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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why We Can Trust Him

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Your walls are always in my presence. (Isaiah 49:16)

Every Christian knowledgeable of the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies of Messiah’s first coming are aware of the word-picture Psalm 22 (especially verses 1-18) paints of the crucifixion. Jesus Himself quotes from the psalm while on the cross (Matthew 27:46).

But many Christians are unaware of the additional prophetic information about the crucifixion found in one of the books Catholics believe to be part of the Bible. The book of Wisdom was written a century or so before Jesus’ birth. This is from chapter two:

"Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us; he opposes our actions, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord".

"To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, Because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the righteous and boasts that God is his Father."

"Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him in the end. For if the righteous one is the son of God, God will help him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. "

"With violence and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”

I think this is not only an amazing prophecy clearly fulfilled on Golgotha, but it can be an enormous encouragement to those of us who sometimes wonder if God really is in control of things – even when things go bad.

Yes. He is.

As He tells us through the prophet Isaiah (37:26): Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass . . . . And the psalmist tells us (Psalm 139:15-16): My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place . . . Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

He knows our name. He knows our address. And our lives are engraved upon His hands.

That is why we can trust Him.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From Fire to Ashes

I wrote and posted this essay several years ago. I can still learn from the message.


The fire on the altar is to be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest shall put firewood on it. On this he shall lay out the burnt offering and burn the fat of the peace offerings. The fire is to be kept burning continuously on the altar; it must not go out (Leviticus 6:5-6).

The smoke never stopped. Night and day, it rose toward heaven. From every corner of the camp the people could see it in the distance. It always reminded them Whose they were, and to Whom they belonged.

They couldn't escape the message -- but the message was always in danger of losing its power. And after a time, that’s what happened. The special became routine. Holy awe waned into indifference. The perpetual smoke became more a token of religion than an evidence of faith. Even before they crossed the Jordan, Israel fell into spiritual lethargy and everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Deuteronomy 12:8).

Israel was not alone in her tendency to drift from awe to boredom. Throughout ancient and modern history, humanity, like sheep, has more often than not wandered from the fires of faith to the ashes of religion.

Even we in the Church are at risk. Perhaps it is better to say, "We in the Church are especially at risk."

While the Lord Jesus continually offers intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), we can lose our passion for Him. Our worship can tend toward religious ceremony rather than inspire the flames of faithful devotion, obedience, and evangelism.

Israel’s fire did not need to cool. And neither does ours. The remedy available to Israel is the same for God’s people today: [Love] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Love God. With all our heart and soul and might.

Fr. Pedro Arupe, SJ (died 1991) said it as well as I have ever seen or heard it:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love [with God]. Stay in love, and it will decide everything.

Oh, Holy Spirit. Help us fall ever deeper in love with our God. Please.



Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything. - See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/fall-in-love/#sthash.oBCKYfBD.dpuf
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything. - See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/fall-in-love/#sthash.oBCKYfBD.dpuf

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Please, Ladies . . . be kind

A priest I know from my Facebook acquaintances recently wrote an article about men and pornography. You can find it here: http://thosecatholicmen.com/be-not-unmanned/. What Father Gaurav wrote deserves widespread attention, but the article – and those I’ve read in the past similar to it – does not address an equally important problem in the Church – the way many women dress for Mass. Let me give only one example:

During Mass last Sunday (March 9, 2014) I served as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. As men and women approached to receive the Body of Christ, I did an involuntary double-take when a young woman stepped up to receive. She was wearing skin-tight flesh-colored leotards and a see-through blouse that looked remarkably like a negligee. I almost forgot I was supposed to say, “The Body of Christ” as she held out her hands to receive. 

Unfortunately, she is not the only woman seductively dressed in our church. It seems the norm rather than the exception to see women wearing form-fitting slacks, or jeans, or blouses which leave very little to the imagination. And while I do not mean to imply whatsoever than men who engage in pornography are not personally responsible for their sin, I must at the same time suggest our Christian sisters do not help us. That is why I posted this article (below) two years ago. Sadly, it is just as applicable today. I also include the comments readers made to the post to illustrate this problem is rather large.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).

It’s not something Christian guys usually talk about. We aren’t supposed to have these thoughts. But when I approached a friend from church, his answer encouraged me to poll another friend. Then another. Then another. Age doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the same for all of us – teens, college age and older. Even much older. Everyone I spoke with grapples with the same temptation common among many Christian men.

I don’t know much about women’s struggles with their sexual nature, but I sure know about men's conflicts. Society bombards us with sexual images. Billboards, photos in weekly news magazines . . . even some lingerie advertisements in local newspapers can rival centerfolds in earlier era Playboy magazines. Short hemlines can fuel a man’s imagination to full throttle. Tight clothes that accentuate every nuance and curve can drive us to distraction. Plunging necklines and unfastened blouse buttons – ladies, let me be completely honest. We need your help.

At work, at play, even at church – most Christian guys wage nearly constant battle with their thought-life. Sometimes we win the skirmishes. Sometimes the battles rage so fiercely we not only lose, but we feel wounded even after bringing our sin to the Cross.

Yes, we understand the desire to look attractive. Who among us does not care about personal appearance? The multi-billion dollar weight-loss, clothing and grooming industries give evidence of that basic need in each of us. However, when our Christian sisters adopt the world’s definition of attractiveness they often become, instead, seductive.

We don’t deny responsibility for our own sins. We don’t rationalize God’s commandment to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). But we do ask you, please be considerate of our conflicts and, in Christian love, don’t add to our sensory overload.

St. Paul said he would never again eat meat or drink wine, if doing so would cause a weaker brother to stumble (Romans 14:1-23). “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (verse 20). I don’t think it misses the Holy Spirit’s intent to add, “or for the sake of fashion.”

Ladies, when it comes to sexual thoughts and lust, we are indeed your weaker brothers. So we plead – be beautiful. Be graceful. But also seek God’s view of beauty and grace. And seek, too, Biblical standards as to how to dress in public.

We will be very grateful for your loving response.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Centurion

I posted this about a year ago. It also appears in my third book, Learning to Lean.

They brought Him to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of a Skull) (Mark 15:22).

 I haven’t slept for two days. His eyes still haunt me.

It began when the governor handed me the placard. “Nail it above his head when you’re done crucifying him,” Pilate ordered. I smirked when I read it. “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” 

Some ‘king,’ I sneered.

I hated my assignment to this dung-hole called Palestine. I was hot, thirsty and dripping sweat when we finally reached the hilltop. And not a little angry.
We nailed him to the cross and hoisted it upright. He groaned as it rocked back and forth before settling into the hole we’d dug for it. I set soldiers around the site perimeter for protection, while I sat a few yards from the crosses. And watched. And waited.

And then remembered the placard.

I cursed under my breath, pushed myself to stand and grab a ladder. I didn’t care that the top rung bounced off his shoulder as I climbed toward the top. When I was at eye level I stopped, sneered at him and shoved the placard in front of his face. 

“What d’ya think, Jew? Quite the king, are ya?”

I spit at him. My saliva dripped from his cheek and caught in his beard. How I despised that Jew.

And that’s when I saw his eyes. They didn’t look at me. They looked through me. Deep into my soul. I froze, unable to move or even look away. His eyes, they weren’t angry. Or vengeful. Or mean. They were, how can I describe it, they were – love. And sadness . . . sadness not for himself, but sad it seemed for me

Love and sadness. For me?

We looked at each other a long time, until he seemed to free me from his gaze. I slowly climbed the last two rungs, hammered the placard above his head, and quickly descended. I avoided his eyes as I passed him.

An hour crawled into two. Then three. I wouldn’t look at him, except to steal a glance from time to time. But our eyes never locked again. They didn’t have to.

Four hours. Five. At the sixth hour he suddenly cried out so loudly, so sorrowfully, it startled me to my feet: “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani.” Then he trumpeted a shout of . . . of victory – more victorious than I’d ever heard even our most decorated soldiers shout on the battlefield. His words pierced the heavens: “It is finished.”

I watched him release his last breath, slump forward – his body held only by the nails – and die. 

It was then I remembered his eyes. I still remember them.

I knew, I know . . . “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”*

*Mark 15:39

Thursday, March 6, 2014

By Whose Authority?

Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority? (Luke 20:2)

In my last post (click the link here) I tried to answer the question, “Isn’t it just possible that no one really knows what God wants?”

Having answered it as best as I can in a short composition, I realized my answer begged another question, “Why do you believe your interpretation of the Bible is better or more accurate than someone else’s?”

It is to that question I now respond.

To start, let me first say I believe the proper understanding of Scripture related to faith (what we must believe about God) and morals (how we must live to please God) is essential to our eternal destination. Get it wrong, and we may find ourselves on the wrong side of forever. So the question about the correct interpretation of Scripture as it affects faith and morals is not only reasonable, but of eternal consequence.

I must also add that my interpretation of the Bible with regard to those critical questions is not my interpretation. As the Holy Spirit said to the Church a long time ago through St. Peter: But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20). Here Peter is speaking not only of foretelling, but also forth-telling – teaching and proclaiming God’s word to others. Then in the next chapter, Peter talks about those false prophets and teachers who secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them (2 Peter 2:1).

Moved and inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. Peter knew in the first century what we in the 21st century need to know – that is, God’s truth.

Since the earliest days of Christianity, heresies and other deceptive teachings entered the Church as the great Deceiver tried to derail true faith. Many of the New Testament epistles were written, at least in part, to correct false teaching. For example, the letter to the church at Galatia addressed the false doctrine circulating among Christians that circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation. Another epistle addressed the false teaching at Thessalonica that the Day of the Lord had already come (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5). Letters to the churches at Rome, Corinth, Colossae, and Ephesus addressed various questions of morality (e.g. Romans 1-2; 1 Corinthians 5; Colossians 3; Ephesians 5). The letter to the Hebrews addressed the superiority of Jesus over Moses and the Law, and many scholars believe the apostle John addressed the heresy of Gnosticism in his first epistle.

Of course, none of these false teachings caught God by surprise. One writer put it this way: God’s gaze spans all the ages; to Him there is nothing unexpected (Sirach 39:20). And so, as I cited in my first essay (link here), because God is love, He wants not only to communicate with His beloved, but to protect us from false teaching. Further, because He is omnipotent, He ensured His communication (i.e. the Bible) remained faithful to His heart through the centuries. That is precisely why He established the teaching authority of the Church -- to be a ‘repository’ of truth, as well as to proclaim it to the world. And that is why the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “I give you the keys of the Kingdom” (Matthew 16:19), and later in John’s gospel He said to the Fisherman – three times – “Feed My sheep” (John 21).

No wonder then that even the great St. Paul, recognizing this divinely appointed teaching authority, brought the doctrines he taught to Church leadership for their approval (Galatians 2). And later, he would write to his protégé Timothy, the Church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). And at its first council in Jerusalem, it was Church leadership that decided what was orthodox faith and what was not (Acts 15:1-30).

Which brings me to the question about ‘my’ interpretation.

My understanding of what Scripture teaches about faith and morals is not in the least ‘my’ interpretation. Rather, my faith and morals are rooted in the interpretation of Scripture taught by the Catholic Church under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome (the pope) in union with the Church council, which Catholics call the Magisterium. What frames and informs my faith is the same  interpretation of Scripture held by the Catholic Church for 2000 years. It is the same instruction of faith and morals taught by some of the most brilliant theological minds in church history: Saints Thomas Aquinas, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Ignatius of Loyola, Athanasius, Jerome, and John Chrysostom.

And so, to answer the question how I know my interpretation of Scripture regarding faith and morals is correct, I know it is so because it is the same interpretation taught by the Church to which God gave the teaching authority.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is it Possible to Know?

Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Every now and again someone asks me a question along the lines of, “With all the conflicting ideas in the world about God, isn’t it just possible that no one really knows what God wants?”

The question, of course, deals with critically important issues of faith (knowing what God wants us to believe) and morals (how God wants us to live).  Unfortunately, it’s taken me more than three decades to realize the question is far too important to reply with a knee-jerk sound-bite. It deserves and it requires a reasoned response.  How I respond might help you should someone ask you a similar question.

I base my answer on several important presuppositions – important (to me, anyway) because if any of my presuppositions are false, then anything and everything I say subsequently is fatally flawed.

1. God exists, has always existed even before time began. He will exist after time ceases to be.

2. God is omnipotent – He does what He wants, when He wants, for as often as He wants. What He shuts no one can open. What He opens, no one can shut.

3. God is omniscient – He knows everything there is to know about everything. He literally knows the number of hairs on the head of each of the 6 billion people on planet earth. He knows each person’s thoughts before even those 6 billion know it themselves. He knows the future as if it is the past and the present. As one writer put it, “God’s gaze spans the ages. Nothing catches Him by surprise.”

4. God is omnipresent – He is everywhere at all times. He is with me in Georgia as I type this, while at the same time He is with every single person who reads this. He is with the farmer outside Beijing at the same time He is with the doctor in London. More to the point, because He is outside of time and space, He is right now in the past as well as in the future as well as in the immediate present.

5. Finally, God is love. He is good and kind and loving in all His ways and in all His acts. At all times and in all situations, God is love. Not that He simply exhibits love, or demonstrates love, but that He actually ‘is’ love.

So those are the presuppositions upon which I answer the question: If everybody is getting conflicting messages from God, isn't it just possible that we really have no idea what God wants?

For example, God is love. LOVE wants to communicate with the beloved. We easily see this in the relationship between a man and woman who love each other. They want nothing more than to be in each other’s presence, to talk about everything and about nothing. And so, wanting to communicate with us, and because God is omniscient, He knows how to best communicate with His beloved. He did so through His spokesmen we call prophets and apostles. 

God’s omnipotence is also a critical element in this reasoning because, being all-powerful, He was able to ensure not only His beloved (us) get His communiqué (i.e. the Bible), but that it should be transmitted through the centuries without error with regard to doctrine (e.g. what is important for us to know about Him, and how to live to please Him).

Further, because God is love, He wants the best for His beloved. We can see this illustrated in the relationship between a parent and a child. As a father I made a number of rules for our children when they were growing up in our home -- rules to protect them from harm. And yes, I even spanked them when they needed further evidence of how serious I was about protecting them.

Likewise, God’s love requires that He give us rules by which He expects us to live – for our protection and the protection of others (e.g. our neighbors, fellow citizens) whom He also loves very deeply.  Again, those rules are set forth in His communiqué (the Bible).  And if we need evidence of how serious He is about protecting us – and our neighbors – then He will discipline us according to our need.

If necessary, the place the Bible calls Hell is God’s discipline of last resort, reserved for anyone who, despite repeated warnings and disciplines at His hand, continues to rebel against God’s rules.

Our children often did not like our rules, nor were they convinced those rules were for their good.  But that did not change the truth that our rules for them were for their good. Likewise, humanity might not like God’s rules, nor might we be convinced those rules are for our good, but that does not change the truth that God’s rules for us are for our good.

To some, I suppose my answers seem trite, maybe even pre-scientific, but they satisfy my need for an answer to the implied question: Can humanity really know God’s will regarding faith and morals? 

Yes, I am convinced we can know it.

Of course, my answer begs the question: If the Bible is in fact God’s communiqué to us, then why are there so many divergent interpretations of the Bible? How do you know your interpretation is the correct one?

This too is an important question, one which requires more than a knee-jerk sound-bite. Next time I will tell you how I answer that question.