How Can Jesus Touch Your Life Today?

“Jesus, name full of glory, grace, love and strength! You are the refuge of those who repent, our banner of warfare in this life, the medicine of souls, the comfort of those who mourn, the delight of those who believe, the light of those who preach the true faith, the wages of those who toil, the healing of the sick… We delight in contemplating you.  O name of Jesus, you are the glory of all the saints for eternity.  Amen.”

St. Bernadine of Siena

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Living On The Far Side

“Now Christianity proposes a completely different account of how history comes to a climax and what precisely constitutes the new order of the ages—which helps to explain why so many of modernity’s avatars, from Diderot to Christopher Hitchens, have specially targeted Christianity. On the Christian reading, history reached its highpoint when a young first-century Jewish rabbi, having been put to death on a brutal Roman instrument of torture, was raised from the dead through the power of the God of Israel. The state-sponsored murder of Jesus, who had dared to speak and act in the name of Israel’s God, represented the world’s resistance to the Creator. It was the moment when cruelty, hatred, violence, and corruption—symbolized in the Bible as the watery chaos—spent itself on Jesus. The resurrection, therefore, showed forth the victory of the divine love over those dark powers. St. Paul can say, “I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God,” precisely because he lived on the far side of the resurrection.”

Fr. Robert E. Barron

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The Paradox of Suffering

“Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be! I would almost rather eliminate happiness. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.”

“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained”

Two quotes from Malcolm Muggeridge

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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.