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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why Catholics Memorize Scripture

I posted to an online community an encouragement to fellow Christians – Catholics and Protestants alike – to stir them to consider memorizing portions of God’s word. You can find it here:  http://bit.ly/2qmXIkE

It was not at all my intent to cause offense or to make anyone feel guilty about how they approach Scripture memory.

A short time later I received a reply from a fellow Catholic who wrote: “I don't see the point of memorization. In my life experience it's been more helpful for me to pray over bible passages and having Our Lord enlighten me.”

I thought perhaps she might have misunderstood my point. I do not negate the value of praying over Bible passages. In fact, in one of the books I wrote, “Prayer Strategies: A Series of Helps,” I devote an entire ‘prayer strategy’ to praying the scriptures.

But she did not misunderstand my point. In a follow-on comment she added: “Don't waste your time in trying to change my mind, because you won't. As a Roman Catholic I prefer our devotions and traditions and I'll go with praying scripture over memorizing scripture any day.”

I will not try to change her mind. But because she invoked her Roman Catholic faith as an excuse for not bothering to memorize Scripture, I thought that as a Roman Catholic myself, I ought to respond to her very un-Catholic view of Scripture. Indeed, it was the very Catholic St. Jerome who warned his fellow Catholics: Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.

My goal in this specific response is to provide some background regarding how Catholics in the past have treated the idea of Scripture memory. 

The Roman Catholic Church traces our origin to the apostles and the apostolic age. So, let’s first look at what those first century men and women said about Scripture – and by implication, memorization.

In her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) the Blessed Virgin Mary from memory quoted or alluded to at least six Old Testament texts (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 34:2, Psalm 35:9, Psalm 98:1, Psalm 103:17, Psalm 107:9). (What Catholic does not want to follow our Mother’s love for Scripture and Scripture memory?).

In the Wilderness Temptation (Matthew 4 and Luke 4) Jesus responded to each of the devil’s lies with a quote from Old Testament Scripture. (And it is hardly necessary to remind ourselves that Jesus is our example ‘par excellence’ in whose steps we should follow (1 Peter 2:21).

Before his martyrdom, St. Stephen (Acts 7) extensively quoted and alluded to multiple Old Testament texts from memory. St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae: 3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly DWELL WITHIN YOU (my emphasis), with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” And in which of the New Testament epistles did any of the apostles not quote from memory passages from the Old Testament?

As Roman Catholics, we are taught by the Church to revere Scripture. In his encyclical, Dei Verbum (The Word of God) Pope Paul VI wrote: “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord . . . [T]he force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. . . .”

And from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 104 “In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, "but as what it really is, the word of God". "In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them."

And again: 133 The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.” And surely one can imply from these three Roman Catholic documents, memorization is an acceptable form of learning ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ.’

Regarding Old Testament Scriptures, the Catechism teaches: 121 “The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.”

What then does the Old Testament tell us of the importance of memorizing Scripture? For example, Proverbs 7: “My son, keep my words and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart.”

Psalm 119:11 “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” And while we are looking at Psalm 119, can anyone read those 176 verses and come away not sensing the value the Holy Spirit places on reading, meditating, obeying, and hiding His word in our hearts?

I can list hundreds of other examples of the Holy Spirit’s injunction to His faithful to know God’s word, but here is just one more: Deuteronomy 6:

4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

Is it of value for Catholics and other Christians to memorize and pray the scriptures? Of the life and work of St. Benedict we find this: “Benedict instructed his followers to practice sacred reading -- the study of the very Scriptures they would be praying in the Work of God. In this lectio divina, he and his monks memorized the Scripture, studied it, and contemplated it until it became part of their being. Four to six hours were set aside each day for this sacred reading. If monks had free time it "should be used by the brothers to practice psalms." Lessons from Scripture were to be spoken from memory, not read from a book.” (Citation available on request)

St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans, was a great proponent of Scripture memory, as was St. Therese of Liseaux and many other Catholic saints of past centuries.

If an individual Christian chooses to not memorize Scripture, that is certainly his or her decision. But to claim avoidance of that opportunity on the basis of being a Roman Catholic – well, there is simply no justification for that attitude in the historic teaching of the Catholic Church.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Memorizing Scripture

I’ve read the book of Colossians more than 100 times. I know that to be true because I’ve kept a record since 1975 – when I started keeping records of my annual journey through the Bible.

Several weeks ago – April 30, actually – I decided to start memorizing large swaths of Scripture, as I used to do many years ago. I began at Colossians 1:1.

Memorizing large sections of Scripture is not as difficult as it might at first seem. In fact, I find it easier than memorizing verses in isolation. Larger sections of scripture tend to make better sense because the verses are each in context with the surrounding verses.

In the four weeks since I began my memory work in Colossians, I’ve also discovered a deeper understanding of the text – even though I’ve read the chapter more than 100 times.

I attribute that to the fact that as I commit the texts to memory, I have to rehearse them again and again and again for days and weeks at a time. I don’t believe it possible to place so much emphasis on hiding God’s word in your heart that the Holy Spirit will not open deeper understanding to His word.

So what am I trying to say?

Why not commit yourself to memorize not just a few verses in isolation, but what about an entire chapter of Scripture – or even an entire (short) book? It might seem a gargantuan task . . . but it really CAN be done if you determine to do so.

Set a goal for yourself. Mine is to complete Colossians before the end of the year -- certainly an obtainable goal. You can set something similar for yourself -- even if it is only a full chapter of some book before the end of the summer.

What do you think? Want to do this together?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

His god Wants Him Happy

I talked with a woman the other day who’s been married 27 years. She told me her husband wants a divorce so he can marry the woman with whom he’s been sleeping for the past several months. As his excuse, he said to her, “My god wants me to be happy.”

I tried not to look too stunned, but I doubt I was successful. A moment later I responded, “I believe it is true that his god wants him to be happy. But,” I continued, “his god is clearly not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Later that afternoon while driving home, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a breakfast meeting I’d had the day before with some local church leaders. As we ate our pancakes and bacon, I overheard two ministers from a nearby church who talked among themselves about their same-sex ‘partners.’

And so the bold ‘in-your-face’ mockery of God's demand for our holiness and sanctification goes on and on and on. Yet even though I've encountered multiple dozens of such self-deceived church-goers in the past decade, I still do not cease to be amazed that such people can be so shamelessly cavalier with Him of whom the Holy Spirit warned:

“If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries . . . . It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31)

The true and eternal God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will not be mocked; especially by those who call themselves Christians.

It really will be a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Oh, Holy Spirit PLEASE -- help us all to not “think lightly of the riches of [Your] kindness and tolerance and patience.” Indeed, as the Scripture tells us, Your kindness should lead us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Too Hard? Really?

I hear it so often I get so weary of it. “The Bible is too hard to understand for the lay person. They need to have a good commentary in order to understand it.”

But when they say that they preclude the power of the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth – as Jesus said He would.
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:13-14)

Of course, there are passages of Scripture for which the average reader can benefit from some guidance into the history and culture surrounding what was is written in Scripture. But in my reading of the Bible multiple times, there comes to my mind only a small snippets of God’s -- especially the New Testament -- for which we need additional guidance. I’d suggest easily 95% of the New Testament can be understood by a child.

But when we insist people need a commentary to understand the Scripture, we do nothing less than give many Christians an excuse to avoid reading the Bible. That is why the words of the prophet Amos come to  mymind: “Behold days are coming when I will send a famine on the land, not a salmon for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and from North even to the east, they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord but they will not find it. (Amos 8:11-13).

Has anyone else noticed the famine in our land for the word of God? Television, radio, books -- even from some of our pulpits, nothing less than pablum week after endless week. Lukewarm mush to tickle the ears of those in the pews. Banal drivel without either authority, or challenge, or exhortation to live holy lives.

There is good reason the Lord Jesus told us to pray, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:37). 

And Oh, God!  I add, please give your children a passion to read your word for themselves, that we may know You, and the power of Your resurrection, and the fellowship of Your suffering, that our lives may be truly conformed to Yours.

Monday, May 15, 2017

No Other Address

It came back to me twice. The first time, I only glanced at the address, thinking my email provider's network was acting up again - as it does occasionally. But when my message returned the second time to my in-box, I looked more closely at the address. Then I saw my mistake: I had accidentally added a letter to the addressee's name.

Unlike mail delivered by the U. S. Postal Service, an electronic-mail address demands perfection. Mail carriers have correctly delivered mail to my house despite multiple misspellings on the envelope. I have even received my mail when it was addressed to the incorrect house number. Electronic mail, however, is a different story. One letter out of place, one character missing, and your letter is not going anywhere but into the great cyberspace-boomerang.

The analogy is not perfect, but when it comes to the subject of eternal salvation, many people presume God is more like a friendly mail carrier than an inflexible email provider. They believe it doesn't matter how the mail is addressed: Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, the Good Fairy. All roads lead to heaven -- or so the argument goes. As long as our intentions are good, the celestial delivery service will get us where we want to go.

They couldn't be more wrong. God accepts only one address for eternal life. He has determined only one Savior, one Bridge between us and God, one Door between heaven and earth.

The Jewish Prophets caught just a glimpse of Him. Isaiah said He shall be called, " . . . Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'" (Isaiah 9:6). The prophet Daniel added, "And to Him was given (an everlasting) dominion . . . that all the peoples . . . might serve Him" (Daniel 7:14). But it was not until half a millennium after Daniel's death that the Savior's identity was fully revealed.

St. Peter told those gathered in Jerusalem that heaven's only acceptable address is spelled JESUS CHRIST (Acts 4:12). St. Paul wrote, "At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:10-11). Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me (John 14:6). And further: [Jesus said], "unless you believe I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).

Sometimes I am frustrated when the cyber-postmaster rejects my email. The idea that I could have made a mistake hardly crosses my mind. It's easier to place blame on the email provider, and more than once I have muttered aloud that if they can't be more efficient, I'll take my business elsewhere. Truth is, however, I don't need another email provider. I just need to follow the rules when I address my mail. Nothing short of perfection will work.

God's rule about eternal life is equally rigid. He requires nothing short of perfection in our "address." There is no savior but Jesus. No forgiveness of sins except through Jesus. No access to heaven apart from Jesus. Anything added to His rule, anything taken away, will only result in our rejection at heaven's gates.

And there will be no in-box available for a second chance.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Man Upstairs(?) Sermon May 11 2017

Some are flippant when referring to Almighty God. Others think we should grovel at His feet. But what saith the Scriptures? I talk about it here:  https://youtu.be/sTxWgkb70nI