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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mustard Seed

As I read the text the other day, a memory resurfaced of a discussion I had many years ago with someone who used this passage as evidence of errors in the Bible. He correctly told me the mustard seed is not the smallest of all the seeds. Neither is the mustard plant, when it is full grown, larger than all other garden plants.

I remember how pleased he seemed to be to have proven the Scriptures have scientific errors.

I don’t know why that memory resurfaced. I learned long ago such arguments are specious at worst, and just plain silly at best. It is illogical to take what is clearly proverbial style – or symbolic, or allegorical figures of speech – and insist on scientific accuracy.

But there is something else that ought to be considered here. Something more important than silly or specious arguments.

When people look for contradictions in the Bible to prove God a liar, they should be more circumspect. Not everyone looking for a boat bound for Tarshish will meet the merciful God in the storm. Many may find themselves swallowed by the water, and not miraculously protected by the fish.

Eternal life is too critical a destiny to miss because we insist on precision in a style of speech.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Work God Called us to Do

I wrote this five years ago. The point still speaks to me, even today, after yet another poor night of sleep. I hope you find this a good read for yourself, whatever is your own frailty.

4:00 AM. I’d gone to bed only a few hours earlier, setting the alarm for 6:30. An exhausting day of packing our household goods into boxes awaited me in the morning. But after a short while of fighting the sheets and glancing at the clock every few minutes, I realized I’d not be getting any more sleep that night. The best I could hope for was to doze on and off until the alarm finally broke my misery.

I struggle with insomnia. Been fighting a discouraging and losing battle with it for years. And though I dislike using sleep medication, unless I take something at night, I wouldn’t get more than a few hours of rest.

But that night, with such an intense day facing me, my frustration grew with each passing quarter hour, and I found myself focusing my annoyance – now that I think back, it was anger – at of all people, God.

“Lord, if you don’t put me back to sleep,” I threatened (yes, that was what I was doing), “If you don’t put me back to sleep, I’m not going to read Scripture or pray when I finally get out of bed.”

I was like a two-year-old having a temper tantrum.

Most who know me well think I’m a spiritually mature Christian who knows Jesus on an intimate level. I pray and read Scripture each morning and evening. I teach a weekly Bible study, write an evangelistic blog encouraging others to walk more closely with Christ. I’ve written three books about the love of Jesus – and how to love Him back. I receive the Holy Eucharist each week at Mass and I try to live according to Biblical principles.

But there I was at four in the morning, frustrated and angry with God – and actually threatening Him that if He didn’t answer my prayer and let me fall back asleep – well, I would just show Him and thing or two!

My confession to you embarrasses me.

When I finally crawled out of bed at 5:30, I padded into the other room, plopped myself down on the couch, and opened my Bible. I’d been reading two chapters each morning for nearly four decades and I wasn’t going to stop now. Even if I was angry with God.

I should have expected what happened next. Before I got two verses into Genesis 25, I started feeling guilty about what I’d said to God a few hours earlier. Really guilty. Who do I think I am to rail at God – for any reason – but especially because He didn’t answer my prayers about going back to sleep?

To compound my sudden sense of shame, the Holy Spirit reminded me of at least a dozen Scriptures I’d memorized, Scriptures that spoke directly to my accusation against God, such as Psalm 44:17-18: All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant.  Our heart has not turned back, and our steps have not deviated from Your way.

And, Habakkuk 3:17-18:  Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

It is, as I wrote a few paragraphs earlier, embarrassing to admit to you what I consider my significant failure. But I have a wider point to make.

Two days later, as I periodically rehearsed my temper tantrum and lingering guilt, the Holy Spirit reminded me of – of all people – St. Peter’s failure as recorded by St. Paul. You can find it in chapter two of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. St. Peter – the one chosen by Christ as the first pope – Peter played the hypocrite when faced with the choice of pleasing Christ, or pleasing his Jewish friends. In this case, Peter chose poorly. Whereas he used to pal around with the Gentile converts, when James and the other Jewish apostles visited town, Peter “held himself aloof” from the Gentiles because he was afraid of what the apostles would say. So great was his hypocrisy that even Barnabas – a man known for his benevolence – even Barnabas was swayed to choose as poorly as did Peter.

So what’s my point? I have two.

First, as well as you or I might know the Lord, as close to Him as we might be – sin is always crouching at our door, and we must be ever alert if we are to master it. Second – and I think more important – the Lord Jesus assures us in St. John’s gospel, the Father loves you and me as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23).

It is important I say that again. The Father loves you and me as much as He loves Jesus.

That means when I – or you, or anyone who is a child of God through faith in Christ’s blood atonement – when I get frustrated with God, and even when I get angry with Him – He loves me as much as He loves Jesus.

And when you sin, He nevertheless loves you just as much as He loves Jesus.

Remorse for our sins is a good thing. A necessary thing. Remorse should lead us to confession, and confession always cleanses away the dirt. Perhaps the Psalmist said it best when he wrote:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness . . . He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 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 103:8-14)

And so, Oh, God, help us ever remember your compassion toward us – even though we angrily accuse you. And help us remember to leave our guilt and remorse in the confessional and get back to doing the work you’ve called us to do.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

As If You Were the Only One Who Strayed

I close my eyes and see the blood.
It traces down his forehead and into His left eye, swollen from the beating. I watch it fall onto His cheek and drip to the dirt. I also see blood oozing from His wrists. It trickles along His arms before it, too, drips to the dirt.
“If any man has a hundred sheep,” Jesus asked His disciples, “and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?”
My eyes still closed, I see the ninety-nine. They’re safe, grazing the fields, but the one – I see him as clearly as looking in a mirror. It’s Me. Wandering. Lost.
“For God loved the world so much,” I remember reading, “that He sent His Son. Our Shepherd.” The words roll across my field of vision like a headline news crawler across a TV screen: “For God loved Richard so much that He sent His Shepherd to find him.“
As if I was the only one who strayed.
More to the point: “God loved [insert your name here] so much – that He did the same. As if you were the only one who strayed.
St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Wealth? We cannot hope to ever comprehend what the Shepherd laid aside because He so loves you. And me.
Stop reading for a moment and think of it. Oh, how He loves you, and me.
As if you or I were the only one who strayed.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Getting Quiet with God

The Information Age in which we live and work and interact with others came to us with the promise of simplifying our lives and our work and our interaction with others.
The opposite is usually the case. And one of the first casualties of that ever-bustling simplification is our ability to be ‘quiet.’
Just think about it: When was the last time you were quiet with your thoughts for longer than a few minutes? Instead, if you are like me, you usually check your email or social media sites several times an hour; or you plop yourself down in front of the computer screen or scan the cable channels to fill in the times of boredom. 
It will not surprise those who are even marginally familiar with the Scriptures, that God has something to say to us about quietness and true simplification. For example, “O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 131).
Or this section from Matthew’s gospel in which the Lord Jesus encourages us: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
God created us for Himself – to love us and that we might love Him. But we cannot learn to love Him unless we get to know Him. And we cannot get to know Him unless we spend time with Him – quiet time. Just you and Him. Just me and Him.
I’ve been asked how I developed a quiet time with the Lord. The answer is easier than the doing, but the doing is not as difficult as it at first seems. Like with anything worth doing, developing a quiet time takes practice – and consistency.
Distraction is the most common reason quiet time with the Lord is disrupted. So, to maximize our ability to be quiet with Christ, we need to minimize those things that can distract us. Here are some useful tools I have used over the last couple of decades that help me get – and remain – quiet with Him. These tools are not in any particular order:
1. Tell God you would like to spend more quiet time with Him. Ask Him to help you learn how to better do that.
2. Expect God to speak with you, during your quiet time. This is an important point, for if we don’t think God is interested in meeting with us, then we will become far more easily distracted.
3. How much time will you plan to spend quietly with God? 15 minutes? 30?  If you don’t make that decision up front, you’ll find yourself ready to move on with your day after five minutes.
4. If possible, find a quiet place in your home, away from family or pets.
5. Turn the phone off – not on vibrate. Turning it off will remove the possibility of receiving interrupting phone calls or text messages. It will also help you avoid the temptation to ‘just take a peek’ at your email or social media sites.
6. Keep a pad of paper and a pen in your ‘quiet’ room. The pad serves two purposes: Invariably you will think of some task you need to do later that day. Jotting down the thought will remove the temptation to cut short your time with God for fear you will forget to do whatever it is you need to do. The second purpose of the pad is to keep record of that God says to you during your quiet time.
7. Do NOT try to completely blank out your thoughts. Doing so is unnatural. Images and ideas will always flit through our minds. So, what we must do during our quiet time when thoughts flutter in and out is to focus our thoughts.  I have found over decades of experience that reading Scripture helps focus my wandering thoughts on God.
My reading is not a haphazard ‘open the book and read whatever page opens up.’  It is a consistent, daily journey, chapter by chapter through a book of the Bible – for example, Psalms, or the Gospels, or one of the epistles.  I usually pause after a while and meditate on what I just read. Is God trying to say something to me through this passage?
Sometimes no special insights or ‘a-ha’ moments come to mind. And that’s okay.  The Lord does not speak to me every time I read the Scripture. But my pausing gives Him opportunity to say something to me if He wishes to do so. If He is quiet after I wait a few minutes, I continue reading through the chapter or chapters, pausing now and then with the same intent as when I first start.
Every devoted parent loves to talk with his or her child. That’s why you and I can have utter confidence that our Father in heaven longs to speak with us.
But we need to be quiet enough to hear Him.
I hope my suggestions will help you learn to practice quietness in the presence of our God.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Aliens and other Silliness

I published this four years ago. Nothing has changed except my age.

Some of you may remember the story I’ve told of my traffic light experience in 1969. I was stopped at a red light on the corner of Mott Avenue and Beach Channel Drive in Far Rockaway, NY when this thought dropped into my mind: What if there is a God?

I considered the prospect for a few moments until I realized if God existed, I would have to change my lifestyle. But I was unwilling to give up my ‘sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.’ So as the light turned green, I made a choice.

In the last year I’ve had several conversations with professed atheists, all of whom are intelligent men and women. During one conversation, one man told me he believes aliens planted DNA on earth millions of years ago, which then evolved to life as we now know it. (He might not have realized he was parroting the theory of renowned atheist, Richard Dawkins. You can hear Dawkins’ comment here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiVoS78lNqM ).Of course there is not so much as a nanometer of evidence to support such a theory, but it is far more expedient to have faith in an idea that requires nothing from us regarding our lifestyle than to have faith in an omnipotent and eternal God who places some rather significant requirements on our lifestyle.

When I stopped at that traffic light and thought about those requirements, I made a choice – not an intellectual choice, but a moral choice. I rejected the idea that God exists.

In the 40-plus years since I finally called Jesus my Lord, I’ve spoken with dozens of self-professed atheists and agnostics like those I spoke with in the last 12 months. And in each case – each case – their arguments only thinly veiled the real reason for their rejection of God: they were moral reasons, not intellectual.

The Lord Jesus is not fooled by such self-deceptive and disingenuous arguments as aliens planting DNA on earth, and similar silliness. He pretty much said so in John 3: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (verses 19-20). 

“Men loved darkness rather than light.” Pretty succinct, don’t you think?

Or as Sirach said it: "The beginning of pride is Man’s stubbornness, in withdrawing his heart from his Maker. For pride is a reservoir of sin, a source which runs over with vice" (Sirach 10:12-13).

There is a better way to live. Jesus showed it to us. And He yet says to every atheist, agnostic, and even to the churched: “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me . . . (Matthew 11:28-29).

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Turpentine and God

I almost drank an 8 ounce glass of turpentine.  I was 17, maybe 18 years old. One of my friend’s parents were gone for the weekend. A perfect time for a party. It didn’t take me long to get stumbling-drunk on whatever was passing around the group of guys and gals.
I still remember wandering into the kitchen. And there it was – a glass of clear liquid sitting on the counter. All by itself. Inviting me to get even more drunk.
I decided to down it in one quick gulp. But something stopped me, made me hesitate. In my drunkenness, I decided to leave the glass alone.
When I turned and walked out of the kitchen area, I bumped into the guy whose house it was. I slurred something like, “Someone left a glass of Vodka on the counter in there.”
“That’s not Vodka,” He casually shrugged. “That’s turpentine.”
When I now remember that evening of more than 50 years ago, a Proverb comes into my mind: "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16:25). 
Everyone reading this knows our life – YOUR life – can end in a moment. How are you living it?  For whom are you living it? Do you know if you are walking the right path toward your eternal destiny?
Out of His heart of compassion Jesus urges us: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
Later in the gospels, Jesus adds that He is the narrow gate. He is the narrow way – indeed, the only way – that leads to eternal life. God stopped me that evening 50 years ago from doing something I thought was a good idea, but would have instead devastated my life. Why? Because God loved me then, as He loves me now.
And I would not be surprised if God has brought you today to this blog post to urge you, “Stop doing what seems right in your own eyes, but in the end is eternal death.” 
Why? Because He loves you now, as He has always loved you.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Children of God

I recently read again Jesus’ parable of the Tares (Matthew 13). This one in particular holds an important lesson for those who think everyone is a child of God.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
The Lord explains the parable to His disciples a few verses later:
“Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42).
Here, and in multiple texts of Scripture, the Holy Spirit warns us, “Not all who claim to be children of God ‘are’ children of God.” In fact, He makes this point so often, how does anyone with a working knowledge of Scripture miss it?
For example, the Lord Jesus warned some religious leaders: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. . . . He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:43-47).
St. John records for us in the first chapter of his gospel: “BUT AS MANY AS RECEIVED HIM (my emphasis), to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).
In his first epistle, he writes: No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 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 3:9). 
And here is just one more of dozens of other texts warning us that not all who call themselves children of God are God’s children. St. Paul writes to the church at Galatia: For you are all sons of God THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS (my emphasis). For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).
Referring to the Parable of the Tares, St. Augustine wrote: “I tell you of a truth, my Beloved, even in these high seats there is both wheat, and tares, and among the laity there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves and imitate the good. Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.”
It is a dangerous error to think everyone is a child of God. To believe that can cause us to stumble in our own walk with the Master. And to believe that does nothing less than empower the ungodly to live happily in a lie – a lie which will eventually be brought into His blinding light.
It was for the sake of all humanity that the Lord Jesus commands us, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

Friday, May 4, 2018

Do You Have to Ask?

This imaginative scene grew in my mind a several years ago. I still revisit the imagery during my time in prayer. As you read this, I hope you will find yourself better comprehending the great love of Jesus for you.  This essay also appears in my third book, Learning to Lean.

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:17-19)

Sometimes when I meditate on the crucifix suspended on the wall opposite my chair, my mind transports me to the place and time of my Lord's last hours.
It happened one morning as I thought about the flogging of Jesus.

As I let the image form in my mind of Christ standing at the whipping post, His hands tied above His head, I suddenly saw myself standing at that very post -- but now it was my hands tied above my head. My back was laid bare. My life was about to end.

I turned my head and saw the Roman soldier standing a few feet away -- although I knew somehow it was actually Satan in the form of the soldier. He held the whip -- strands of leather tied at the handle, each strand studded with chips of bone and rock. He readied himself to strike my back, to tear at me without mercy.

I turned away and winced in anticipation of the blow.

But it never came.

Instead, a presence move suddenly between me and the whip. The lash tore through the air. A visceral groan rose behind me. And Satan growled, "Get away from him. His sins make him my property. He belongs to me!"

The voice behind me answered softly, but with palpable authority, "No, he doesn't. He belongs to me. I purchase him with my blood."

"Get away," Satan hissed. A moment later the lash fell again, striking with a fury that terrified me. But the presence moved closer -- so close I felt the warmth of his body. He wrapped his arms around me, protecting me from the whip that fell again and again.

And again.

I heard each lash fall. I felt his body shudder with each blow. His blood splattered across the back of my neck and dripped from his shoulder onto mine.

Still tied to the post, I turned to see who it was protecting me. And when I saw Him, when I knew who it was taking my place, I could do nothing else but ask,

"Lord, why are you doing this for me?"

He looked into my eyes, deeply into my eyes, and whispered, "Do you have to ask?"