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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Baseball Cards and God

I posted this a couple of years ago. If you missed it, here it is again:
So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

It's been more than 55 years, but I still remember the fun we had collecting baseball cards. For a few cents my friends and I purchased photos and playing histories of the sport's greatest. I kept mine safely in a shoe box. Whitey Ford, Willey Mays, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax.... we cataloged them, traded them, bartered with them.
But as the years passed, my once compelling interest in baseball cards waned. Other things captured my attention and my revered Whitey Fords and Mickey Mantles ended up scattered across my closet floor. By the time I was thirteen I no longer owned a baseball card.
Had I known then what I know now about the value of those cards, things would have been different. Trade them? Never! Leave them scattered around the house? Are you kidding? Some of those cards are worth several hundreds of dollars today. And to think I let mine gather dust in my closet.
Older now . . . and hopefully a measure wiser, baseball cards have taught me an important lesson about the value of things often taken for granted. Like relationships, for example.
Many years ago I read a newspaper article of a woman who, while on her way to work, skidded on wet pavement and ran off the road into a ravine. She left behind two teenage. I wondered if they had said to her that morning as she left the house, "Mom, I love you." If they were like I am, they probably hadn't. Did they expect that day to be the last she would be on this earth? No, of course not. It was just another Tuesday. Like every other Tuesday. Mom drove out of the driveway to her job and the two teens busily set about their own plans. Then suddenly, things changed forever.

Relationships. What about marriage? It used to be I could count on one hand (well, maybe two) the number of failed marriages among my friends. Now I've lost track. Had each couple planned, as they stood before the altar, their future division? I doubt it. Rather, each vowed their life-long commitment, full of promises and romance. But then pressures of work, of raising a family, and who knows what else began taking their toll. And somehow romance and promises wound up collecting dust between the covers of photo albums or scattered like so many knickknacks across a passionless house. And without realizing what was happening while it was happening, they flipped their relationships aside like so much valueless clutter.

Relationships. What about that between a parent and child?  How many moms and dads have lost touch with the value of their children? When the kids were younger they played ball together, went for picnics, had tea parties. But now there's precious little time to do much as a family. Monday is PTA. Tuesday, scouts. Wednesday is bingo. Thursday, bowling. Friday is whatever. Then comes the weekend. Who can crawl out of bed? And so weeks roll into years, and memories collect dust and cobwebs.

But the saddest of all examples of outgrown relationships is the way many "outgrow" their relationship with God. Where church attendance had once been an important part of childhood, where stories of Moses and David, of Paul and Jesus had been the stuff on which they were nurtured, fishing trips or shopping at the mall now take precedence on Sundays. The value of a once vibrant relationship with the God of the Universe has lost personal meaning for a large and growing number of people.

Relationships can so easily become strained or torn asunder between a mom or dad... a spouse... a child. Even our God. But the choice, where the choice may still be made, is ours. We can scatter our treasures across the floor, or safely protect them.

Inevitably, it will happen – each of us will learn relationships with one another are of much more worth and of more infinite value than things like baseball cards. May God help us learn it early rather than late.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Quo Vadis?

The term is a Latin phrase meaning, "Where are you going?"  It dates to an early Church tradition – a tradition every Christian and every pastor might do well to review once a year.

According to the tradition, St. Peter was fleeing government persecution – and his own likely execution – when he met the Risen Jesus on the road outside the city.

Peter asked the Lord, “Quo Vadis?” (Where are you going?).  To which Jesus responded, “To Rome to be crucified again.”

Suddenly face to face with his own fear and remorse, Peter turned and walked back into the city to continue the work to which Christ has called all Christians: “Preach the gospel.”

St. Peter is eventually martyred and crucified upside down. But the point of the story is not Peter‘s martyrdom, but that he overcame his fear and returned to the city. The point of the story is that he would not be ashamed of Christ or of the gospel. He would continue to preach the truth. The point of the story is:

You and I must do likewise.  

Peter’s colleague, St. Paul, wrote this warning and word of encouragement to young Timothy – a word of warning and encouragement the Holy Spirit applies to you and me in this 21st century:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

The apostle continues: “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”(2 Timothy 4)

Today, like few other times in Church history, governments and men and women – even within the Church – no longer wish to hear truth. Instead, they seek teachers who will tell them what they want to hear.

From the pulpit to the pew, from the highest seats of government to the highest chairs in universities – even those universities founded on Christian principles – men and women now bow the knee and kiss the feet of the idol called Tolerance, whose only two requirements are: Everyone do what is right in your own eyes; and everyone else must accept what you do as okay.

Christian, listen! At this very moment Jesus has turned to ask you: Quo Vadis?

What is your answer?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Me and Jesus -- A Personal Relationship

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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Bang, Bang. You're Dead

The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them "the acceptable time . . . the day of salvation." It inspires a holy fear of God . . . . (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1041)
Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve. (Joshua 24:15)

Exhaustion swept over me. It had been a long day at Disneyland with my young children, and I looked forward to plopping into bed at our motel room. As we stood on the corner waiting for the light to change, a red convertible raced past us and someone on the passenger side shot at me with a high-pressure water rifle. I looked up in time to hear my assailant shout, "Bang, Bang. You’re dead."  
It happened so quickly I never had time to think about ducking for cover and protecting my kids. For a moment I stood motionless and incredulous. Did that really happen? Did he really shoot me? I looked at my shirt. Yes, he did. I was soaked.
Several emotions swelled within me. None were kind. I clenched my fists and glared at the tail lights disappearing into the collage of vehicles now at the other end of the block. I considered giving chase, but realized I'd never outrun them, and besides, I didn't know what I would have done if I caught up with the guy – or what he might have further done to me if I had.  So I stood there, fuming and frustrated - until the full weight of what could have happened settled over me. When it did, anger gave way to fear. My shirt could be saturated with my blood instead of water. I rubbed my hand across my chest. I could be lying dead on the pavement.
And then, inexplicably, as I stood there on the corner, the oddest sense of calm settled over me. No, “calm” does not faithfully describe the emotion that flooded into my mind. Comfort is a better word. Or maybe peace.
Let me explain.
Many years earlier I made a disturbing discovery about myself. I came face to face with the truth that my life was a cacophony of excuses and lies, rebellion, selfishness, and arrogance. I cringed o realize who I really was and how many people I had hurt.
At the same time, I made another discovery. Despite my sin, God loved me. Despite my willful defiance, God offered me forgiveness. Despite my rebellion, He offered me a new relationship as a son with a Father. All I had to do was take the first step and apologize to Him for my many sins, follow Him in the waters of baptism, and invite Jesus to be Lord of my life. I could hardly believe it all could be true.
But it was.
In December 1972 God opened for me the floodgates of His love. I knew instinctively that He wiped the slate of my past absolutely clean, adopted me into His great Family and made me His child. He promised through the Scripture I would never be alone in my heartaches because He would be with me wherever I was and through whatever I endured. But best of all, He gave me His unalterable oath that when my life on earth ends, I will live with Him in His eternal kingdom.
Had that water been lead, I would have awakened in a place where there is no more death, no more tears, no more heartache, no more fear, no more separation, and no more loss.

God used a street corner “wet-down” to sharpen my focus. A drive-by shooting, an accidental fall . . . death can strike in an instant. I am grateful to Him that I do not have to worry about making last-moment decisions about eternity.