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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It Doesn't Matter



It doesn’t matter if no one hears what you say. 
If God said say it, then say it anyway.

It doesn’t matter if no one reads what you write.
If God said write it, then write it anyway.

It doesn’t matter if no one appreciates what you fashion with clay, or paint, or fabric, or metal, or paper.
If God said fashion it, then fashion it anyway.

It doesn’t matter if no one cares that you sacrifice your time, talent, or treasure.
If God said sacrifice it, then sacrifice it anyway.

It is not our kingdom we build. It is His.
It is not our plan we work. It is His.

He is the Architect. We are the laborers –
Privileged to work whenever, wherever, and however
He pleases.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet . . . (Hebrews 12:12-13)


Friday, March 25, 2016

Into Thy Hands . . .



The Seventh and Last Word of Jesus on the Cross
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
(Luke 23:46)

It is 9AM on Friday and Roman soldiers hammer spikes into His limbs. Then they lifted His cross and He hung between heaven and earth until 3PM. Six hours. Crucified prisoners often lasted much longer than the six hours Jesus hung between heaven and earth. That’s why when Joseph asked Pilate if he could take Jesus’ body and bury it, Pilate was surprised to learn Jesus was already dead.

It is critical that we remember Jesus was in complete control of the timing of His capture, of His scourging, and of the time of His death. “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:18)

The Lord of heaven and earth could have at any time called for those 12 legions of angels to rescue Him (Matthew 26:53).  But He did not call for them. He determined to complete the course set out for Him from the foundation of the earth. And just a moment earlier, what did He shout?  It is FINISHED!

Before we move on with His last words, let’s reflect on what else we know was happening that hill. Here is what the prophet David tells us in Psalm 22: All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; “He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

In the third psalm, the David prophesied: O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, there is no help for him in God.  (Psalm 3:1-2)

The gospels give us additional information. They tell us of Jesus’ agony from the whip that tore slices of flesh from his body. We know of His desperate loneliness as He sensed the Father had forsaken Him. We know of His overwhelming thirst. And we know of the crowd’s jeers:

Jesus,” they said, “There is no help for you in God! . . . “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself  . . . “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” . . . (Luke 23:37, 39) . . . . “Ha! You who were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself . . . .and come down from the cross.”  (Matthew 27:40)

It is against this backdrop that Jesus lifted His face toward heaven and said what holds for us at least two critically important lessons when He uttered: “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

The first lesson is this:

Have people ever mocked your faith – especially in times of your greatest need? Have they ever said – not in these words, but in meaning – There is no help for you in God?  It is here that we can look to Jesus, who suffered far more than you or I will ever suffer. Jesus the man could have given in to the mockery. But there was something about His relationship with His father that enabled Him – and will enable us – to say just as He said -- even when faced with the pits of hell: “Father, I trust you. To the very gates of hell, I trust you. And into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

How did He establish that relationship?  It is not at all enough to simply say, “Well, that’s Jesus. Of course He had a relationship with the Father.”

No, that is not sufficient, for if that was all there is to it, then you and I can never hope to imitate Him. We could never hope to follow in His steps, as St Peter tells us:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,  . . . and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously . . . .”
(1 Peter 2:21)

No, Jesus the Man had developed a relationship with the Father in exactly the same way you and I and all of the prophets and saints of Judeo-Christian faith develop a relationship with the Father: By spending time with Him. There is simply no substitute for spending time with God if we hope to ever have a deepening relationship with Him.

Spending time.  

Not once a week in a church pew, but daily – in your prayer closet. Just you and Jesus. It requires reading and meditating on His scriptures. And if you are a Catholic reading this, it requires frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation. There is simply no substitute.  Our problem is – we most often choose not to sacrifice the time required.

As Mother Theresa once said: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

And the second lesson is this:

Remember into whose hands we are committing our lives, our health, our families, our destinies. It is into the hands that created all things we see and can’t see – “all things visible and invisible”.  There is no power in heaven, on earth, or under the earth that can open what He has shut, or shut what He has opened.

This passage from Isaiah barely touches the surface of God’s power:  Isaiah 40:15-17:  Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.. . . All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.

No wonder we can commit ourselves into His hands. There are no hands stronger, or more comforting, than our heavenly Father’s hands.

Believing in God, and loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, has enormous consequences for our life. I like what St. Theresa of Jesus wrote: Let nothing trouble you.  Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes; God never changes. Patience obtains all; Whoever has God wants for nothing. God alone is enough.

Yes, believing in God and loving Him has ENORMOUS consequences for our whole life. Here is what Jesuit Fr. Perdro Arrupe once wrote:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love [with God], stay in love, and it will decide everything.

What darkness envelopes you today? What sadness, or emptiness, or loneliness, or pain overshadows your soul?  Jesus had fallen in love with His Father. That is why He could trust Him, despite His pain, His loneliness, the mocking and the jeering of others who told Him, “There is no help for you in God.”

What can separate us from God’s love?  St. Paul asked that question, and then he definitively answered it. You can find his answer in the eighth chapter of Romans, beginning with verse 35: “Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 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.”
 
And as our relationship with God deepens, Paul’s words make greater sense with each passing trial and each passing year.

Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.

Oh, thanks be to God for Jesus’ example – deep and abiding love for God, a love birthed in a lifetime of prayer and meditation of the Scriptures and seeking His face above all other faces – Jesus is our example of what we too can say when faced with depression, heartache, terror, loss . . . we can learn to say it from the depths of our being: Father, “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Amen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What's So Good About Good Friday?


This was not simply disappointment. It was gut-wrenching tragedy. 
Their hopes, like precious china, lay shattered. Their dreams hung limp on a splintered cross. Glancing over their shoulders in fear with each step, the disciples wondered who would be next. For those who loved Him, darkness smothered Friday like a cold, damp woolen blanket.


And what was that Friday like for Christ?

It began with flogging. Roman soldiers fashioned a leather whip, studded with small rocks and bone. Every blow against Jesus’ back ripped open new strips of skin. His muscles and tendons quickly turned into a mass of quivering, bleeding flesh. Many prisoners died of shock and blood loss long before being nailed to the cross.

After the beating, Jesus dragged his cross to the execution site where soldiers dropped it on the ground and threw Him onto it. The spikes 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 inexorably on His diaphragm, forcing Jesus to repeatedly push against His feet and flex His arms just to breathe. Yet, every movement heightened the strain on His ravaged nerves, and each breath forced His back against the splintered wood, reopening the raw wounds.

Every breath, every movement, every moment on the cross inflamed His torture. For Jesus, for His disciples -- for anyone standing at the foot of the cross, Good Friday seemed anything but good.

What, then, is so good about that Friday 2000 years ago?

That Friday proved God’s faithfulness. As early as Genesis 3, the Lord promised the human family a redeemer, someone to set us free from the Serpent’s grasp, someone to take “captivity captive” to Himself:
Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent . . . And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel (Genesis 3:13-15).

On that Friday, Satan bruised God’s heel. But through Christ's cross, God crushed Satan’s head. The Serpent forever lost the authority to enslave anyone who wants to be free. His power is nullified by the blood of Christ. Listen to the words found in Hebrews 2:14-15:  Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

That Friday tore through sin’s impenetrable barrier between us and God. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). But that Friday, God shattered the barrier. He rescued the prisoners. Laying our sins on Christ’s shoulders. 

Here again is what Scripture tells us: "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

That Friday, the Father threw open the gates of reconciliation between us and Himself: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ . . . not counting [our] trespasses against [Him] . . ." (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

That Friday proved God’s love for us and gave us the hope of eternal life. It is easy to read quickly over John 3:16 and not sense the searing emotions the Father suffered as He watched His Son agonize on that cross. But when we meditate on the Roman scourging, the spikes in His limbs, the flesh wounds -- perhaps we can better understand the personal nature of that verse -- “God so loved me . . that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

That Friday clothed us with Christ’s righteousness. The harlot, the thief, the murderer, the adulterer . . . think of it! There is no sin that cannot be cleansed by Christ’s blood. There is no sinner who cannot be made as righteous before God’s eyes as Jesus Himself. Listen to this promise: 


Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Finally -- if there can be a final point about Good Friday -- that Friday challenges us to repentance. When the crowds in Jerusalem learned it was their sins that nailed Jesus to the cross, “they were pieced to the heart.” In unison they cried out, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?” St. Peter responded, “Repent,” and three thousand were born into the kingdom (Acts 2:22-41). Later, St. Paul would add:
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

Standing at the foot of Christ’s cross, nothing about Friday looked good. But no one knew Resurrection Sunday was coming . . . and with it, God’s redemptive plan which H conceived before the foundation of the world.

Good Friday? It could not have been any better.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

It is FINISHED!



The Sixth Word of Jesus on the Cross
“It is finished” (John 19:30)


Perhaps no other statement of Jesus on Golgotha’s hill mean so much to me as “It is finished.” I spent weeks contemplating why that is true, and decided the answer is best illustrated by my life with my two fathers.

My first father – his name was Al -- wouldn’t stay out of other women’s beds. He finally left my mom, my sister, and me when I was four, and never paid any attention to us afterward. When I was 18, I asked my paternal grandparents to set up a meeting for us at their house. I wanted to ask him why he left us. Without even blinking, he looked me straight in the eye and simply said, “Because I wanted to.”

Then there was Tommy. He married Mom when I was twelve and adopted me and my sister shortly afterward. I remember him for his explosive temper. We never knew what would set him off. He never hugged me, rarely spent time with me. Never went to one of my ball games or youth activities. I don’t remember him even speaking a kind or encouraging word to me.

But despite how my two fathers treated me, my sister, and Mom, I know I would have followed their examples and grown into the kind of man that they were. The allure of drugs and sex without responsibilities wooed me; and I gladly followed. I lived for the moment because it was always ‘my’ moment. I didn’t care about my future because I chose to live only one day at a time. The future could wait until I was ready.
The future.
Oh, what a future I would have created for myself – were it not for God and the work He did for me Calvary.
Because of the years I lived in sin and rebellion, I didn’t know Scripture called me a child of the devil – but oh, what a devilish child I was: “ . . . the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil . . . . By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious, anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God . . .” (1 John 3:8-10)

But when Jesus finished His work on Golgotha He gave me the right to become a child of God. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of]blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

Oh, I love to remember it! To me – the one who repeatedly spit in God’s face, who led others into mortal sin, who even killed his child in an abortion clinic – Jesus offered my penitent soul the right to be called a child of almighty God.

When Jesus spoke His sixth word, I do not believe He spoke them in a whisper. I do not believe Jesus spoke those words with a sense of defeat, as if to say to His Father, “I did my best. I did all that I could do. It is finished.”

No, I believe Jesus lifted His face toward heaven and shouted with such a voice of triumph that even the centurion stopped what he was doing and in amazement looked at Jesus who had just shouted with a voice of triumph:

It is FINISHED!

I don’t think anyone on earth knows the full extent of what Jesus meant when He said, it is finished. But I will tell you in personal terms what it means to me.  

When it was finished, Jesus set me free from the fear of death: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

When Jesus declared, “It is finished”, His blood ransomed me from the devil’s grip and set me free. (John 8:31-44; Galatians 1:4)

“It is finished.”

My sins earned me God’s wrath, and like the sword of Damocles, it hung over my head. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)

But when Jesus said, “It is finished” God directed His wrath I so worthily deserved, onto Jesus’ body. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

“It is finished.”

Yes, no longer lost. No longer a prisoner. No longer a child of darkness. When Jesus spilled His blood on Golgotha and said, “It is finished” He meant it. His work of salvation was finished. And no power on earth or in hell could – or can – change it.

Because, it is finished.

People have told me God is a myth, a fable created by the weak, the desperate, the superstitious, the ignorant. But those who say such things have never met my Jesus, have never felt His presence so close you can almost hear His heartbeat, have never heard Him whisper: “Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you. I have done it, and I will carry you; I will bear you and I will deliver you.” (Isaiah 46:4)

I know who I was and where I was headed. But God changed my life. From the inside out He recreated me. And when I confessed my sins to Him – some of which were very dark and very evil – He cast them all as far from Himself as east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)

People ask why I am so passionate about God. How can I not be? He has never stopped loving me. No matter what I did, where I’ve been, and even at my worst, His love for me has never diminished one iota. And Jesus reached out His nail-pierced hand and pulled me from my trajectory toward certain self-destruction. He saved my life even when others might have thought my life not worth saving.
Best yet, I have seen it again and again that what He did for me, He wants to do for anyone. My Jesus has never refused the desperate cry of any penitent. All you and I need to do is thank Him, and offer Him our lives in growing obedience.

Won’t you do it now? For the first time, or the hundredth time won’t you do it now?