11 November 2007

You seduced me, O Lord, and I let myself be seduced.

Saw the documentary Into Great Silence a few weeks ago about Grande Chartreuse, a Carthusian monastery in France. At three hours long, it may be the world's first "Silent Retreat on DVD." I take it this passage from Jeremiah, "You have seduced me, O Lord, and I let myself be seduced," has something to do with the Carthusian rule or spirituality since it was only quoted on the screen like ten times. It's one of those verses that you don't hear often, and that is unfortunate. Maybe that word seduced makes people uncomfortable. What I find interesting (and may or may not be interesting to the that kid from Springfield who finds my sporadically-updated blog after Googling for "richest man in the world" to work on some research paper) is... where was I... see, this is what happens when I sip Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey while blogging...

Okay, got it. The interesting thing is that there are a number of translations for that word seduced. The Anchoress, who runs a much better blog than I do that's actually won awards and has readers, wrote a post about this same verse (which I found while Googling to figure out exactly where this passage is in Jeremiah... it's difficult to locate because you don't know how your translation translated the word "seduced," hence this here blog post). Her translation, apparently the NAB, says, "You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped."

The NRSV says: "O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed."

The NLT: "O LORD, you persuaded me, and I allowed myself to be persuaded."

Douay-Rheims: "Thou hast deceived me, O Lord, and I am deceived."

The NIV also chooses the word "deceived."

The Complete Jewish Bible: "You fooled me, ADONAI; I have been your dupe."

Just of out curiosity, I checked The Message, which says, "You pushed me into this, GOD, and I let you do it."

So you probably get the idea... that one particular word is translated ten ways to Sunday. My "favorite" is seduced, partly because it sounds a bit scandalous, but also because seduction is a term that is more half-black, half-white. Deception could never hold a positive connotation while persuasion and enticement tend to sound more positive, especially when the actor is God. But I've never thought of God as a Ruth-like seducer.

Ruth seduced Boaz, becoming the great-grandmother of King David. She clearly didn't seduce him selfishly. Ironically, David did a little seducing of his own to bag that Bathsheba chick, but we don't talk about that incident in such a positive light.

In either type of situation, seduction implies strong passion, an irresistible attraction. Sometimes my relationship with God feels like that, but when those times always seem to end with heartbreak, I've conditioned myself to remain leary of getting too "emotionally involved" with God. If I avoid the emotional highs, I won't have to endure the lows. It is good to grow past the emotional volatility of an immature relationship. I'm not dating God, after all: I am committed to him, as if in marriage. Unfortunately, the security of covenantal relationships seems to bring us down as we count on that relationship to always be there for us. We forget that a covenant taps into Divine Eternity and Love: it should be a source of great joy to be secure forever in God's embrace! We should be driven not to laziness and procrastination, but to accept the greatest risks for the Gospel, for when God has set [us] high on a rock, the Rock of Christ and his Church, [we] will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; [we] will sing and make melody to the LORD.

Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!

14 October 2007

Imitation of Christ

Started reading Thomas A'Kempis' Imitation of Christ while taking a trip along the West Coast to San Francisco, Portland area, and Seattle. Visited the Shrine to St. Francis while in San Fran, which I guess isn't all that big deal compared to, say, going to Assisi, but was glad to see they seem to have a good, faithful ministry there. Also talked to a hippie in Buena Vista Park near Haight-Ashbury. That was probably the highlight of the whole trip. Afterwards, I kinda wondered what Jesus might have said during that conversation, which I guess is a cheesy WWJD-ish thought to have, so I didn't waste time thinking about it for too long because -- obviously -- Jesus wasn't there in human flesh and blood.

Anyway, back to the point of this post, which is gonna be quick since I'm thinking shorter posts are better suited to my writing and reading style. Maybe a few people will actually read this thing if the posts are short :)

I keep going back to this one line in Imitation from Book I Chapter XI: "If every year we would root out one vice, we should soon become perfect men." Obviously, he's not saying we'll cease to be sinners, but our imitation of Christ will approach perfection by God's grace. I find this convicting because this past New Year's, I made an honest-to-God resolution to cut Sloth and procrastination out of my life. How am I doing? Well, I keep putting it off. This year is nearly over and I don't want to make the same resolution again next year.

See, I often think up ambitious ideas for a small business I could start or some creative evangelistic effort, but I suck at taking the smaller practical steps to get from Point A to Point B. Usually those aren't so exciting to think about. Relating it to St. Francis' life, he didn't set out to create a religious order that would remain one of the world's largest 800 years later while producing some of the Church's most beloved saints. He simply longed to love Jesus in a leper and to adore Him in the Eucharist.

28 August 2007

I don't watch a whole lot of TV... a little bit of "The Office" and I catch "Family Guy" or "Letterman" once in a while, and while I'd love to watch my Chicago Cubs, I'm not too keen on paying for cable just for that. Fortunately, the one show I definitely gotta see is on network television: "Lost"! While waiting until Season 4 begins to air in February 2008, I'm getting my fix by re-watching Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. It's been so long since I saw these episodes, I've forgotten a lot of things. That's why I'm taking notes... yeah... not that I'm going to figure out any big mysteries, but the show has some interesting themes and plot elements, and some are quite spiritual. While one of the writers is Jewish and I don't think the other is Christian, they seem to like drawing in Catholicism with confessional scenes (Charlie and Mr. Eko), references to saints (Kate chose St. Lucy for Confirmation), and even Mr. Eko playing priest to escape his home country.

And then there's this John Locke character. Off the island, he's disrespected and alone, out of place at his collar-and-tie office job. On the island, he's "the hunter," a master at following tracks through dense forests, throwing knives with scary precision, and a man of faith. Not Christian faith, but a believer in fate and knowing there's a reason for the things that happen to us. He lives in this strange communion with the Island. He seems to follow some unseen force -- at times getting lost -- until realizing he was a fool to lose faith.

St. Francis seemed to be a lot like that. While he did benefit from notable miraculous encounters, especially hearing Jesus' words from the San Damiano crucifix, most of the time Francis was just trying to figure out the next step to take -- and even after receiving his marching instructions, "Rebuild my Church," he initially misinterpreted the meaning. See, even though Francis wanted to be a knight, I don't think his heart was in fighting military battles. I think he knew there was something else for him, but volunteering for a Crusade was the closest thing he could find to whatever "it" was. When he jumped off his horse to embrace a diseased leper, he certainly wasn't following any direct command from God -- he must've had that distinct feeling in his gut saying, "I don't know why, but I have to do this." Surely he had passed other lepers and felt drawn to jump down and embrace them, but this time the impulse couldn't be ignored. He was following a greater, unseen force -- what greater adventure is there?

Maybe that's part of the reason Locke seems like such a manly, adventuresome guy on the Island. Sure, throwing knives and tracking through the forest is cool, but he's clearly driven by a greater force. Sometimes I relate to that feeling, when I find myself make a decision not because it really makes sense at the time, but because it feels like the right thing to do at that time. I had that feeling about getting into a dating relationship last year, even though I felt so strongly about pursuing the priesthood. Of course, the relationship fell through (as it was destined to do because we weren't very compatible) and life sucked for a while, but there's something about opening your heart to another person (not just in dating, but also friendships) that reveals your deeper needs and motivations.

Having been through a bit of an emotional roller coaster throughout the past year, now I have that same gut feeling about beginning the application process for seminary. I don't know if I'll eventually end up ordained or married, but when St. Francis had his dream of becoming a knight in the king's court, or heard Jesus' voice from the crucifix, or wrapped his arms around that leper, he didn't know much more than I do now. Ain't nothing wrong with that... besides, where's the adventure in knowing exactly where you're going?

30 July 2007

Three Months

It's been exactly three months since my last post. Life's been kinda busy lately, but at the same time I haven't had a lot of ideas for blogging lately. That might be partly due to going through a bit of a spiritual doldrum... just stuck in one of those ruts, which can be especially frustrating when accompanied by repetitive sins. That's why I look back and wonder how I ever made it without Confession and the Eucharist. This past weekend, while chaperoning at the Ignite Your Torch youth conference, I thought back to the many similar conferences I attended with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship while a student at University of Louisville. Wouldn't it be odd to attend a conference now -- having been Catholic for a little over a year -- and see no religious brothers and sisters, no priests, no opportunities for sacramental grace through Confession and Holy Communion, no holy water, no Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and of course, no exorcists! Heck, I'd even miss the Latin. :)

A few months ago, I attended a Protestant candlelight prayer meeting at Centre College, and while it's always great to listen to and reflect on Scripture in a sacred space, it just wasn't the same. I have a feeling going to an InterVarsity conference now would leave me with the same feeling, like eating three bites of a steak: very good, but I'm hungry for a lot more. The funny thing is, as a Protestant I used to hear Catholics say the same kinds of things I'm saying now, and I thought they were half nuts or had too much of the Kool-Aid. Well, I guess of that "Kool-Aid" is the Blood of Christ, count me in!

Of course, like just about every conference I've attended, Ignite was yet another "Transfiguration" experience. While I've grown past the need for strong emotional experiences at these gatherings, my relationship with God is feeling much stronger. Plus, while I took a lot of notes from different talks, one bit of advice that I know will prove useful is to offer up to God the sufferings of temptation, joining them with the sufferings of Christ on the cross. I'm also more firmly resolved to resume going to daily Mass at least once a week (which I did during Lent) and spend at least an hour a week at Adoration. There are other things I'd like to do, like start running regularly and going to bed earlier every night, but I pray those disciplines will be some of the fruit bore from more frequently receiving Communion and kneeling in Adoration.

30 April 2007

One thing I love about Confession...

...is that it's one place I never have to be pretend to be holy or righteous.

Sometimes, especially when you feel that ickiness of sin all over your soul, you almost feel like you're lying to yourself and everyone around you by actually going to church or saying grace. It's so refreshing to have a sacred place where we can be washed clean once again, knowing with full confidence that although, like the Prodigal Son, we have sinned against Heaven and against you, Christ created a place where Heaven and earth meet -- a sacrament -- to continually reconcile His children to one another and Himself.

To use a little Evangelical language, what a wonderful and awesome gift it is to have Jesus as a personal accountability partner! Of course, the sacrament of Reconciliation is so much more effective than the Protestant practice of accountability partners. When you are accountable to just another sinner, it's easy to bend the truth, tell a little white lie, or a big lie. Of course, you can lie to Jesus too, but you can't fool Him and you know it.

And even more, you get to hear Jesus personally say to you (through the priest) those redeeming words, "I forgive you of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Having confessed your sins with a contrite heart, you can walk away knowing with full confidence that your soul is free of the stain of sin -- if it only lasts for a short time, it's a good feeling regardless.

I never got that feeling from any other accountability partner :)

16 February 2007

Vine and Branches; Love and Eucharist

A few weeks ago I read through the Gospel of John, which I chose because of how John referred to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and, since I think part of the reason he might have done that is because all Christians are disciples loved by Jesus, I was curious how those passages might relate if I put myself in John's shoes. Naturally, as to be expected with reading the Bible, God showed me more and different things than I originally went looking for.

One passage that got I kept pondering was the "I am the vine; you are the branches" narrative. It is symbolic, is it as symbolic as I was taught during my Evangelical days? Branches are physically, organically connected to the vine, so that the same substance which makes the vine a vine and keeps it alive also makes a branch a branch and keeps it alive. The very name Christian suggest this because it comes from the Greek for "little Christ" -- not "like Christ" or "Christ follower" -- but distinct members of Christ Himself. And as members of Christ, just like the branch receives physical nourisment from the vine, we receive from our spiritual vine the physical nourishment of the Eucharist. Of course, it's no magic potion, but when we receive the sacrament of Reconiliation regularly with contrite hearts, we become more open to Him as He nourishes us through Holy Communion. Then we will bear much fruit and anything we ask will be given unto us. And as "little Christs," the only thing our hearts will ultimately desire (above all else) is to bear more fruit for our Father, storing up riches in Heaven.

Furthermore, it sounds cliche, but it wasn't too cliche to become the title of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical: God is Love. That's Love with a capital L, the source of all love. Love is a unifying and creative force: just look at the universe, created out of God's Trinitiarian Love, and how the constant laws of physics bind it all together. And since Jesus is God made flesh, then Jesus is, in fact, Love made flesh. What an awesome gift that this abstract idea or principle we simply call "love" was made tangible before our own eyes! How much we struggle to describe what love is, how many wrong places we search for it, and how many poor examples of it we see in the world and in pop culture, while Jesus patiently waits for us to discover that He is Love! Going one more step with this line of logic, God is Love and Jesus is Love made flesh, so that means the Eucharist, being the very substance of Christ's Body and Blood, is also Love made flesh! Just think, every Sunday at Mass we receive a physical remembrance of Love. It may not manifest itself in the lives of the people we see at Mass, but Divine Love does not withdraw itself just because it is rejected. God loves us like a a young couple experiencing a mutual first love: He doesn't hold back His affection for fear of rejection.

Going beyond all the theology and apologetics behind why we Catholics believe in Transubstantiation, I find the reason to be quite simple. Look at how couples separated by war or a job requiring lots of travelling long to be physically together. If this love is merely a reflection of Divine Love, how much more so much God long to be physically united with His beloved? He couldn't stand to give us mere symbols of His Body and Blood; He loves us too much for that!

Taking this train on down the line to the next stop, what is the the parallel to marriage? For one, God designed men and women to a love that reflects the Love of the Trinity. Marital love, in its pure essence, is a powerfully creative and unifying force. There is no room for selfishness where one spouse completely gives themselves to the other, just as there is no room for sin when we completely give ourselves to God. And just as Love is made flesh in Christ, so the love between husband and wife is made flesh in children. And that love is given a name, just like God named our earthly father, Adam, and our spiritual Father, Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One. When we are seeking a sign of Love, we can look to the Holy Eucharist just like a married couples looks to their children.

All of creation is a reflection of Love, a reflection of its Creator. Adam and Eve were made as the highest order of creation, the ultimate manifestation of Love. This same Love, shared among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is reflect by each and every human being. In that sense, though we are a fallen and broken race, we are all Love made flesh. Perhaps this is what struck St. Francis when he lept from his horse to embrace that leper. Christ had truly embraced the spiritual ugliness that had crippled him; in return, St. Francis embraced the physical ugliness brought into this world by the same Fall which leaves many physically crippled. That is Love manifest through action and it is why we are given the Eucharist, Love made flesh.

05 February 2007

True Courage is Found in Fierce Obedience

Following up from my previous post, I'm changing my tune just a little...

Catholics are to obey their bishop as Christ, for the bishop represents the Church and the Church is Christ's Bride. The bishops in America aren't going to excommunicate us for not registering for vote, and apparently not even if we vote for abortion, but that's their pastoral decision to make and it's not my place to judge them for it.

I need to confess that I've been overly critical of some priests and bishops. It hasn't come out on my blog much, but it did when I criticized the Archbishop of D.C. for the decision he made to allow Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to receive the Eucharist. Satan uses the tiniest bit of disobedience, even when it comes from a well-intentioned heart, to gain a foothold. This past weekend I was convicted with the great amount of Pride built up in my heart because of thinking I know what I would do in their shoes, but the fact is I'm just a layperson and God has given me no authority to make these very difficult decisions. Part of our vocation as Catholics is to be fiercely obedient to the men God places as shepherds over us. If they fall asleep while we're praying all night in the garden, so be it. Let's concern ourselves with sharing our joy with the people we are in contact with every day instead of worrying about men we rarely (if ever) meet.

Most of all, let's just be thankful that we share a relationship with Christ and that He is so gracious to forgive our sins in Confession, not just once, but seven times seventy-seven, and receive the grace and love of God made flesh in the Eucharist. We need to be humbled before our Lord, crying with tears of joy that He loves us more than we can comprehend. God swept our greatest theologian, Thomas Aquinas, right off his feet and left him speechless! And we consider his "straw" to be a work of genius. Anyway... step down off this soapbox now... I'm on a spiritual high after last weekend's retreat, if ya can't tell ;-) Satan will probably try dragging me down here in a few days, but even if he does, he can do nothing that prayer, Scripture, and five minutes at Confession won't fix.

19 January 2007

To Mary Through Jesus

Today I had lunch with a couple of guys I knew during college who were involved in some of the other Christian ministries on campus. Naturally, the conversation came around to women and dating. One guy is engaged and the other is in a semi-serious relationship. Then they asked about me, "So are you dating anyone?"

Off the cuff, I immediately replied, "Yeah, her name's Mary."

"Cool." Then I started smilin' because I know he doesn't know what I really mean, so he says, "Are you serious?"

"Yeah, completely serious," still smiling.

"How'd you meet her?" I never thought about how I would answer that question, but my instinctive answer was perfect:

"Through Jesus."

Which got me to thinking... Catholics are known for that cliched term, "To Jesus Through Mary," but my walk with God has been more like, "To Mary Through Jesus."

For one, I was raised in a Christian household and have always been a Christian, so I was already "to Jesus." Mary, however, began to mystify me around the time I was learning to study the Bible during my InterVarsity years. All these great Old Testament men... Abraham, Moses, King David, Jonah... they fought futilely against God's insistent tapping on their shoulder... they ran from Him... and they sinned greviously.

Mary simply submitted. She asked one simple, practical question of Gabriel and submitted. Luke notes that she treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart when the shepherds visited the Nativity scene and after finding Jesus in his Father's house, Luke again mentions she treasured all these things in her heart. Simeon prophesied to her that a sword will pierce your own soul too. And her last recorded words in Scripture, Do whatever he tells you, even in defiance to our Lord's wishes, brought about the first miracle by Jesus and the manifestation of his glory. And then there's that woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12.

These Scriptures hint at something deeper and more mysterious than a simple mother-son relationship. Nothing within the Protestant traditions seemed to satisfy the deeper mystery behind Mary, but the true joy and love I felt among Catholics and the simple sense of peace and fulfillment I experienced at Mass piqued my curiousity. It took four or five years, but Jesus patiently lead me to His mother through His Word... and she brought me to the foot of the cross, where I've recently found myself transfixed in meditation upon the crucifix and what it means to follow Christ and love God sacrificially.

That's why Archbishop Fulton Sheen's quote above hits home right now. After all, it was while kneeling at the foot of the cross that St. Francis of Assisi heard Jesus' command, "Go, rebuild my Church!"

And so this leads me to tonight and the reason I'm staying up way too late to write this blog post. I don't care if anyone reads it because I primarily need this to create a virtual memorial. Earlier tonight at a Mass celebrated in preparation for this Ignite Your Torch youth conference coming up this summer, and the priest's invited us to consecrate our lives to Mary so that she can place us at the foot of the cross. During the Offertory, I offered myself to Mary. The idea sounds easy, but when you actually try and pray those words you run smack into your own Pride. This is, after all, a complete abandonment. In doing this, I believe that Mary knows better about what will bring me joy that I do. After three tries, I finally made it past the opening, "Mary." And after sealing the deal, I felt at peace, excited, joyful, and scared all at the same time. But all of that is better than being bored with life, refusing to discover the purpose for which God created you.

Not to say that I won't resist God's tapping on my shoulder in the future -- I definitely will, if only because I know God is calling me to the one mission for which He created me. Part of me wants to live pointlessly for a little while, but there's no joy in that. At the risk of presumptuousness, it's very likely that consecrating my will to Mary's means I'm becoming a priest. And like my soon-to-be-married college acquaintance, it's both the scariest and most exciting feeling I've known.