There is no sin so grievous, so dark, so vile that the grace of God and the mercy of God cannot – and will not – cleanse with Christ’s blood.  What is it St. John wrote in His first epistle? If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7). And St. Paul’s encouragement to the church at Ephesus: In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).

Forgiveness. 

It is why we can stay with Him today, wherever we are in life and whatever we've done wrong. If we confess our sins, St. John tells us, again in his first epistle, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). When the penitent walks out of the confessional he or she has God’s absolute and inviolable assurance of forgiveness. As the Holy Spirit promises through the psalmist: For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. 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 103:11-14).

Forgiveness. 

It is why we can journey with Him wherever He leads us. As St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome: If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:31-39)

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

When we sin, when we slash the whip once again across His back, when we drive another nail into His bleeding hands, how much do we really understand what we are doing? How much do we know how it grieves Him? How it breaks His heart? If we had the remotest clue, I don’t think we’d be so cavalier to do some of the things we do.

Father, forgive them.

If the Scriptures teach us anything, it is that there is forgiveness with God, complete, unhesitating, and unqualified forgiveness to the penitent. And that is precisely why you and I can come to Christ, stay with Christ, and journey with Him wherever He leads us.

For which we can gladly say, "Thanks be to God!"

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Poor in Spirit



While Nancy waited in the doctor’s office for her appointment time, she noticed an elderly woman across from her. Mid-seventies, Nancy guessed. Maybe five feet tall. She looked well-put together in her nicely tailored pink pant suit – until she stood up and shuffled behind her walker to the receptionist. It was then Nancy noticed the woman’s pant legs were so long that she’d rolled up about a foot of material to keep it from dragging on the ground. Nancy wondered if she had no one to hem them for her, or to take her to a seamstress.
As she told me this story, lyrics of an old Beatle’s song passed through my thoughts:
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church 
where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face 
that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon 
that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night 
when there's nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

When Nancy finished talking I sat in silence for a few moments, pondering the well-put together woman with the rolled up cuffs. What can the gospel – the good news of Jesus – what can it mean for all the lonely people? What can it speak to those who don’t speak because they’ve learned no one cares to hear what they have to say? What message can the good news have for those who won’t look others in the eyes because they know by experience their place is always beneath and behind and in a corner?

Does God really have good news for the Father Mckenzies and the Eleanor Rigbys and for those who don’t have someone who cares enough to hem their pants?

Yes. Of course He does.  That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

He was talking to the discouraged ones, the desolate, the rejected, the lonely, the forgotten. He was talking to the invisible ones in every employee break room, in every church, in every classroom, in every doctor’s office, in every family.

Their God – called “Immanuel, God with us” – their God aches for their sadness. He listens intently to every word whispered by their heart. He catches their every tear in His bottle. He cups their chin in His hands and invites them to look into His eyes. 

The good news of the gospel is this: Though no one else knows them, God-With-Us knows them. His gaze follows those who are poor in spirit, each Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie, and each old woman with rolled-up cuffs. Each is immeasurably important to Him, so important that He says it again and again, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy burdened.”

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.