The Dude Abides

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Why didn’t the Sect Tourist have a post last week?

 

 

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Because Chuck is a lazy bum.

 

 

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Thought so!

 

 

 

Well… that and babysitting a two year old.

But the real reason is I am not sure what to do next.

I began this blog almost twenty months ago intending it to last just six months. I was going to write about all those churches I was visiting and that would be it. That journey led to a crisis of faith in Protestantism which kept me writing and thinking out loud which led me to Catholicism. Suddenly I’m a tourist in the Catholic Church (it’s big enough) so I documented what I learned in class. Now I’m a Catholic… so…

What now?

I have a couple of friends who have challenged me with “How can you become Catholic when that church does ________________?” I’ve considered meeting those challenges in this blog, researching them and laying out the arguments for both sides in a coherent, non-emotional way but I’m not sure apologetics is my forte or my call.

I’ve also considered reviewing the books I’m reading or writing Catholic flash fiction or even more poetry but nothing is lighting up my Christmas tree… which tells me I’m trying to bull ahead on my own rather than seeking the guidance of God. Up to now this blog has written itself but suddenly I’m at a loss. It’s not a time for me to panic…

It’s time for me to be still.

It’s time for me to listen.

It’s time for me to be patient.

It’s time for me to wait.

God did not lead me to the Catholic Church so I could figure out what to write next but so I could worship Him in spirit and truth. If my prayers turn into “what should I do next?” I think God will be slapping his forehead and moaning in frustration (metaphorically speaking of course). If I start slapping my forehead and moaning in frustration (in reality of course) I will be cutting myself off from the relationship God wants with me. Let me listen when Christ says,

“Peace be with you.”

Thank you all for reading this blog! I just wanted you all to know why its changing, why its becoming more hit or miss. Nothing has gone wrong with The Sect Tourist, far from it, because now…

The Tourist abides.

May you too find the peace that comes from abiding in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Remembering Blessings

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The whole gang… ready to be transformed by God’s presence in our lives.

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My wonderful sponsor, Larry, on the left, for his help I am eternally grateful.

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Being confirmed and anointed with oil… Father John had lots of room to make that cross.

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Receiving Jesus… what an honor, what a thrill, what a blessing!

Sorry for the poor quality of these photos, I don’t own a scanner so these are pictures of pictures. May we remember God’s many blessings in our lives with gratitude to carry us through the hard times so they may be blessed too.

Drunk on the Holy Spirit

“We must often remember what Christ said, that not he who begins, but he that perseveres to the end, shall be saved.”  Saint Philip Neri

pentecost-descent-ItalyLOne of my favorite stories in the Bible is the Acts 2 account of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is like a wind blown grass fire roaring onto the scene and impossible to ignore. A huge crowd gathers, curious rubberneckers ready to witness a disaster, and are astounded that some uneducated hicks can speak the languages of the world. This is happening in the holy city of Jerusalem so the mob is made up of people who believe in and pin their hopes on a miraculous God which explains why they were willing to look for meaning in these events.

And then there were the scoffers.

I’m a little sympathetic with the hecklers in the crowd, I have the tendency to be a comedian myself and love to get a laugh from the back bench. It’s difficult to hold a joke in because what good is it to think up a witticism if you don’t share it?

Okay, that’s a lousy excuse, I confess I have trouble resisting the urge to be a smart ass…

The jeer-leaders accuse the Apostles of being drunk and, no doubt, they got a laugh from the crowd so Peter shoots a joke back at them. That Peter’s “how can we be drunk, it’s only 9 am?” comment is a joke is my personal opinion but it stands to reason. You don’t respond to hecklers with lame explanations since that only encourages sharper jests at your expense. Believe me, I know. No, if you want to shut the loud mouths down you use a little self-deprecating humor to let the rabble know you don’t take yourself too seriously and if they’re laughing at your jokes that means they’re listening to you.

We can’t possibly be drunk… yet… just give us a few hours…

I’m getting myself sidetracked however. Notice the scoffers said they were drunk and not insane or devil possessed or snake-oil salesmen? The Apostles appeared to be intoxicated. Were they laughing, giddy, loose, impetuous, brazen and loud? Wouldn’t you be if you had just been flooded with God’s Spirit? It doesn’t make any sense to imagine the Holy Spirit making the Apostles dour, timid and quiet.

Drunk on the Holy Spirit… shouldn’t that be the description for us?

As we are coming to the end of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes the aim has become less of “what do Catholics believe” and more “how do Catholics live?” The latter question unites us with Christians of all flavors as we all seek to be God’s hands and feet in the world by becoming servants: serve the church, help our neighbor, reach out to the world.

In many ways I’m sad to come to the end of these classes, I have learned a great deal, been inspired and the fellowship has been wonderful. On the other hand this class has made me wait. I had to wait months to receive Holy Communion and I’ve had to wait to become a participant in the life of the church; both have been great joys for me over the last 16 years at my former church. But I see the wisdom in being made to wait, it’s called…

Anticipation.

Jesus referred to it in the beatitudes when he said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Just as an alcoholic thirsts for that next drink, believers are starving for the chance to conform their lives to Christ’s. In this way anticipation becomes a sacred act, as much a blessing as the acts themselves. This weekend I experienced both anticipation and satisfaction, this weekend I was blessed.

I was blessed by the Evangelization Retreat which does not mean I was taught how to save people but was instead made drunk on the Holy Spirit. To be an evangelist is to be a bearer of good news, the better the news the more elation the deliverer has to the point where people know good news is coming before any words can be spoken. We want people to take one look at us and ask, “what are you smoking?” so we can tell them about the joy of being loved by God.

The previous post on this blog was about cultivating a capacity for surprise which makes sense for a religion full such Mysteries as the Trinity, the Sacraments and the Church as Body of Christ. Yet I went into the retreat not expecting any surprises figuring it would probably be a tame, Catholic-dull event…

Boy was I surprised!

We were blessed by powerful testimonials, meaningful and rich small group time, renewal, reconciliation, musical celebration, the laying on of hands and on and on. There was too much to tell here so I will just share two things.

I discovered the blessing of anticipation in the laying on of hands. By chance (or not?) I was the last to go forward so I was a long time sitting in the pew waiting but the waiting was like a beer buzz. To watch everybody stand up by the altar, to hear the prayers, unintelligible from where I was sitting so it sounded like they were speaking in some other language, to hope, with a sort of reckless abandon, to be filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit… all this seemed as astounding as the prayers themselves. I’m still processing it.

dinnerrollWe also had a silent lunch in which we were supposed to be in prayerful conversation with Christ. Dutifully silent I sat down with everyone else and noticed my dinner roll saucer was empty. I looked down the table both ways and saw everybody else had a roll. My conversation with Jesus wasn’t going any better so I decided to break the ice with a joke, me being me, so I asked,

“Where’s my dinner roll Jesus?”

Being God I figured he’d know… yeah… shameless. To my surprise, words immediately popped in my head.

“I am all the bread you’ll need.”

I decided my end of the conversation wasn’t necessary anymore and just kept repeating those words to myself until lunch was over. Another blessing.

I put that St. Philip Neri quote at the start of this post because I am at a new beginning now in the Catholic Church. Between RCIA and the Evangelization Retreat I have had an amazing beginning full of many graces for which I am very thankful but the time has come for joyful perseverance.

May we each drink deep of the Holy Spirit and dine on the rich Bread that is Christ so our lives will glow with the spiritual joy that comes from being a child of God as we anticipate all the surprises our Father has for us.

Surprise!

skullWhat do you look forward to?

I’m guessing you didn’t say, “I can’t wait to die!”

Yet as Christians our hope is pinned on Christ’s resurrection which tells us death is not an end to life but merely a change of scenery. But when we watch Jesus raise people from the dead and see his agony in the garden before His arrest we sense that even God does not take death lightly.

I am always a little skeptical of people who say they are not afraid of death knowing it will get them closer to God in heaven. It sounds like bravado to me, like it comes from someone who’s never really been that close to their mortal end. The few times I have had close calls my brain and body did not ponder the coming joys of heaven but fought like dogs to stay alive. I know, this is a confession of a lack of faith and not a statement on the reliability of God’s promises. Would that I had the indifference of St. Paul in Philippians:

“My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better. Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”

Death is natural and inevitable, it ends this life. The question is, what is this life all about? If heaven is our ultimate end, fulfills all our longings, puts us in the state of absolute happiness and perfect communion with God… what are we doing here?

Is “this life” Heaven’s waiting room?

skull3Taking the Christian long view that sees death as a radical life transition (as radical as the transition from the confined, dark, liquid world of the womb to the active, bright, airy world we live in) and knowing that God intends all life to have a good purpose, we can easily brush aside the “waiting room” theory. Our life, from womb to earth to heaven, is a whole, a unity; it is brought about by God’s love, fueled by God’s grace, gifted with dignity and freedom, and its one aim is…

… a loving relationship with God.

That is heaven in a soup bowl, a loving relationship with God, so if we live that in our day to day life we are experiencing a sweet little taste of heaven right now. When we reject God and love, when we sin, we are experiencing a bitter little taste of hell right now. What we taste is voluntary.

Heaven or hell? The onus is on us. Do we freely accept or freely reject God’s love? God does not predestine anyone to hell; we send ourselves, its what we want, its the logical continuation of the life we live now turned in upon itself in self absorption. Hell is like a hall of mirrors, we only see our own image, not God’s, and that’s how we want it.

This idea that what we do in this temporary life has an effect on our eternal life bothers a lot of people. It seems unjust for God to impose a long jail sentence on such petty crimes. But when we view our life as a unity, when we recognize that God has been open with us how things work, when we admit that our life patterns now will go with us past death, then it is impossible to call God unjust.

But we’re all sinners, how can anyone get to heaven?

Yes, we are all sinners, but what kind of sinners? Do we glory in sin? Do we deny our sin is sinful? Do we refuse to repent? Do we think forgiveness is unnecessary in our case? Or are we contrite? Are we ashamed? Do we wish we didn’t sin? Do we crave forgiveness more than anything because it means our relationship with God is restored? Jesus told a parable about this contrasting the prayers of a pharisee and the tax collector. One was seizing his relationship with God on his own terms and the other knew he needed God’s loving help.

The Father calls us to heaven. The Son’s death and resurrection gives us hope of heaven. The Holy Spirit offers us the grace to make it possible but our response to this outpouring of love is important.

Which brings us to Purgatory.

Heaven is for the pure, there is no bringing our favorite sins with us to heaven. Who we are comes with us past death. Our fallen nature, our tendency to sin is gone but who we are remains, our habits of self centeredness comes with us and must be removed. Purgatory is not a punishment, we want to go there. A lifetime of seeking to please God, praise God, know God, this kind of life will gladly remove any habits, heal any wounds, redirect any desire, and correct any imperfections to be in God’s presence.

Does it sound too painful to be part of the wonderful afterlife God promises?

skull2If it’s painful it’s the sort of pain a training athlete gladly undergoes to improve. If it’s difficult it’s the rigorous discipline a scholar happily imposes on himself to learn. It mirrors our current life of struggle with sin only after death we will be free from the weakness of our flesh. It may be painful but it won’t be suffering because we want to be purified for God’s sake. Our focus will be solely on God.

In heaven we will see God face to face, all the truth, goodness and beauty we have been seeking all our lives will be right there before us. We won’t be able to take it in all at once, no, we will have a glorious eternity to get to know our infinite God better.

But wait, there’s more…

We will be in union with the angels and saints, rejoicing with them in an interdependence and shared love that eclipses any friendship we experience now. Isolation and loneliness will be no more. Imagine all the blessings of life with your church family and multiply by a really big number.

Still not done…

We will have our resurrected, transfigured bodies in a redeemed universe. God called creation good so why wouldn’t He clean up our mess, why wouldn’t He make it better?

What does all this look like?  Who knows!

In the RCIA class last week when we learned about the Catholic Church’s teachings on death and resurrection we watched a movie by Father (now Bishop) Robert Barron on these “last things” and he said something I’ve been meditating on but haven’t gotten my head completely wrapped around:

As we share in God’s love now, as we seek a closer relationship with God and His people now, as we receive little tastes of heaven now, as we seek purity (being more like Christ) now, we should work on something else too. As we acknowledge the mystery of God and prepare ourselves for the unimaginable happiness of heaven we should…

Cultivate a capacity for surprise!

May you freely accept God’s love and know that death is just that dark moment before the lights come on and everyone you love leaps out and shouts, SURPRISE!

Finding the Gardener

Smooth and fresh, as tender as a spring strawberry ripe for the picking,

Red and sun warm, smelling of heaven, desired by all…

Can we believe it?  Will anyone believe it?

There is nothing to believe because we glow, we can be tasted… touched

But have we forgotten something?

I stop and turn, I turn when I stop, my back is to them…

I want to be the one who returns, who searches for the gardener.

 

The way is straight, the rows are narrow green and lush.

Like a fool I turn and turn again rooting myself to this spot… alone…

Is that the right way? Would this way be better?

Weeds are green, I should know, I planted them!

I hack and slash like a mad barber who hates hair, who loathes scalps, who rejects style

But raised hands stop me, a bowed head stills me.

I want to be the one who returns, who searches for the gardener.

 

There is mud between my toes, my fingernails are dirty black,

I look for tracks, sniffing like a hound dog straining at the leash…

Who’s holding my lead?  Who’s jerking my chain?

My sad eyes follow the rope to a familiar hand with black fingernails,

“Let go hand! We’re meant to be free.”

I catch the scent and plunge forward, sounds rising in my throat…

I want to be the one who returns, who searches for the gardener.

 

I run up and down the rows under the blazing yellow sun

Past trellis and stalks, flowers and canes, beds and furrows…

Why is there such order? Why is it so big?

I stop by the sunflowers; their heavy, drooping heads give me shade.

I squat down and find a hoe, in awe I reach for it

The handle is shiny from use; the head gleaming…

I want to be the one who returns, who searches for the gardener.

 

Movement ahead, someone with a shovel in hand!

Waving the hoe in the blue sky like a battle flag I rush forward…

Could it be him? Dare I speak?

Like lovers we run toward each other, arms reaching, eyes searching

But we face each other with shared thirst and cracked lips…

Joined by a woman with a rake we shoulder our tools and march on…

We want to be the one who returns, who searches for the gardener.

 

She sees the cave first, spotting him dressed all in white;

We lay his tools at his feet and drop to our knees…

What do we do?  What’s next?

Laughing he puts the tools back in our hands but we cradle them in our arms so our hands can be free

We beg, we hold cardboards signs saying “Will work for food”

And he fills us to overflowing!

We returned, we found the gardener.

 

He swept us up in his hands and poured us in his brown sack,

We were hard dusty seeds jumbled together, all different shapes and sizes…

Did I make a mistake?  Is this the end?

In handfuls, he flings us in the air over soft, loamy, tilled soil;

In terror I plunged to the earth, afraid of being lost, drowning in rain…

His callused, scarred hands caress our tender green shoots…

By finding the gardener we were made part of his garden.

I Remember…

I remember that my parents brought me to be baptized when I was a squalling two month old who didn’t know his hand from his foot. Pastor Rumsch poured water on my little bald head and baptized me in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Suddenly, by God’s grace and the sacred waters of baptism, I was washed clean, gifted with the Holy Spirit and named a child of God. That I don’t directly remember this spiritual birth any more than I remember my physical birth doesn’t matter, my parents told me about it and that is part of the grace I received. My believing parents brought me to God, faith passed on. Thank you Mom and Dad.

I remember sitting in the little tiered “jury box” my last year of confirmation classes as Pastor Rumsch paced in front of us on linoleum worn white by his shoes over the years holding Luther’s Small Catechism open in his hand. His, no doubt, wise words bounced off my brain like pistol rounds pinging off a rock without leaving an impression. I sat in fear of being asked a question knowing I had failed to memorize my catechism. How I survived the final oral exam in front of the congregation and was confirmed must be chalked up to God’s grace. I was jealous that most of the kids in my class stopped going to Sunday School and even church after we were confirmed while Mom made me keep going. I am thankful for my Mom’s perseverance… now.

I remember my first Communion. Now that I was confirmed I could receive like everyone else. It was with some excitement that I walked down the aisle toward the altar but then I tried to remember what I was taught about this sacrament. I couldn’t recall any of the stuff I was supposed to have memorized. I got a little panicky as we knelt at the communion rail and racked my brains for answers but none came. Suddenly I was offered the wafer, “the body of Christ”, and tried to chew at the tough disc as the tray of little cups of wine was offered to me, “the blood of Christ”, and gasped at the alcohol burn. I was as clueless at this sacrament as I was when I was baptized only this time I knew it. I am thankful for God’s mercy.

I remember going back to church again after nearly twenty years of being away. Called back like a salmon who returns to the stream it was hatched in, I let instinct lead me back to a Lutheran church. Only now my brain was no longer an impenetrable stone and even my heart was a little softer. I came to love God, church, the Bible and communion; they became the center of my world. I thank God for his patience.

I remember the recent but growing call to the Catholic Church, the doubts, the worries, my attempts to ignore it, to explain it away and put it off. The dis-ease of trying to dodge around this call, the internal stresses caused by shrugging off God’s directions finally reached a crisis point this summer. I had the desperate need to act, an almost instinctual knowledge that it would be spiritually perilous for me if I continued to do nothing. So I called Holy Apostles to ask for information, secretly wondering how long I could sit on that information, but when I talked to Mary Wax she thought it would be best if I just came down to talk in person… and she was free. I thank God for His persistence and Mary for her timeliness.

I will not forget the people sent to guide me on my way: my sponsor Larry, calm, cheerful, down-to-earth and always ready to answer my questions; my classroom table leaders David and Dean, knowledgeable, earnest and with a wonderfully warped sense of humor; the other sponsors at the table, Kate and Bill; and my fellow learners at the table, Aric, James and Chris whose stories and insights buoyed my own faith. And Father Len for granting me such a mercy.

Larry wrote me a letter of encouragement, I’d like to share one paragraph…

“Your spiritual growth will be a lifelong adventure that will be played out daily. By getting to know God, you will feel more comfortable allowing God to show you the way to reflect your Catholic faith. Over time, your faith will begin to be reflected more and more in your daily life.  Do not worry about doubts. From time to time we all struggle with our small holes of unbelief. As you make your lifelong journey to know God and with a rich prayer life, God will help you to fill any holes of unbelief you may have experienced. You will find your way.”

Thank you Larry for being a hole filler!

I will not forget Saturday evening, the Easter Vigil. A lot of the Vigil was about remembering, making the past present so the gifts of God through the ages would be gifts for us as well here and now just like my infant baptism is still a gift, present and real for me now.

We remembered that Jesus Christ is our only light in a sin dark world.

We remembered that God created the universe and life and proclaimed it good. He made humans in His image and blessed us which makes us unique in creation… set apart… holy. God was so pleased with His creation he called it very good. We are not an afterthought or a God sized accident.

We remembered the example of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Abraham loved God more than anything else in his life… what did that do to his relationship with Isaac? Evidently it survived and God’s blessings were passed on. Faith is more shown that taught.

We remembered how God busted the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt helping them escape through the sea prefiguring our own escape from bondage to sin through the waters of baptism.

We remembered how God was willing to warn the Jews of their disobedience and it’s consequences, showing us He is not a gotcha-god but is a loving Father.

We remembered how God offered the Jews a way back to him after they callously rejected him assuring us of His great mercy and desire to forgive.

We remembered that this picture we have of God from the Old Testament is made complete in Jesus Christ so that by dying with Him, dying to sin, we will rise with Him. Christ made the ancient stories present and true for us.

And we remembered that Christ rose from the dead, we have nothing to fear!

Then we got to witness dozens of our brothers and sisters in Christ get baptized after which we all renewed our baptismal vows… again making the past present to us. Then those of us who were baptized in Protestant churches professed our faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church to be revealed by God.

Yes, I am a Catholic!

Then the whole group of us, nearly 100 people, were Confirmed. Father John anointed us with oil and sealed us with the gift of the Holy Spirit and we were given a red stole to welcome us to the Church. And then we got to the part we’d all been waiting for…

The Eucharist!

Even in this sacred act we are remembering, making the past part of our present, part of our lives. But these memories aren’t lines in a book or thoughts in our brain or symbols in our imagination but really and truly Jesus Christ, His Body, His Blood, inside us, fueling our lives.

It was with a certain giddy excitement that I received, I’m pretty sure I was grinning like a fool through it all but I was feeling such gratitude… They call it a celebration for a reason.

I want to end this with the prayer Larry wrote for me and I pray it now for you all.

May God bless you! May he make you lie down in green pastures and lead you beside still waters. May he always restore your soul and lead you in paths of righteousness… always.

Holy Week

CrucifixionWe are at the beginning of the most special week of the year for Christendom; a week when the past becomes present, the present becomes a prayer, and the future is full of promise. It is like life itself, this week, we mustn’t shy away from the dark depths or we won’t be able to recognize the brightness of joy.

However, we shouldn’t trick ourselves into thinking that Christ’s suffering is in the past and we are only working up feelings of gratitude this week when we know the Body of Christ suffered a violent, deadly blow yesterday when bombs went off in two churches in Egypt during Palm Sunday worship. May their suffering be ours and may we join it with Christ’s suffering which leads to a glorious hope.

For those of us in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) this Holy Week holds a special promise and a heightened anticipation. On Saturday’s Easter Vigil we will be Confirmed and then receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist meal! Two Sacraments! (Some will be getting Baptized that night too so really three Sacraments)

cupI am in awe at the offer of so much undeserved grace and it is thrilling to think that at the end of Saturday I will literally have Christ inside me, bearing Him like the Virgin Mary bore him for nine months. I can only paraphrase Mary and say:

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to His word.”

I didn’t choose this path to Catholicism. Those six months of experiencing the broken, disunited nature of Christian churches, chronicled in this blog, sent me in search of something solid. I never felt like I lacked anything in the Lutheran church and am very grateful for the years I was there where the Holy Spirit was hard at work in me and in the people around me. But I was like a little kid, I only knew my home and loved it because it was my home. As I ventured out my idea of home changed; I ceased to see the church as my place, small and comfortable, but God’s place stretching out beyond my vision and understanding.

But this is Holy Week, it’s not about me so I’m going to stop musing about myself, my faith, and my journey which has got to be boring everyone to death by now and invite you all to reflect on God. Don’t think about what He is or why or who… all mysteries beyond our imaginations, but think about how He is, a loving God.

Meditate now on the love you see in the Nicene Creed as you reflect this week on Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Healed to be a Healer

garbage-dump-trash-heap-junk-pileAt an informal meeting over beer with several area church youth directors several years ago one of them told a story about his recent mission trip. On the drive across country in the vans a boy sent a graphic photo to a girl in another van. Somehow it was done anonymously but the girl was understandably upset and told Ric about it. Knowing this event would cloud the whole trip he had the boys come to his hotel room one at a time that night in the hopes that the one who did it would fess up and they could get it worked out. He expected to hear a lot of, it wasn’t me’s, but instead the boys began spontaneously confessing to all the things they felt guilty over that had nothing to do with the trip. For an hour he listened as the boys dumped their junk at his feet. He said it changed the whole tenor of the trip for the better and then he mused…

Maybe our Protestant churches have missed out on a powerful thing by not having the sacrament of confession.

Now that I have taken part in my first Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Sacrament of Healing or Sacrament of Penance or Sacrament of Confession) I have to say I agree with him.

But it’s not just a matter of dumping your junk.

Jesus told a weird parable about the guy who gets rid of a devil but is content to just be free of the problem and doesn’t fill the void with anything. So the devil comes back with friends and the guy is worse off than ever. As a Sacrament, Reconciliation is not just meant to make us feel better about ourselves or to give us relief from guilt but to make room in our lives for a fuller relationship with God.

To get there you have to spend some time in preparation, that’s what Lent is all about.

On three Sunday’s during Lent those of us seeking to enter the Catholic Church undergo… DUH Duh duhhhh! (that was spine-tingling music) The Scrutinies.  No doubt you’re imagining whips, chains and maybe some time for us on the rack. Sorry to disappoint you but the Scrutinies are a time of prayer and blessing. Those of us seeking to become part of the Catholic Church kneel while our sponsors beside us and the whole congregation put their hands over us while the priest prays that the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to our sins and our hearts to contrition.

What a powerful blessing for anyone seeking a closer union with God.

In the first Scrutiny we ask God to reveal to us our personal sins. When we think of sin these are the kinds of things we normally think of, the personal failures and weaknesses that a deep meditation on the Ten Commandments will reveal to us. As I’ve discussed before no sin is personal in the sense that it effects only me. All sin is, at its core, damaging to relationships with both God and people. Whether we really like the sin or it makes us loath ourselves these are things that distance us from God and others so we ask God to sharpen our conscience so we can recognize them.

The next week we prayed that God reveals social sins to us. We’re not talking about using the wrong fork at the dinner table here. Social sins are those we do as a people, they’re part of the system and we blithely write them off because its not our fault, its just the way things are. Churches especially need to pray to have their eyes opened to these sins because it’s so easy for the culture of a church to become toxic, to become what an old Lutheran pastor friend used to call, The Frozen Chosen. These sins are more difficult to see but shatter love just as readily as any personal sin so God’s help is vital.

In the final Scrutiny we ask God to show us our cosmic sins. No, it’s not about all that garbage we left on the Moon nor is a study of Carl Sagan’s writings necessary. I was having a tough time putting my finger on this one until yesterday’s homily. Cosmic sins are about death but not the end-of-our-time-on-earth death…

This sin is about our living, breathing, walking around everyday death.

aGod made us in His image, He gave us gifts unique to each of us, He has a clear plan for how we fit into His awesome creation. That image, those gifts, that plan all combine to form a bright, good and glorious life.

LIFE!

Not mere existence, not limping along, not just happy to be here but life to its fullest. This is the life Christ came to make possible for us yet all too often out of fear, pain, doubt, or a broken past we don’t embrace this self that God intended, we shy away from the gifts lavished on us, we see ourselves as unworthy of being in His image and we don’t live that life. So we are dead.

How is this a cosmic sin? Think of Creation as a giant tapestry. If all the brightly colored threads let themselves be sewn into the picture they will be part of a thing of beauty. But imagine the threads saying things like:

“I don’t want to be red.”

“I just can’t make this pattern, it’s too hard.”

“I don’t deserve to be part of something beautiful.”

“I would rather drift on the wind on my own.”

“There’s no tapestry, there’s just the random threads that surround me.”

“The other threads aren’t doing what I want, I quit.”

It’s not just the individual thread that gets hurt, the whole tapestry is damaged. We are each here on purpose with a spectacular God-life to live that fits in with the whole of Creation so if we don’t live that life, if we are the walking dead, it is not just ourselves we are hurting but all of Creation. That sounds pretty cosmic to me.

It’s a little unnerving to spend a couple of weeks praying for your sins to be revealed to you and eye opening to seek a softened, contrite heart. I didn’t want to be but I was nervous when I went to Reconciliation. Nerves are a good thing though, tells you you’re approaching something real… important… sacred. There were no little dark booths, just two easy chairs facing each other.

Confession was a conversation… like prayer.

Absolution was awesome… like God.

I was left with the heady combination of elation and gratitude… like grace.

Before we lined up to take our turns in Reconciliation the priest reminded us that this was a Sacrament, it wasn’t just for us, it was meant to send us into the world forgiven so we could be forgivers because forgiving others is a big part of living LIFE and living it to the fullest.

 

Who Are Your Companions in Faith?

downloadWhat’s in a name?

Sometimes we are named after family or friends to honor someone we know but kids are often named after someone famous or a favorite fictional character. Sometimes parents pick a name because they like the sound of it while now and then parents get really creative and make something up.

My daughter is named after a mountain.

Before we had kids Joy and I were driving through the mountains of eastern Oregon to visit family and we passed a sign for the road to Mt. Emily. Immediately Joy exclaimed that Emily is a pretty name and if we ever have a daughter we should call her Emily. So we did.

Names were important to the Jews in the Bible, they had meanings and helped define a person. On a couple occasions God even changed someones name to mark a turning point in their life, a transformation, a new identity.

In a similar way it is a tradition in the Catholic Church to pick a Confirmation name, usually chosen from among those who have been recognized as Saints by the church. Our choices could be made based on admiration, a desire to imitate, a shared passion, or someone you relate to. You don’t actually change your legal name, this is your Confirmation name, a statement that this is someone I hope to model my life on and whom I can turn to for guidance.

Of course Saints aren’t gods or substitutes for God as I have already discussed in a previous post.  The qualities Saints are known for are the qualities Christ modeled for us, therefore, what we admire in a Saint is their imitation of Christ. So it’s really all about Jesus.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is an extension and deepening of the grace of Baptism. In Confirmation we are “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” and as I wrote before we are strengthened to serve. Once confirmed we will be able to participate in the Sacrament of the Eucharist so in many different ways this Confirmation marks a turning point, a transformation, a new identity and justifies a new name to remind us that what is happening is important.

I ended up with three Saints to choose from. It took me a long time to decide.

francis de salesThe first Saint I chose was St. Francis de Sales because he is the patron saint to writers. I admired his patience and fortitude, his struggles with family to become a priest, and the trials he endured in Switzerland to convert the Calvinists back to Catholicism. He knocked on thousands of doors and had those doors slammed in his face. He even got treed by wild dogs once and spent the night perched in the branches while the beasts prowled below. Finally he started writing pamphlets and slipped them under people’s doors. He was kind to and played with the children he came across which helped soften the parents reaction toward him so he ended up converting tens of thousands of people back to Catholicism. He even wrote a book called “Introduction to the Devout Life” written not for monks and priests but for the layman who wanted to know how to work AND be devoted to God. Add to all this the hilarious coincidence that St. Francis de Sales was bald and bearded like me and I was ready to choose him immediately. But the more I read about him the more I learned that he did not make quick decisions and instead thought it important to take his time, pray and wait for God be the sure guide. If I’m going to make this guy my patron saint I guess I’d better take his advice…

FNeriWhile using an Advent devotional booklet I came across my next saint, St. Philip Neri. What initially attracted me to him was he was dubbed the joyful saint and since I like to laugh, a lot, I decided to read up on the guy. Right away I found I liked him, he didn’t seek titles or the priesthood but jumped right in to serving God and the people around him as a layman. Eventually he was convinced to become a priest but sought to be a hermit. But since he had a rather unconventional church in Rome and obeyed his superiors who wanted him to stay, he became a hermit in the big city. He didn’t grouse about constant interruptions in his meditations but was famous for saying (something like) “I leave Christ to speak with Christ” whenever a need pulled him away from his prayers. He had unique ways of converting the young hipsters of his day and was always intent on showing people the supreme joy of following Christ.

San-Carlo-BorromeoThen my sponsor, Larry, said I should look into St. Charles Borromeo, a saint he was reminded of when he looked up the name of the church he was confirmed in as a boy. Right off the bat you notice his first name is the same as mine. Anyway, St. Charles dedicated himself to serving the church at a very young age and ended up in a very high and influential position in the church very quickly. He was a tireless worker, reliable and virtuous so the leadership roles kept getting heaped upon him. He became a dedicated reformer within the church and even survived an assassination attempt by a group that didn’t want things to change. He was influential in the Council of Trent that pointed out the errors of Luther and instituted many reforms. He went into deep personal debt helping people during an outbreak of the plague. His advice was sought by kings and other European leaders. If only Luther had sought to make reforms from within the church like St Charles Borromeo!

It struck me, as a Lutheran converting to Catholicism, that all three of these guys were part of the post-reformation Catholic church and all three fought against Protestantism’s ideas and influences. All three were also a challenge, a daunting challenge, to consider using as my Confirmation name.

I prayed, I read about them over and over but I still wasn’t getting any closer to picking one over another. Then I eliminated St. Charles because I did not see myself as becoming an influential part of church leadership nor was that a call I felt at all. But I was still torn, Francis or Philip, Francis or Philip, nothing was coming to me until…

Lent, that time of preparation for Easter when we seek to renew our commitment to Christ and deepen our faith, is a good time to try new ways of devotion to God. One of the things I adopted during this Lent was using the church’s little black devotional booklet on a daily basis. One of the entries talked about Saints and how, back in the day, Saints were looked on more as companions than patrons of certain activities. I had no doubt that both men would make fine companions but I also knew at the back of  my mind I would always see St. Francis de Sales as an aid to my writing which had the germ of a self serving choice hidden in it. St. Philip Neri is a challenge but also a cheerful companion that can show me how to serve as a layman and teach me how to use humor to serve the church without being foolish. So…

St. Phillip Neri it is!

I am not abandoning St. Charles Borromeo and St. Francis de Sales as friends and companions and patrons; along with St. Philip Neri maybe I should call them my Three Amigos or something. Nor will they be the last Saints I study and talk to because…

I need all the help I can get to live the Christ-life.

Is Human Life Sacred?

cardboardboxStapling cardboard boxes together all day leaves a guy with plenty of time for conversation. That’s how I learned the life story of a young man in the loft above an Alaskan salmon cannery. I spent plenty of time that summer down in the cannery where you wear ear plugs to dull the racket from the machinery and conversation has to be short enough to shout directly in the ear. My day in the loft was luxury. I was dry, warm and it was quiet.

I had just graduated from college so was a young man myself but my companion was just out of high school. He was an Alaskan native from Juneau who was trying to earn enough money to buy a pinball machine so he could start a business leasing them to bars. I don’t remember his name or what tribe he belonged to but I remember his story.

He had never met his father.  His mom was a bartender and had a drinking problem, he was a result of a drunken one night stand. My own normal family life with a dad, mom and a bunch of older brothers left me reacting in shock to this admission. He shrugged, said his mom was great when she was sober and said his story was nothing compared to his sister’s. I was all ears.

One night after his mom had closed the bar and started staggering home, drunk as usual he said, she was grabbed by three sailors and dragged into an alley. She knew they were sailors in port with a merchant ship because they had been buying drinks from her in the bar that night. They beat her up, stripped her and took turns raping her. She passed out at some point in the ordeal and was found nearly dead from exposure in the morning. What with ships coming and going and her inability to describe them very well they were never caught.

“That,” he said, “is how my mom got pregnant with my sister.”

I was shocked. I was shocked that he told the story so openly and so matter-of-factly. I was shocked by the terrible circumstances, a reality I couldn’t imagine. I was also shocked by the outcome and said so.

“She got pregnant from a gang rape? Why didn’t she get an abortion?”

The look on his face told me he was the one in shock now, he even stopped putting the plastic liners in the cardboard boxes to reply.

“It wasn’t my sister’s fault!”

I was too stunned to reply. We worked in silence for awhile before changing the subject but his words “it wasn’t my sister’s fault” kept bouncing around in my head. It was at that moment that doubts in the conventional wisdom that says there are times abortion is justified and a right were formed in my mind. To this day whenever someone tries to tell me it’s good that abortion is legal I hear that guy’s words, “it wasn’t my sister’s fault.”

The Catholic teachings on the sacredness of human life are not wrapped around the issue of abortions and choice but they do inform the Church’s right-to-life stance as well as its understanding of marriage, human freedom, dignity and love. Our class on the sanctity of human life showed me these are more than just issues of our day but define who we are.

As always, it starts with God.

God created us. God decided who we are and what our purpose is. We were created with a dignity and value not tied to our life’s circumstances but inherent in who we are, a gift from God that can’t be taken away. Jesus entered into our world of circumstances, good and bad. He was born in a stable, yet his dignity and value were not diminished. This is part of why Jesus said…

“Love your enemies.”

The people that make our blood boil, that drive us to distraction, are children of God just like you and me. They have dignity, value and are loved by God. Jesus died for them too.

The problem is we live in a culture that wants to decide what is right and wrong for itself, that believes morality is something personal. Ever had someone say, “well that’s true for you but not for me”? Is truth relative? Does everybody get to decide what is true for themselves? God made us free but freedom does not consist in deciding what is right or wrong. God has established what is right and wrong and we are free to choose from his definitions, not make up our own. Our conscience is not meant to look for loopholes but to make judgments in agreement with God’s law.

earthLook at God’s caring presence to all creation. The abundance of our little blue planet is awesome to behold. God made life possible on this rock hurtling through space and continues to sustain it in ways we can’t even imagine. There isn’t starvation and poverty in the world because God is stingy with resources but because we are. You and I combine dirt, water, manure and light and we get… stinky mud.  When God combines them he gets abundance, green life that can feed us, house us, and leave us in awe.

God gave us life and gives us the means to live that life… with abundance. He made us in His image and our image of God is a communion of persons who perfectly love each other.

We were made to love others.

Not a love based on feelings or desires but we were made to give and thrive on authentic love, a love that seeks the best for the other person. This is why marriage is a sacrament, a sacred act within the Catholic Church, and just as God’s Trinitarian love resulted in Creation, marriages too can create new life.

Men and women do not create life out of nothing but through the process God made possible. The unique individual two people create through sexual union is therefore a result of God’s divine plan and that new life has dignity, value and a soul from the moment of conception. It’s not just a cluster of growing cells, it’s…

someones sister,

someone’s brother,

someone’s grandchild,

someone’s friend,

who all happen to be God’s child.

Our culture encourages us to focus on ourselves, our pleasures, to ask ourselves what is best for me. But we were designed to focus on others, to work for what is best for them as God defines “best.”

What makes people most fully  human?

Becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. Not an easy thing, not a thing we can do by sheer force of will. It is a lifetime of seeking God’s help, of desiring the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, of pursuing purity of heart. To be holy does not mean we are perfect but that we are actively seeking God’s holiness.

May you realize that God loves you and has given you a dignity and value no one can take away from you. May that assurance help you to see the dignity and worth of everyone around you so you may give them authentic love because you know they are your brothers and they are your sisters.