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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Return. For Jesus.

But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight (Luke 15:17-18).

As I read this story of the Prodigal Son, I thought of the many prodigals I’ve met in my nearly 40-year journey with Christ.

There are many reasons people leave their heavenly Father.

Sin is one. People leave God because they feel stifled by His commandments. They want to live according to their own whims, and not according to His rules.

But I’ve also met many who leave their Father because they’ve been hurt – hurt by unkind words spoken by unkind people in pews. They’ve been shunned because they dress differently, or have different religious views, or political views. They’ve been not-so-secretly disdained because of their backgrounds, their education, their standard of living, the color of their skin, their culture . . . .

Dozens of reasons.

So they go out the door and don’t return.

At first, they might feel uncomfortable, but as time goes on other activities take the place of Sunday morning in church. And thoughts of their heavenly Father drift into a fog of what used to be.

Ahh -- and I've seen this happen many times -- if they listen carefully, they will hear the patient voice of their heavenly Father pleading, “come to your senses and return to Me.”

That's the key: return to Him.

I know from personal experience, church people will often disappoint me. After all, they’re sinners, just like me. Sometimes I, too, hurt others. Usually it's inadvertent. By accident. A careless word. A thoughtless glance. But sometimes I hurt others, even (Lord forgive me) disdain others, because I self-righteously disapprove of their lifestyle, their philosophy, their theology, their culture . . . dozens of reasons.

It hurts when people so casually and callously dismiss each other.

But I learned decades ago my primary purpose in attending church should not be for the people in the pew next to me. I should attend for Jesus. To meet Jesus. To serve Jesus.

To learn to love like Jesus.

Have you left the church because of the way others treated you?

Return. For Jesus.

As it is written: Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (Hebrews 12:12,13).

And: Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Monday, February 21, 2011

If Bernard Nathanson, then Certainly You and Me

I received an email today from a friend about Bernard Nathanson's death. Those involved in the pro-life movement for a while recognize the name. Nathanson was the premier abortion doctor and pro-abortion activist in the early 70's. By his own admission, he oversaw the deaths of 75,000 babies in abortion clinics under his tutelage. He was a co-founder member of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now called NARAL Prochoice America) and often admitted that he and other abortion advocates in the 1960s inflated the numbers of women who died from illegal abortions at that time from a few hundred to 10,000 to gain sympathy for their cause.

You can read the article here: Bernard Nathanson Dead.

The man had a lot of blood on his hands.

But, oh, the mercy of God. Nathanson caught a glimpse of his sins, confessed them to God, and was baptized into the Catholic Church in 1996.

The man with all of that blood on his hands had every stain, every blood cell removed by the eternally divine blood of Jesus Christ.

Nathanson died February 21, 2011, a forgiven, fully pardoned, cleansed and redeemed son of God.

So, why do I share that story?

Have YOU the blood of 75,000 aborted babies on your hands? No, of course not. And so, as God cleansed and forgave the penitent Bernard Nathanson, God will also forgive and cleanse YOU of your sins -- whatever they may be.

Oh!  What keeps anyone from turning to Christ for forgiveness and the power to live for Him from this day forward?

Friday, February 18, 2011

As I Think They Should

And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all" (Luke 18:15-17).

After all the time they’d spent with Him,
after all the things He taught,
you’d think they’d have known better
than to rebuke children and
send them away.

They thought Jesus
too busy
to be bothered;
Too engaged in His mission
than to stop for children.

“Permit them to come to me.”
I don’t think Jesus smiled as He spoke.
“Do not hinder them.”
I think He was annoyed.

Maybe angry.

His disciples should have known better.

And then I wondered . . .

After all the time I spend with Him,
in prayer,
with the Sacraments
and the Scripture;
After all the things He's taught . . .

Am I too busy
to be bothered,
too engaged in my mission
that I don't stop
and receive others,
love and
befriend them
as He would?

After all the time I spend with Him,
After all the things He's taught,
do I brush aside
some of God’s children
because they don’t cross
their T’s
and dot their I’s . . .

as I think they should?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Best Way, or the Only Way?

You were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved) . . . (Ephesians 2:1-5).

It felt like the hottest day in mid-August. As I jogged around the neighborhood, my sweat-soaked shirt clung like a second skin. Waves of heat rippled above the asphalt. The humidity was so high, I thought I was breathing water.

That suffocating combination of heat and humidity is probably why I smelled the cat before I saw it. I rounded the corner and spotted its decaying body in weeds by the curb. Its lifeless lips tightened into a grotesque grin, and sun-bleached ribs peeked through putrefying flesh. I held my breath and picked up the pace to move past the odor.

Over the years, I’ve passed dozens of dead animals during my exercise routine, and I always ignored them. But this time – probably to keep my mind off the heat – my thoughts wandered back to the cat.

“What if someone dressed the dead cat in a silk suit and tie?” The question dropped into my mind and, for a moment, the image startled me.

“What if someone draped a gold chain around its neck and splashed expensive cologne on its face?”

I smirked at the ludicrous image. A gallon of cologne couldn’t mask the odor of death, nor could the most expensive clothes hide its appearance. Nothing short of God’s supernatural intervention could breathe the fragrance of life into that corpse.

Then the spiritual parallel swept into my mind.

Scripture repeats the message so often, it’s a wonder anyone misses it. Without Christ, we are all spiritually dead in our sins. That’s the point St. Paul tried to impress on his readers in Ephesus: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The Greek word the apostle used to emphasize their condition before God made them alive in Christ (v. 4) is nekros. It’s the same word from which English speakers get necrotic.

In other words, before God’s intervention, they were necrotic. And without His intervention through Christ, so are we. It doesn’t matter who we are, or what we have – academic degrees, religious titles or affiliation, hefty bank accounts, political power, or praise from others. Without Christ, we stink (Isaiah 64:6; 2 Corinthians 2:15,16), and God can smell us on the other side of the universe. Nothing short of His supernatural power exercised through His Son gives us life.

The Bible calls it being, “born anew” (John 3:1-7, 1 Peter 1:3). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims: One becomes a member of this people not by a physical birth, but by being “born anew," a birth "of water and the Spirit," that is, by faith in Christ, and Baptism” (Para 782).

Being compared to a dead animal was not a proud moment for me. But the dead cat image captured my attention and gave me a glimpse of God’s ineffable mercy, because regardless of the depth, breadth, and frequency of our sins, God’s grace can cleanse us. By our faith in Christ – and in no other -- God clothes us in glistening robes at our baptism and, through our ongoing confession and repentance, breathes life into our necrotic corpse (Isaiah 61:10).

No one smells so badly that Jesus’ blood cannot transform the odor of decay into the sweet fragrance of eternal life.

We have Scripture’s promise about it. But we also have Scripture’s warning:

Jesus is not the best way to heaven. He is the only way.

And as the Church states, To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin, is a process born of the grace of God . . . . One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others (Para 1489).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Lizard and the Light

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

When I recently rehearsed this verse in my mind, I thought of something I’d written years ago when my wife, kids and I lived in San Antonio.

When I first spotted the gecko resting on top of the backyard spotlight, the creature was only an inch or so long. I wondered why it stayed there instead of moving to the grass where it would more likely find food. So, with as much compassion as anyone can feel toward a lizard, I tried to capture the slithering creature to put it in the yard. But at each rescue attempt, it scurried away. I soon tired of the chase and decided it would have to fend for itself.

I needn’t have worried. It fended for itself quite well. Each evening, when the sun disappeared behind the south Texas foothills and darkness blanketed our back yard, hundreds of bugs swarmed to the light illuminating the porch. And when the unsuspecting insects settled near the light, the gecko swooped from the shadows and – well, within no time it grew three inches and gained a pound.

Yes, I exaggerate.

But to the point, you wouldn’t think a gecko could illustrate a lesson in spiritual warfare, yet when I saw how fat my little friend had grown, I caught a sense of how deadly is the battle. Like the difference between sunlight and a lightbulb, two spiritual lights beckon us: God’s word, the true light, leading those who follow to safety (Psalm 119:105), and various New Age philosophies – artificial light -- leading to destruction (Colossians 2:8).

Given the choice, some might think the artificial would not be as attractive as the genuine. However, religious surveys conducted over the years by the Barna Research Group illustrate how strong the artificial light’s attraction can be.

For example, more than half of Americans surveyed believe we can earn our way into heaven by performing good works. Seventy-one percent deny the existence of absolute truth. Forty percent believe Jesus committed sins while on earth. Nearly that many believe Jesus never rose from the dead. Sixty-two percent deny the existence of Satan. Sixty-one percent believe the Holy Spirit is not part of the Godhead, but simply a symbol of God’s presence.

And the lizard gets fatter.

Each evening, as I sat in my lounge chair on the back porch and watched the gecko waiting patiently on top of the light fixture, I was glad people are not bugs and the artificial light – although a powerful seduction – is not irresistible. God has promised those who hunger for truth will find it. Those who thirst for a right relationship with Him will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). While the gecko flicks its tongue and hungrily watches the insects swarming ever closer, the prudent person seeks the true light.

Behind the other, death lurks in the shadows.