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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Right in our Own Eyes

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction . . .  (Romans 15:4)

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction . . . (1 Corinthians 10:11)

The story in Judges 19 about the priest’s concubine is one of the most grisly, bloody and repugnant stories in Scripture. If it’s been a while since you’ve read it, let me quickly summarize what happened.

The concubine got tired of living with the priest and she left to go back to her father in Bethlehem. The priest followed her and wooed her to return home with him. She agreed, and while they were on their way, night fell and they decided to lodge in the home of a hospitable fellow in a town belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. But during the evening some “worthless fellows surrounded the house” and demanded the homeowner give the priest to them for sex (19:22). Instead, the homeowner threw his own virgin daughter and the priest’s concubine out the door for the mob to gang-rape all night. Meanwhile, he and the priest continue eating and drinking in the safety of the home.

The next morning the priest found his concubine dead on the front door step. Wanting vengeance, he cut her body into twelve pieces and sent them to the twelve tribes of Israel, inciting them to come and attack the Benjaminites.

As I said, it’s a grisly, gory story. One might wonder why it’s even in the pages of Scripture. But read a little longer and a little deeper, and the reason becomes – at least for me – much clearer.

The account that begins in chapter 19 concludes in chapter 21. You can read the narrative yourself, but the last verse of the last chapter provides the key to understanding this incident. Indeed, that last verse provides the key to understanding the entire book of Judges, as well as the entire length and breadth of Biblical and post-Biblical history itself.

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). You’ll find the same refrain elsewhere in Judges – 17:6; 18:1 and 19:1.

Chapters 19-21 in Judges are a fear-provoking picture, a frightful warning of what happens to a nation, and to individuals, who do what is right in their own eyes; who hold to the form of religion, but deny God’s authority over their lives. St. Paul talks about this in the first chapter of his letter to the church at Rome (Romans 1:28-32). He also writes about it to his protégé, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

God warned Israel – and by extension – humanity, including you and me – of the disastrous, grievous and bloody consequences that fall on nations and on individuals who adopt the behavior of those who turn from God.  You can read other graphic examples in places like Ezekiel 16, Psalm 106, and Deuteronomy 28. Child sacrifice. Unrestrained sexual sins. Ruthless murder. Hatred toward parents, spouses, children, neighbors, and others. Even King Solomon, despite his great wisdom and early close relationship with God, descended into the horrific practices of his godless pagan culture (1 Kings 11:1-13).

God called Israel from slavery in Egypt to be His special and prized possession. He gave them rules by which they should live and through which they would prosper. But the whole of old Testament history, including chapters 19 through 21 in Judges, demonstrates how even God’s chosen people can go very wrong when they turn from God. And of this, too, Scripture assures us: What happened to them will happen to any nation and to any individual “who does what is right in their own eyes.”

St. Paul wrote to the church at Galatia words we ought to take to heart: “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh, will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life”(Galatians 6:7-8).

If we ignore his warning, and the lesson of Judges 19, we do so to our destruction.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Why Do We Say It?

Therefore Pilate  . . .  summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” (John 18:33-34)
Why do we believe Jesus is King? And Lord?
Because our parents told us it’s so?
Our teachers? Pastors?
Books we’ve read?
Homilies we’ve heard?
Or do we believe Jesus is King,
and Lord,
because we’ve met Him.
Because we know Him.
Because we speak with Him.
Believing in Jesus is not the same as
believing Jesus.
Trusting in Jesus is not the same as
trusting Jesus.
Which is why
what the Lord asked of Pilate
He asks also of you
and me:
“Do you call Me King,
and Lord,
on your own initiative?
Or because of what others have told you of Me?”


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rolling in the Dirt

But now in Christ Jesus you . . . have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  (Ephesians 2:13)

For 12 years, Odie was our family dog. Well, more accurately, Odie was my wife’s dog. I tolerated him only because Nancy loved him.

It’s not that our mixed Pug/Chihuahua was a bad dog. It’s just that he had no sense of hygiene. We could bathe him every day, but as soon as we let him out of the house, he’d find a spot where another dog had done its – uh – business, and roll around in it.

The thought of petting Odie after he’d been outside made me shudder. And when I had to touch him to attach his leash, I kept my hand at arm’s length until I found soap and hot water.

Nancy told me I was being silly.  “He’s a dog,” she said. “That’s what dogs do.” Well, that might be what dogs do, but that doesn’t mean I have to touch him after he’s done it.

Frankly, I’m glad I’m not a dog, rolling around in other dogs’ business. But every now and then, when I act like the Pharisee in Luke 18, thanking God I’m not like people I know who roll around in all kinds of dirt, the Holy Spirit reminds me how often I sniff the bushes. For example, when I give safe-harbor to resentment, anger, jealousy, frustration – and then let them fester, I’m sure I give off a stench as high as heaven’s throne. When I grouse at God because He doesn’t answer my prayers for family, health, finances, and an variety of other things, the answer to which I consider evidence of His love for me, I’m wallowing in mud. And though I don’t like to admit it, I need a spiritual bath more often than I take one.

God does not only call us to be good. God calls us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15,16). And the difference between being good and being holy – as I see it, anyway – is like the difference between the sun’s brilliance at noon and the most distant star’s glimmer at night.

For as long as Odie lived with us, he never changed. He rolled in the dirt every time I let him outside. But everyone born into God’s family through faith in Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification, everyone is called to be different. That is why when the bushes whisper their temptation, the Holy Spirit empowers us to stay away.

But – and this was the most exciting part – even when we get caught in the bushes and pollute our hearts, Jesus never holds us at arm’s length. The Savior always calls us back into the house, clutches our dirty souls close to Himself and with deep love, grace and mercy, cleanses us with His blood.

On that we can count. Of that we can be sure. Oh! What a Master He is. What a Friend. What a Savior.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Unwilling to Offend

No man cometh unto the Father but by Me. (John 14:6)

In our pluralistic culture which insists
one religious view is equal to another,
where it is offensive –
in some cases, nearly criminal –
to say Christ is the only one in all creation,
the only one in heaven, on earth, or under the earth
 who can open heaven;
that Jesus is fundamentally and inherently superior
to any other religious faith
or secular, humanistic philosophy  . . .
The culture would have a legitimate point,
a compelling argument,
a  persuasive proposal,
were it not for the undeniable
bodily resurrection
of Jesus.
Raised from death
through His own power,
and lifted to the right hand of the Almighty’s Throne,
it is not Moses who will judge the living and the dead.
Nor Muhammad. Nor Buddha.
Nor any other revered religious leader
or author of some secular,
humanistic philosophy.
It is Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ,
Who will judge us from that Throne,
and from that Throne will return to earth;
this time not as a meek, humble servant,
but as an invincible, terrifying warrior
whose sword will be red
with the blood of His enemies.
It is not culturally savvy or genteel
to say otherwise,
but if we who should speak 
remain silent
in this culture,
countless souls will be lost to eternity
who might have been rescued
by those who knew how to save them,
but were unwilling to offend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Which Gate Will it Be?

There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given. . . by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).   

Predictably routine. That’s what the passengers thought of a 1995 Northwest Airlines flight across the Atlantic from Detroit to Frankfurt. Many of the 241 passengers spent their time reading or watching the in-flight movie. Some walked along the aisles, stretching their legs. Some fidgeted in their seats trying to find a comfortable position to sleep or doze. Hours passed slowly. Another bag of pretzels. Another cup of coffee, until the long-awaited announcement broke over the intercom: "Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign. Please return to your seats and secure your belongings . . ." the voice droned on.
That was when their predictably routine flight turned unpredictable. As the plane made its approach to the airport, an embarrassed captain clicked on his microphone and announced that they were landing at the wrong airport. In fact, they were landing in the wrong country.

Federal Aviation Administration officials immediately set out to learn the error occurred. Why had European air traffic control relayed incorrect course headings to the jumbo jet?  Why did the flight crew fail to cross-check their position on cockpit navigation instruments?
Whatever the reason for the mishap, investigators quickly determined that no one purposely led the plane astray. The whole thing was simply an embarrassing accident. A potentially serious one, but an accident nonetheless.
When I first read this story so many years ago, I wondered if there is a spiritual parallel between this story and the way many people travel through life. Now, 17 years later, I am convinced of it.
 If we believe the polls, most people expect to arrive safely in heaven when their life is over. However, if we believe Scripture, many of these same people will be horrified to discover they have landed in the wrong place (see Matthew 7:21-23). Air traffic control accidentally misdirected the Northwest flight, but Satan purposely misdirects humanity, transmitting deceptive course headings to anyone naive enough to follow. How many people have followed his directions?
- All religions lead to the same place.
- There is no absolute truth.
- God is a creation of superstitious minds.
- We are all gods - or can become gods.
- Jesus Christ was a great teacher, but certainly not God
        in the form of a man.
- Christ’s virgin birth and physical resurrection are myths.
Flight 52 innocently followed the wrong signals to the wrong airport. Likewise, those who navigate their lives according to Satan’s directions - whether in innocence or by design - are guaranteed an arrival far afield from the heavenly destination they seek.
Investigators also asked why the cockpit crew failed to follow standard operating procedure by regularly checking the plane’s position with cockpit navigational instruments. That simple check would have uncovered their error in time to change directions. Instead, the crew blindly trusted the information fed to them by others.
Similarly, many people seem content to travel through life blindly trusting their ultimate destination to friends, teachers, parents, Hollywood - instead of regularly cross-checking their position on the navigational instrument (the Bible, and, for Catholics, the teaching authority Christ gave the Church) to ensure safe passage to the heavenly kingdom.
            Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, warns the Lord Jesus, but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15). I am the way, and the truth, and the life, Christ declares. No one comes to the Father, but by Me (John 14:6). In speaking of Jesus, the apostle Peter adds, There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given. . . by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).    
Except for the inconvenience endured by the passengers, their friends and  families, no harm resulted from Flight 52's error. But the same will not be said for the final journey all humanity takes.

Where are we going? From whom are we taking our course headings? Are we making frequent life corrections according to the Book, or are we navigating according to the popular philosophies of the hour? These are much more than mere academic questions casually considered over a Frappuchino. One day each of us will roll to a stop at the final gate.

Which gate will it be? 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Daddy! Daddy!

Some of you may be able to identify with my past. You were rejected by your dad. Or mom. Or maybe even both. I hope what I have written here will help you deal in your own way with the great love of God for us, despite the rejection we may have experienced as children.

. . . but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15)

1962. I was 12. I watched with my younger sister and a few adults as the justice of the peace married my mom and Tommy. They’d dated for several years after my first father deserted us. Now, at last, I’d have a father like all of my friends. I’d have someone to call ‘Dad.’

As the Justice finished the ceremony with the words, “I now pronounce you man and wife,” all of my pent-up and long-awaited excitement was about to explode. I bolted toward him and shouted, “Hi, Dad!”

I tried to leap into his arms. But he didn’t let me get that far. As I leapt toward him he held out his arms and kept me at arm’s length. He laughed nervously and said something about my being too heavy. I remember his face. I knew, even at 12, he didn’t know what to do with me or with the moment.

I didn’t know what to do either. I so wanted to call him “Dad” – to at last have a father. Yet he held me at arm’s length. Nervous. Hesitant. Unsure what to do next.

That was fifty years ago. I’m sure I will never forget it.

During the last decade, perhaps longer, that memory has returned with some regularity. I’ve thought of it often during my prayer time as I watch another scene unfold – this one in my imagination. I see myself led by my guardian angel through an enormous splintered wood door that opens from this life into the next. He takes my hand and we move toward a light, a light so bright I am surprised each time I see it that it doesn’t hurt my eyes.

I know intuitively where he’s taking me. In a few moments I see the border of a throne materialize within the light. Moving closer, I see the One who sits on that throne. And with pent-up and long-awaited excitement about to explode inside me, I drop the angel’s hand and race toward the Light, my arms outstretched. And I hear myself shout again and again, and yet again, “Daddy! Daddy!”


What happens next happens each time I visit that scene. My heavenly Father leans forward, bends low, and swoops me into His arms. And He hugs me so close I can hear His heart beat. I feel His warmth. His strength. His embrace.

And I hear Him whisper in my ear, “Welcome home, Richard. Welcome home.”

Oh! How I long for that day when what is now only imagination will be forever palpable love.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Do You Have to Ask?

This imaginative scene grew in my mind a few years ago. I revisit the imagery often during my time in prayer. I hope as you read this 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 again this morning as I fingered a Rosary bead and thought about what Catholics call a "mystery of the Rosary" -- 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 found myself standing at that very post. Only now it was my hands tied above my head. It was my back laid bare. It was my life that was about to end.

I turned my head and saw the Roman soldier standing a few feet away -- although I knew in the depths of my spirit it was Satan in the form of the soldier. He held a Roman whip -- strands of leather tied at the handle, each studded with chips of bone and rock. And he was readying himself to strike my back, to tear at me without mercy for the many deep and dark sins I committed in my life.

I turned away and winced in anticipation of the blow.

But it never came.

Instead, I sensed a presence move between me and the whip. The lash tore into flesh. A visceral groan spread into the dust-filled air.

And then Satan growled, "Get away from him. His sins have made him my property. He belongs to me!"

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

"Get away," the soldier 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, to protect me even more from the whip that fell again and again.

And again.

I heard each fall. I felt his body shudder with each blow. His blood splattered across the back of my neck. Some 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, I could do nothing else but ask, "Lord, why are you doing this for me?"

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