Sunday, May 24, 2015

Contemplating the Eucharist

 
Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able . . . Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from Me, all you evildoers.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth . . . . (Luke 13:24-28)
 
As Catholics, we must never presume we can receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist each Mass, and then routinely disobey Christ and historic Church teaching the rest of the week.

That would be a very dangerous lifestyle choice.
 

 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

School Colors


This again is nothing I’ve not cried out about many times before as a voice in the wilderness. I just need to do it again.
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I know the fundamental reason behind the deadly trajectory of America’s culture. I found it as I read the 11th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel. Here’s part of what it says:

And [Jesus] was casting out a demon . . . 15 But some of [the religious folk] said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” . . . . 17 But He knew their thoughts and said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. . . . . 23 He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.
 
The fundamental reason behind America’s deadly trajectory is an ineffective and powerless Church – not one part of it, but the entire Body of Christ shares the blame. While we all clamor to find fault with anyone who worships Christ differently than we, while we shun and slander God’s servants who work in different vineyards, Satan has worked quite successfully to divide God’s house (i.e. His Body). No wonder we are virtually helpless and near totally fruitless against his onslaught.

Jesus said it first: He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.

The question remains in my mind: When will all Christians who love Jesus stop waving their particular Church colors like High School freshmen hooting and hollering, “my-school’s-better-than-yours”?

When will the Body stir itself from its slumber and self-promotion?  Our world is on fire! Only the water of the Holy Spirit can put out the flames.

Or will we just continue waving our chosen school colors?
 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bible Study via YouTube now online

Persecution of Jewish believers was intensifying. Their non-believing counterparts didn’t understand their devotion to this Rabbi called Jesus -- who most everyone believed to be dead.

Gentiles didn’t understand their Old Testament roots. So these Jewish believers were in a kind of no-man’s land. And some of them began to doubt. What if they were wrong about Jesus? What if He is not the promised Messiah? What if He is still dead. What if . . . . What if . . . .

So God led an unknown author to write things that no other New Testament book tells us. In fact, while Paul’s Epistle to the Romans has been called The Constitution of Christianity, and his letter to the Ephesians has been called “the perfect example of Pauline theology,” Hebrews is the most comprehensive and reasoned defense of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah than we can find in any other New Testament book.

Join me for a study in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews. You can find the introduction here: https://youtu.be/z4R0ePeUboY

Thursday, May 21, 2015

He Knows Our Frame

John [the Baptist] summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" . . . 

And [Jesus] said to them in reply, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them . . . " 

When the messengers of John had left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. ". . . . Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom scripture says: 'Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you.' I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John . . . .” (Luke 7:19-28).

If I ever doubted the Lord’s compassion for me (and I have), this passage about John the Baptist ought to put those doubts to rest for ever.

I mean, here’s a guy who knew all about Jesus’ miraculous birth and His childhood. John and Jesus were cousins. Surely, John’s mother told him how he leaped in her womb the moment she heard Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:41). John must have known of his own miraculous birth, and of his father’s prophecy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give to his people the knowledge of salvation . . . .” And when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus as a dove.

It doesn’t get any more supernatural than what John experienced with Jesus.

So why did he ask, “Are you the one, or should we keep looking?”

I wonder if John might have been at his lowest ebb. Stuck in a filthy rat-infested dungeon, confused, depressed, lost and probably feeling forsaken, I don’t doubt he wondered, “If you really are the Messiah, why am I in this place? Why don’t you deliver me?”

I understand his point. I’ve been tossed by similar emotional upheavals more than a few times. And in those times Satan has often dropped into my mind something like: “Is what you have known all these years really true? For if it is, why are you suffering?”

I’ve read this story in Luke many times. But this time through I spotted something I’d missed before – or at least, had not thought much about. I focused on Jesus’ response to the crowd after He sent away John’s disciples. The Lord didn’t use John as an illustration of weak faith. He didn’t tell them how disappointed He was in John – “who should’ve known better.” Instead, Jesus called John not only prophet of God – a great tribute in and of itself – but He added, “No one on earth is greater than John”(verse 28).

Wow.

Yes, John should’ve known better. But that is not so much the point as the Lord’s compassionate understanding of John’s fear and doubt. Surely, “God knows our frame. He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).

John should have known better.

And so should I.

And so should you.

But – Oh, how I love the ‘buts’ encapsulated in Biblical truth – but just as Jesus told the crowd how well He thought of John, despite John’s confusion, I like to think Jesus also turns to the crowds of angels and tells them how well He thinks of us – you and I who love Him – even when we are confused, depressed, lost or feeling forsaken.

He knows our frame. He is mindful we are merely dust.

And oh how much He loves us.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Insert Your Name Here



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.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Trust and Obey

You might remember when some religious leaders challenged Jesus’ authority to say the things He said. You can find it in chapter 21 of Matthew’s gospel:

      “. . . . the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” And answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” He also said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (verses 23-27)

Of course, Jesus’ question is not consigned to the first century. His question echoes into the 21st, as well: Is God the author of divine Scripture, or is He not? 

We should be careful how we respond, for our answer will hold eternal consequences – not only for us, but also for those we love. If God is not the divine author of everything in Genesis through Revelation, then there is no compelling reason to obey any of Scripture’s commandments, including those related to sexuality, abortion, marriage, and other current cultural issues. 

But if God is the divine author of Scripture, then we can expect Him to ask us at the judgment: Did you believe it – and obey it?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bring Them to Me

So I’m reading in the 14th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. A crowd surrounds Jesus, hanging on His words.

As it got toward evening, His disciples told Him to “send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus answered, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!” Confused, they looked around and said, “But, we have here only five loaves and two fish.”

Jesus answered, “Bring them to Me.”

You know the rest of the story. Jesus took the few pieces of food and created a feast for several thousand.

Our culture has drilled it into our subconscious for so long, it is now probably part of our DNA: Success is measured only in ‘bigger-better-more.’ Unless we have the numbers to prove it, we let ourselves tell ourselves we’re failures, useless for the Kingdom, disappointing to God.

But (and this should surprise no one who knows Christ), He is not interested in bigger-better-more. He never has been. What He does want is whatever we have to offer, if we offer it freely into His hands.

Oh, and this now occurs to me as I write; We ought not to expect Him to show us what He does with our ‘little.’ In fact, He usually does not show us because, well . . .  it’s none of our business. We are servants.

He would like us to be content simply with that.

One day, I hope to really learn that lesson.

Friday, May 8, 2015

An Open Letter to All Christian Pastors


So I’m reading the first chapter in Esther. You remember the story, King Ahasuerus held a banquet for his many guests. At a strategic point in the celebration, he called for his queen. He wanted to show her off. But Vashti refused to come.

I’ve glossed over these few verses many times over the years. I know about the male-dominated culture of the Persian Empire, a dominance which also existed throughout the ancient world. But only recently did I realize to read the vignette in verses 10-18 with 21st century eyes is to miss a vital spiritual point nestled in those few verses – a point that transcends centuries and cultures: Scandal is never a private matter. Its ripples stir dissent and confusion even in unexpected areas of society.

The king’s counselors understood that danger. That’s why they told the king: “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.’ This day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way . . . . and there will be plenty of contempt and anger” (Esther 1:16-18).

Five hundred years before Queen Vashti snubbed her king, the Psalmist implored his God: May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; May those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel (Psalm 69:6). And five centuries after the queen fell from her king's favor, St. Paul exhorted the religious of his day: You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you . . . (Romans 2:23-24).

From the anemic response during the last two generations of many American clergy to sin in their ranks and in their congregations, it seems even the king’s pagan counselors understood far better than we the danger any society faces when it adopts tolerant attitudes toward sin and rebellion. They understood far better than many of our religious leaders that insipid responses to scandals stain the name of God and scatter the sheep for whom Jesus died.

Oh, pastors, hear us! Hear the scattered sheep bleating for courageous shepherds to gather us back to the fold. We need your strong leadership in this desperate time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Conversion of Bill May



I love conversion stories. They are testimonies to God’s grace, His patience, His love, His mercy.  They are stories of people whose lives changed direction when they said, “Yes” to God’s call. 

Here is the story of William (Bill) May, a new friend of mine.

By the way, I would love to share YOUR conversion story with others. Send it to me and I will post it to my blog, with links from my various FaceBook accounts.

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♫ Here I am, Lord ♫


Until eighteen years ago, my life journey had not included God.  I was a sometime Baptist or Methodist, occasional deist, an often agnostic who wasn’t interested in inviting God into my life.  After all, life was going pretty good so why complicate things.  Oh, I attended Mass sporadically with my wife Frances, and I honored my prenuptial instructions in the Catholic Church by not objecting to her raising the children Catholic.  On three different occasions I even started RICA Classes, each time dropping out on some pretense.  Additionally, there were a number of other Catholic “distractions” that made it convenient to stay away and not actually inquire.

The devil’s job is easy.  If you don’t start your faith journey, he wins, no matter what.

I’m not sure just when I lowered my crossed arms and allowed my journey towards Christ to begin.  There wasn’t a huge awakening, where all of a sudden I saw the light fell to my knees and accepted Christ as my Savior—it was subtler than that; a thought here, a question there, all leading towards the realization that something was missing in my life and that I did need help. 

My son Will toyed with the idea of Fundamentalism and I witnessed two close friends we respected lay hands upon him as a minister prayed for him.  Will stepped back from the edge and dove into Catholic research devouring books and tapes.  He and my wife became my spiritual leaders. 

One day I realized that I wanted what my brothers and sisters in the Catholic faith had.  This time when I started RCIA Classes, I finished.  There were still trying moments.  I actually said to the class leader, “The only reason I’m attending classes is that it is the price that I have to pay to become a Catholic”.  On another occasion my statement was something along the line, “I just want to join the Church; I don’t want to do anything.”  I’ll not bore you with my other dumb remarks.  Just know, though, God showed great patience with me for sixty-one years and every day in my morning and evening prayers I thank Him.

During late summer of 1997 (the year I joined the Church) I noticed in the Church bulletin a call for an 8th grade Religious Education teacher.  It was written that if they didn’t find a person, they would have to cancel the class.  My Parish, Saint Paul the Apostle, is very large and I didn’t see how they would have trouble finding a teacher.  However, for three straight weeks, the same call was in the bulletin; uh, oh, was God calling me? 

In Mass one morning we sang the song, Here I am, Lord, and the words in the refrain go, Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?  I have heard You calling in the night.  I will go Lord, if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart.  For four years I’ve was the 8th grade Religious teacher.  It was a labor of love and growth.  I don’t know if the classes learned much, but I know that I benefited beyond my wildest imagination. 

Cradle Catholics take for granted things that I’m just learning.  My faith journey is real, personal, and includes my Lord, my Savior, my Friend, and my Brother, Jesus Christ.  I now know that it is through Jesus that I come to God a repentant sinner who tries daily to become a better person.  I’m getting better because I have God as my coach and He never lets us down.  Never!

When my son told me that I should attend a Cursillo weekend I filled out the application and went.  My attitude going was, “What the heck, it won’t hurt me, and perhaps I’ll learn something”.  Little did I know what was in store for me?  As I look back on my journey to Christ, and now with God, I can now see all of the signs placed along my way for me to know He was there with me.  I just wasn’t willing to use my eyes to see or my ears to hear.  My Cursillo was a weekend of sign, after sign, after sign.  Only this time, I was looking for them.

Is it I, Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart. ♫

With Christ, we are an overwhelming majority!