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

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Better Now than Later

This is based on an essay that appears in my book, Lessons Along the Journey. I thought it might be good to post it here.

Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6).

Smoke swirled through the streets of Jerusalem. A woman shrieked as the Babylonian soldier pulled the blood-soaked sword from a man’s belly, and then thrust it into hers. Soldiers ripped babies from their mothers’ arms and flung them against stone walls. Devastation swallowed Jerusalem as Nebuchadnezzar’s army ravaged the city.

With grief clutching his throat, Jeremiah wrote what some might call lunacy: “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Anyone looking over Jeremiah's shoulder as he wrote would have screamed, “Are you mad? Look around you, Jeremiah! Blood covers our streets. Children lie dead with their parents, and you talk about God’s mercies?”

It would have been a reasonable accusation.

But was the Jeremiah mad, or did he have something that I – and perhaps you – need?

Horatio Spafford could answer that question. His faith in God persevered despite the tragedies that ripped into his soul. Early in 1871, he lost his only son to illness. Four months later, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed his business. Two years later, his wife, and daughters booked passage on a ship bound for England. During the voyage, the vessel collided with another ship and sank. Spafford’s daughters were among those drowned.

Spafford immediately booked passage for England to join his grieving wife. When the ship reached the vicinity of the accident, he stood on the deck and wrote a hymn Christians around the world still sing. You might recognize some of the lyrics: When peace, like a river, attendeth my way/when sorrows like sea billows roll/ whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say/‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’

(You can listen to the song on YouTube, here).

Perseverance. Confidence in God. Devotion to our King despite tragedy. Mature men and women of God understand there are no shortcuts to the kind of spiritual strength that keep us faithful despite personal heartache. For that reason the Church teaches us such perseverance blossoms only through the grace of God as we seek Christ each day in the pages of Holy Scripture, listening for His voice in attentive prayer, worship, and -- if you are a Catholic -- regularly meeting Him at Mass and in the Sacraments. It is not an either-or thing. It is a combination of each, a combination which gave spiritual strength, for example, to St. Terese of Lisieux who wrote just before she died at the young age of 24: “Everything is a grace. Everything is the direct effect of our Father's love - difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs - everything. Because through them she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events, to the heart that loves, all is well.”

That’s the kind of relationship we all need with God. And that’s the relationship God wants with us.

Isn't it only prudent that we learn to seek God now, and not when life is crumbling?

Monday, March 21, 2011

It Can Change Your Life, Too

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12).

For the past few months (three, actually) a friend and I have communicated via email about our faith. Sandra -- not her real name -- is a neophyte Christian and has, for years, suffered under the misperception that God is not the gracious, merciful and loving God I've been telling her about.

As I do with everyone with whom I share my faith, I encouraged her to begin a consistent pattern of reading the Bible. Recognizing any newbie can find that a daunting task (The Bible?!?  Where do I begin?  It will take me forever . . . ), I suggested she try my Bible Reading Plan (you can find a copy of it here).

And she did.

Since the end of December 2010 she has read: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Esther, and is now in 1 Samuel. In the NT she's read: Luke, Acts, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, Galatians, Ephesians, and is now in Romans.

Sixteen books in three months. The lady is on fire to devour God's word, to learn what He has to say to her, how He can comfort her, direct her, embrace her, remind her He is not at all like the earlier image she held of Him.

A couple of weeks ago she sent me another email. In it she itemized dozens of Scripture passages she has found to help her wage spiritual war against the lies of Satan who is trying mightily to side-track her faith.  Here is a very partial list of what she sent. She calls it, Lies Revealed, Lies Repealed:

Lie #1: No one will ever love me for me. If anyone says they love or care about me, I need to protect myself because I will be hurt.

The Truth: God created and loves me just as I am, more than I could ever hope or imagine. He is not entertained by my struggles, but understands and longs for me to turn to Him for comfort and reassurance --

Ps 139: 13ff For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.

Rom 8:31-39 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lie #2: I will never be able to trust anyone enough to be completely vulnerable with them. I must be on guard at all times so as to protect myself. It is better not to trust, than to trust and be disappointed.

The Truth: God is trustworthy. He will never break His promises and I will never be “too much” for Him --

Ps 9:10 Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Ps 13:5-6 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Ps 56:3-4 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Jn 14:1-3 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Lie #3: I can never depend on anyone.

The Truth: People may let me down, but God is constant and dependable. He stays the same and His love never changes.

Is 42:5,6a This is what God the LORD says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.

Ps 37:23-24 The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; 24 though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

Ps 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him

Lie #4: I am alone in the world. I need to take care of myself completely- physically, emotionally and spiritually, because no one- not even God, wants to hear about my problems.

The Truth: I am never alone, for God is with me and promises never to forsake or leave me- even when I sin.

Is 49:15-16 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

Ps 145:17-19 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

Ps 139:7-14 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Is 43:1-2 But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isn't God good? So gracious He is to take a fearful, doubtful, hurting daughter and feed her with His word of truth, life and light.

Glory to God!

The word of God is living and it is active. And it will change the attitudes and the hopes and heart of anyone who truly seeks to hear from Him.

And so Jesus said what He meant, and meant what He said: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Are you doubting God's care for you?  Take Sandra's example, and start feeding on the Word of God. Here is a reading plan you might find useful.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Lenten Lapse

If we say, "We are without sin," we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing (1 John 1:8-9).

The reflection I posted on Sunday, March 13 was based in an experience – a sin, actually – I committed the day before, Saturday, March 12. I would not normally broadcast something like this to the world, especially because my story embarrasses me. But I make an exception in this case because I think it is important that I tell you about it.

For the past several months Nancy and I had prayed single-mindedly for a specific event to occur. And for nearly as long, all signs seemed to point to the impending fulfillment of our prayers. In anticipation, Nancy and I organized our affairs so we would be “ready” when the final act was completed. We felt absolutely certain God was working on our behalf to bring our request to fruition.

And then the proverbial hammer fell, shattering every one of our hopes.

I was devastated. Numb. Confused.

And I was angry at God.

I felt He had betrayed us, brought us to the edge of expectation, only to kick us to the ground. Even as I write this, I can hardly believe I permitted myself to think those thoughts. But I did.

Those thoughts brought with them a sense of guilt, for which I repented and made confession. But my confusion, disappointment – and my anger – lingered, nonetheless.

You might have read my post from March 9 in which I wrote of my Lenten decision to abstain from television. But on Saturday, after the hammer fell, the thought flitted through my mind to the effect: God doesn’t care much about you anyway. Go ahead and watch television. And without so much as an anemic counter-argument from me, I turned to Nancy and said, “Let’s watch a DVD.”

As it turned out, we didn’t watch the DVD because Nancy was too busy to do so. But that I didn’t turn the set on does not alter the truth that I broke my promise to God. My intent was to watch the television. Circumstances, and not my promise to God, kept me from doing so.

Sunday morning I awoke and, more from habit than desire, walked into my prayer room for my usual time of prayer and Scripture reading. I’d left off the day before at Exodus 14, which closes with the Red Sea miracle, the culmination of God’s work to free Israel from Egyptian bondage. I sat in my chair and opened the Bible to chapter 15. Then I read verse 22: “Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.”

At this point, the people got angry at Moses. Three days after witnessing God’s astounding deliverance from slavery . . . and already they were grumbling.

But before I had time to self-righteously find fault with them, the Lord reminded me of how often I have seen God’s hand in my life, and yet after only three days into my Lenten promise, I got angry at God, accused Him of not caring about me -- and I broke that promise.

I sat for a while, Bible open on my lap, as that realization seeped through my spirit. And I felt terrible once again.

I share this story with you for two reasons:

First, despite my anger, despite finding fault with God, and despite justifying my decision to break my Lenten promise, I know God accepted my sacramental confession and forgave me. Of each stain. Each failure. Each blot.

Why? At great risk of sounding glib and superficial, God extended His grace to me because -- well, because He loves me. Deeply, intimately, wholly and faithfully, He loves me.

It is at times like this that I understand a little more of what that loves means.

The second reason I share it with you is because I hope to remind you – perhaps in a way you might never have heard or read before – to remind you that God also loves you. Whatever your failures, your stains, your blots; regardless of their labels and regardless of their frequency, God deeply, intimately, wholly and faithfully, loves you. And with your honest confession, every sin is utterly washed away by the blood of His Son. Not a trace remains.

We are less than a week into the Lenten season, yet I have learned more about the journey toward Easter’s Resurrection than I could have ever imagined when I set out a week ago.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I Wish to be Called -- Naomi

Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Ruth 1:20).

The story holds a very important application for us. Naomi – her name means “pleasant” – and her husband left Israel during a famine that swept across the nation. They settled in Moab and their two sons married Moabite women. Over the course of the next several years, Naomi’s husband died, then her two sons died, and Naomi was left alone and devastated by her triple tragedy.

When she and Ruth – the wife of one of her deceased sons – arrived back in Israel, the people of her hometown ran with excitement to greet her. But Naomi quieted them and said, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [which means, ‘bitterness’] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (See Ruth 1:19-21).

It’s not hard to empathize with Naomi’s despair. Life picked her up, dashed her to the ground, and as she lay in the dirt, it kicked her in the gut.

And she did what so many of us are so often quick to do. She blamed God for her tragedies.

Who doesn’t understand Naomi? Deep and abiding loss. Death. Debilitating illness. Financial disaster. It is a rare, rare person who gets through life unscathed by heartache. And it is little wonder that so many people – even those of us in the Church, children of God as we are, who’ve heard about faith and trust for years in homilies, who’ve read the books and sang the hymns extolling God’s love – it is little wonder that even those of us in the Church can find ourselves embittered about life.

And even about God.

Naomi didn't know it – in fact – she never discovered it – but through her tragedy, her daughter-in-law married a man named Boaz. Their son, Obed, had a son named Jesse. Jesse had seven sons, one of whom was named David.

David’s distant offspring was named, Jesus.

Naomi didn’t know – as many of us today don’t know -- especially when we are in the throes of our bitterness – that God really does know what we go through. And He really is able to orchestrate events and people and circumstances in and through our lives to ultimately give birth to a wondrous beginning.

And – and this is important – God really is able to cause all things to work together for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (see Romans 8:28).

Life can be full of pleasantness, or full of bitterness. But circumstances themselves do not have the power to decide which of the two will rule us. Only our trust in the trustworthy God – or our lack of it – will determine what we call ourselves: Naomi, or Mara.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent -- and My Flesh

If you died with Christ to the elemental powers of the world, why do you submit to regulations as if you were still living in the world? “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" These are all things destined to perish with use; they accord with human precepts and teachings. While they have a semblance of wisdom in rigor of devotion and self-abasement (and) severity to the body, they are of no value against gratification of the flesh (Colossians 2:20-23).

It might surprise some people who know me, but I can be easily irritated by things that really shouldn’t make me irritable. It’s one of the many growing edges that Jesus and I have been working on for some time. And just when I think I’ve gotten ahead of my inclination for irritableness, something inane sets me off and reminds me I haven’t yet arrived at perfection.

And so, here we are at Lent, and I wondered what I will give up.

Chocolate was the first thing that popped into my mind, but then I remembered past Lents in which I gave it up, only to be made even more irritable than normal because I couldn’t have my daily fix of the sweet savor of Hershey’s kisses.

No, chocolate was not a good plan. In fact, the more I thought about what I could give up, the more I remembered other times in which I tried to devote myself to some self-denial that would reflect a “rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body,” yet didn't stem at all the ease with which I could fail to act Christ-like when things didn’t go my way.

St. Paul, knew what he was talking about: Such denials “are of no value against gratification of the flesh.”

Yet, it is Lent. And God asks us (at least, those who are Catholic) to give something up for the purpose of spiritual growth.

And then I realized what that would be for me.

I’ve been watching way too much television lately. And many times I have felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to turn off the tube and spend some time with Him.

And I too often (of late) found reason to delay doing so.

So, for the next forty days I will give up all television. Even Netflix videos. And I will spend the time instead reading the Scriptures or books of a spiritual nature. Instead of denying my flesh junk food and accomplishing nothing of spiritual value, I will indulge my spirit with spiritual food, and expect great nourishment of my relationship with Christ.

What a concept! Spend time with Jesus instead of the television.

Yes. I think this is going to be a valuable Lenten season.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Losing Perspective

. . .everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. (Isaiah 43:6-7)

It is not about us. It's about Almighty God. It is not about our kingdom. It's about about His.

The theory surrounding that truth is easy to articulate. Living out that truth is, at least in my esperience, more problematic.

That was part of Israel’s problem. They had unwittingly lost God’s perspective. The Old Testament reveals the Israelites had perfected the trappings of religion. They practiced the right rituals and said the correct words -- but their hearts were far from God. They were full of pride, rebellion and selfishness.

It had become about them, not about God.

It would be a mistake to ignore how easily any group -- even the Church -- can lose perspective and wrap ourselves in rituals and form. Like them, we also can unknowingly substitute activity for a relationship with God.

It is a danger we all face -- and one we must all avoid. Which is why it is so very necessary to regularly seek God with a proper disposition: humble prayer, honest repentence of sin, sincere reception of the Sacraments, and meditation on His Word.

To be careless about our walk of faith is to open ourselves to the power, deception and poison of sin -- and repeat the sins of early Israel.