Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Two Shall Be One

Rich, my husband, professed himself a Roman Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2005. I was heart sick for us and furious with the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence we would not share communion unless I converted as well. Hoping for some agreement, I accepted the offer of receiving a blessing, but resented it because I thought it to be a humiliation instead. What seemed equitable from a Catholic standpoint seemed to me unfair and divisive. I could not receive communion, but like a preschooler, I could receive a blessing.

I was resolved. I would not leave my husband’s side. He’d been drawn into the Roman Catholic Church and I would be there with him. If I was denied Communion, somehow, I would deal with it.

In late July of 2005, the loving hand of Christ reached out to my aching heart. When I accepted Jesus’ invitation to open my blinded eyes, the Holy Spirit instructed me that Jesus was indeed present at the Mass. Christ’s loving favor revealed anew His centrality to my salvation and my dependency upon Him. With this instruction came Christ’s gift of welcome to receive a spiritual communion from Him in place of the actual elements of bread and wine. Later that year I began to understand the privilege Christ had given me to ask for and receive a blessing. I found in what had seemed at first a humiliation, a valuable lesson in humility.

My pain diminished. But Rich’s pain did not. He endured the grief of our forced disconnection at Communion, suffering in quiet resolve to be faithful to his calling.

In 2006, Pope Benedict called marriages like ours “laboratories of unity.” He enjoined us all to observe how Christian unity might be fleshed out in inter-churched families. Surely, Pope Benedict has seen into the heart of this laboratory, rife with the past sins of our forefathers.

In our own laboratory, we needed to clear out the failed experiments of the past, such as our favorite points of theological argument, and the well-rehearsed history lessons of Christians on both sides of the theological aisle who fought, and killed others to prove their doctrinal correctness. Unless these failures were dumped into the incinerator, our laboratory would be contaminated with putrefying fraternal carnage and the decaying remnants of hurtful words, unrighteous anger, theological pride, and unforgiving attitudes.

We learned the love of Christ nullifies these contaminants.

By fall 2006, we had lived almost two years in our “laboratory of unity.” Jesus was still the center of our home and we were in love with Him and united in our resolve to remain, as we had always been – one in Christ.

Rich and I may have taken our place in unity’s laboratory in spring 2005, but our original experiment began in 1975 when our pastor pronounced, “Whom God has joined together let no man put asunder.” When he introduced Rich and me as a married couple, he declared us “one in Christ.” We stood before the congregation as one-flesh, a dual oneness, and a biblical view of marriage.

God saw us as one. Yet we needed to mature into His vision for us in our daily life as husband and wife. And so, God took two people, committed to Him and to each other, and worked through our divergent cultural backgrounds. Rich was from New York; I was from the rural Midwest. He was of Jewish background; I was mainline Protestant. His cultural heritage hearkened to Jewish and Italian; mine, to Scotch/Irish, French, and Norwegian.

Our differences loomed immediately. But, as a friend commented after we married, our common bond was our total commitment to Jesus as our savior.

After thirty years of iron sharpening iron, clinging together and to Christ, the Holy Spirit led us though poverty, parenthood, prosperity, sickness, loss, and multiple moves across the globe. Jesus took the sinfulness of our lives and the clash of our wills – and by His grace continued to turn us toward His will.

Rich and I learned to cherish our marriage covenant, and we worked hard to reach agreement in each major issue of our life as a couple. This facilitated our growth as a one-flesh couple. But when Rich joined the Catholic Church and I did not, our conundrum in 2005 was how to reach an accord. Our accord would need to include very different theological points of view, while still preserving the richness and emotional supportive elements of our oneness.

The Catholic/Non-Catholic maelstrom had eased considerably by the fall of 2006. At this time, Rich shared with me his desire to serve our church congregation as a Eucharistic minister.

Neither of us realized the sword this simple act of ministry would send into our marriage. Once Rich had been instructed in his duties as a Eucharistic minister, it dawned on him that he would need to refuse to give me the body and blood of Christ. The realization broke open the wound he had thought was healed. The joy of being one flesh again had strengthened Rich in his commitment to follow Jesus in his Catholic faith. It had brought peace and spiritual growth to me as well. But now, the immutable nature of our oneness seemed in danger of being despoiled.

Rich pondered with me this new challenge. How would we mitigate this sorrow and remain strong and maturing in our relationship as husband and wife? Our priority was to set aside our angst. We remembered some Protestant churches do not offer Communion to non-members. The Roman Catholic Church was not the only Christian body that practiced “closed communion.” No doubt we would have been divided by the same rule if one of us were a member of such a Protestant community while the other was not.

To diminish the potential for new divisiveness, we agreed that I would never be in a line to receive from Rich’s ministrations. Should I find myself in line to receive a blessing from Rich, I would move to a different part of the church, or if this was not possible, I would remain in my pew. Meanwhile, Rich would try to place himself in a part of the sanctuary that was far away from me.

The unintended consequence of the rules surrounding the Eucharistic celebration has been a furnace burning off some of the dross that clung to our oneness. In our laboratory, externally applied dictates forcing us to be separate, strengthened our resolve and purpose to live for Christ. What looked at first like another point of difference has only added strength to our life together.

Shared pain binds us deeper and stronger than easy harmony.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hospitality and the 40 Days for Life Prayer Vigil

I haven’t added anything to the blog for the past few weeks because I am involved in an ancient tradition of the Church called hospitality. Hospitality has been fundamental to the Father’s embrace and the Christian life of faith in Jesus since the beginning of the Church.

I am currently reading a book on this subject, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, by Christine C. Pohl. Through it, I’m discovering the importance of extending hospitality to all human life, and how a person’s life of faith will either flourish or shrivel in relation to our expression of hospitality.

Pohl writes:

“When a person who is not valued by society is received by a socially respected person or group as a human being with dignity and worth, small transformations occur. The person’s self-assessment, so often tied to societal assessment, is enhanced. Because such actions are counter cultural, they are a witness to the larger community, which is then challenged to reassess its standards and methods of valuing. Many persons who are not valued by the larger community are essentially invisible to it. When people are socially invisible, their needs and concerns are not acknowledged and no one even notices the injustices they suffer. Hospitality can begin a journey toward visibility and respect.”*

Christians have always been on the forefront of inclusion and welcome to the least of society’s members. Until I read this book I didn’t consider a prayer vigil to end abortion a practice of hospitality. Certainly, our welcome must include the pre-born. It is such a Christian thing to do.

I’ve been too busy to add to my blog because I am currently extending hospitality through the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil. This vigil will last through the month of October.

Should you desire to become involved in your local Prayer Vigil, log onto the 40 Days website:

*Making Room, by Christine D. Pohl, chapter 4, page 62.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"To God Be the Glory..."

In 2006, I stared at the rosary beads in my hands and wondered how that string of beads could help me talk with my Father in heaven. How could something so foreign, so symbolically Catholic, be useful to a child of the Reformation? Unknown to me, those beads would let Christ’s bright mirror shine into a hidden place that had crippled my walk with Him. Moving the beads through my fingers, I pondered what I was about to explore and how strange it was that I had kept those beads, a reminder of my visit to Rome in the 1970s, for over 30 years.

As I began to pray, I felt uncomfortable using the Marian prayer of a traditional rosary, because it reflected the Catholic mind set I was unfamiliar with, loving Jesus with Mary’s heart, and because addressing the glorified Saints in heaven was prohibited to me for conscious sake.* Furthermore, I did not I want to repeat some phrases I might make up in my own mind. However, I wanted to honor the historic sense and use of the Mysteries (explained below) and the five (what are called) Decades of prayer that separate the Mysteries. (A Decade is comprised of ten beads).

I reasoned that since the rosary became a popular substitute for the Paternoster prayers early in its history, it seemed only right to center my rosary prayers on the Trinity. The three beads at the beginning of the rosary seemed an ideal place to start my prayer to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Using a small reference card I’d bought in a local Catholic bookstore, I noted the basic elements of the rosary: making the Sign of the Cross to begin; on the crucifix, the Apostle’s Creed; recited in order on the next five beads, the Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer), three Hail Mary prayers, and the Glory Be (the Doxology). For each Decade, beginning the circuit with the Center (defined below), there is a reflection on the Mystery, an Our Father, followed by ten Hail Mary prayers (one Hail Mary on each bead), and, finally, a Glory Be. This pattern continues for all five Decades. The rosary ends at the Center with the prayer, Hail, Holy Queen, where additional petitions can be added as desired. Last of all, a person makes the Sign of the Cross.

I began my rosary with the Sign of the Cross and then I recited the Nicene Creed (instead of the Apostle’s Creed). I said the Nicene Creed because I was most familiar with it, since we repeat it at each Mass. Then, on the first bead, I said the Our Father. On the next three beads, I addressed the Trinity saying:

“Dear Father, Creator of the Universe, my God and King, have mercy on us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Lord Jesus, Savior, Lamb of God, have mercy on us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. Sweet Holy Spirit, Teacher, Paraclete, have mercy on us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Then I said a Glory Be on the fifth bead (next to the Center, which is usually a small metal image of Mary, Jesus, or a Saint). On the Center, I stated my petition for whomever I was praying the rosary (prayer intentions). At first, I prayed only for Mother Angelica because it was for her health I had promised to say the rosary, but soon I had a list of many prayer intentions.

On the Center, I recited the first Mystery. (The Mysteries are based on the life of Christ and take us through the Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous, and Glorious sets of five mysteries. For example, the Joyful Mysteries take a person from the annunciation of the angel to Mary, the visitation of Mary with Elizabeth, the birth of the Lord, His dedication in the temple, and the Lord in the Temple when he was twelve. The Glorious Mysteries take us through the resurrection of Christ, His ascension to heaven, the descent of the Holy Spirit, Mary’s assumption into heaven, and the crowning of Mary among the saints in heaven). These last two Glorious Mysteries were difficult for me to consider at the time. I had no idea how I could relate to them as they were beyond my Protestant tradition. In their stead, I found it easier to reflect on the first preaching of the gospel at Pentecost and the first Gentile conversions at the house of Cornelius.

Since the card did not tell me that it was a common practice to say a particular set of Mysteries on certain days of the week, I initially chose to reflect on only the Luminous Mysteries: Jesus’ baptism, the wedding at Cana, Christ’s three-year earthly ministry, the Mount of Transfiguration and the institution of the Last Supper -- or, the Eucharist.

For the five sets of ten beads (Decades) I chose scripture passages because I remembered how often in Protestant Bible studies I had been encouraged to pray the Scriptures. After much thought, I chose five portions of Scripture that seemed random at first but which I now see fit me perfectly. For the ten beads of Decade one, I prayed Romans 8:28-39, Decade two, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Decade three, I John 4:7-21, Decade four, Ephesians 6:10-20, Decade five, Matthew 6:1-15. On some beads, I prayed two verses so that I could complete my Scripture recitation in one Decade. After each Decade I recited the Glory Be but opted not to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of each Decade. However, by the end of that year, I’d finish my rosary with one last prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for Mary, her willingness to embrace the will of the Father and her steadfast resolve to accept her role as the mother of Jesus the Messiah.

True to my pledge, I prayed each day, or if I missed a day, two the next.

I was surprised; the rosary prayers did not generate boredom. In fact, I found nothing boring about them. My concentration was on Jesus and reflection on the words I was praying. Hour by hour and from day to day, I discovered my familiarity with the prayers allowed me to explore their nuances. For example, each word of the Our Father became a topic of reflection in relation to my attitude and life as a Christian. How and why did I address God as Father? What was my responsibility to the body of Christ when I acknowledged that relationship with the word Our? Did I honor the Father’s Personhood and His reality when I voiced the word Who?

I found the rosary to be not only a string of prayer beads, reflections on the Mysteries, praises, and petitions, but a prayer during which I contemplated Jesus, and my life in Him. I discovered a deeper connection to His Passion and ministry. Time seemed to stand still as I met with Jesus over the rosary beads, and I was energized to live a more circumspect life for Christ after each prayer circuit.

The Holy Spirit is relentless in His instruction. He so enjoys teaching us. He delights to share with us all good gifts and wisdom that are ours in Christ Jesus. Each time I prayed, I learned something new about my life in Christ. I was often convicted of my sins and instructed in the virtue of godly love.

Then came a particular evening as I prayed the rosary… a deep heaviness filled my heart.

As clearly as looking into a mirror, I saw the fear that tormented me. It was the fear of being different that had been planted in my heart as a child and nurtured by the unkind acts and words of others. Their sins had buried a barb deep in my heart, crippling its native abilities. The Lord made me aware that the tainted splinter had festered, that it influenced my self-image, and fostered a timid, fearful nature. That fear was keeping me from expressing my love for Christ to others and it was a barrier to my developing friendships within the Catholic community.

This experience came at a time when I was reeling from yet another foray into Catholic culture. Rich and I had recently returned from a retreat among Charismatic Catholics. We believed that our shared experiences in Pentecostal worship and in the blessed presence of the Holy Spirit would make us both feel “at home” at the retreat. It was not so. While Rich was surrounded and engaged in friendly conversation and making new friends, I was politely tolerated by some, and cautiously engaged by others. Even though a few people genuinely tried to interact with me, the temptation for me to think negatively about the experience overwhelmed me. And the fear of being different blotted out any positive elements of our weekend. I became stressed and physically ill by the time we left.

Thomas a Kempis, in his classic, The Imitation of Christ, wrote, “As long as we live in this world it is impossible for us to be without trials and temptations. Thus, Job writes: Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? (Job 7:1). Everyone, therefore, should show great concern about his temptations and watch and pray lest the devil, who never sleeps but prowls about, finds an opportunity to ensnare him (1Peter 5:8). No one is perfect or so holy as to be without some temptation; nor can we ever be totally free of them.”

Jesus offered me a way out of the snare, the fear of being different. His wounded hands, feet, and side testified to His concern and desire that I should be restored to health. Jesus could see what I could not; under the influences of that barb, I continued to receive its poison keeping me isolated from the good offered me by my loving Lord.

I was helpless, but He had prepared a way for me.

Prompted by the Holy Spirit, I was instructed to attend weekday Mass the next morning. I believed Jesus would heal me there. I waited in expectation through the opening, the homily, and the consecration. When I returned to my seat after processing forward for a blessing, I stood in the pew and watched others going forward for the Eucharist. Suddenly, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. An unseen hand seemed to reach into my chest and pull that ugly splinter from my heart. I actually felt it being drawn out. And in a moment, it was gone! I immediately knew I was free! My fear of being different was gone. I experienced at once, peace and quiet joy.

I remember walking to my car…stunned.

*See my post: Saints, Beads, and Me

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saints, Beads, and Me

St. Catherine of Siena, in her book, The Dialogue, tells us,” For just as you can better see the blemish on your face when you look at yourself in a mirror, so the soul who in true self-knowledge rises up with desire to look at herself in the gentle mirror of God with the eye of understanding sees all the more clearly her own defects because of the purity she sees in Him.”

When I began to say the rosary, the gentle glow reflected from the mirror of my Savior’s glory began to open my understanding of who I am in Him. This “self-knowing,” often mentioned by St. Catherine, becomes clearer when we see ourselves from Christ’s point of view.

My Protestant faith tradition is as plainspoken as a mid-west farmer, and my prayers are spontaneous, simple and modeled after the tradition I found in the Holy Scripture.

I praise God for His goodness, greatness, and glory. I repent of my sins, petition Him for my needs and for those of others, and I gratefully acknowledge His loving kindnesses. And I trust Him to answer my prayers. I know I am welcomed into the Father’s presence by the grace given me through the sacrificial blood of His beloved son, Jesus.

And because of my confidence in the Father’s love, and in His desire to answer, I never thought to question my method of prayer . . .

Until I set about to say, “Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Long before I became a Christian, I dabbled in philosophies and meditation techniques of Hinduism and Buddhism, calling their gods and founders “Lord.” To my shame, I equated the Lord of Glory with them. Perhaps it is the memory of that sin that causes me to shy away from the rosary’s Marian petition. Or, perhaps my Protestant upbringing and formation makes me uncomfortable to address my prayers to someone other than the Trinity.

Whatever the reason, as I pondered the Hail Mary prayer, I realized anew that my prayer-life is as much worship as it is simple communication. Until then I had never thought much about how I prayed. But now, our Lord’s instruction to His disciples to guard their attitudes while they prayed (Matthew 6) became His instruction to me.

What was my attitude in prayer? For me, prayer is a piercing of eternity through the help of the Holy Spirit. It is a response to the Lord’s invitation to enter into His presence. It is the opportunity to have the same mind as Jesus toward the Father.

Yet Rich assured me that a prayer to any of the Saints in heaven is not like prayer we make to God. Rather, it is like asking a brother or sister in Christ here on earth to pray for us. Prayer to Saints is more a petition – a request. It is not worship. He told me the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states very clearly, that worship is restricted to the Trinity alone.

Looking for more information, I picked up a book from Rich’s stack of Catholic books. I learned the rosary is a set of prayers (petitions) to the Blessed Virgin, the mother of Christ. I also learned that the rosary was developed to encourage lay people in their Christian faith. Prior to the rosary’s “invention,” Christians recited a series of prayers, such as the 150 psalms or repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer (Paternosters) as a daily devotion.

I also listened to Catholic believers talk about the rosary, and I developed an understanding that prayers directed to the Blessed Mother are really said in reverence for her Son. In petitioning Mary for help, Roman Catholics believe she is eager to respond, and because of her special relationship with Messiah, she has a unique and singular access to Christ.

This Catholic concept is a mystery to me.

However, as I grew in my understanding of Catholic faith-tradition, I thought if the Father welcomes someone who prays to Him through the Blessed Mother, who am I to object? Likewise, if I feel I should refrain from any such communication and He welcomes my petitions to the Trinity alone, who am I to question?

Nevertheless, the more I thought about these mysteries the more I realized I was already participating in them. For many years, as the occasion would arise, I had cried to the Lord that He might choose someone to pray with me. I asked for His help because of the many times I had heard others tell how the Holy Spirit prompted someone to pray for a particular missionary in need. In fact, many times I also had felt prompted to pray for someone who later confirmed he or she had been ill or in trouble. So as I pondered what Rich told me about Catholic thought on the Communion of Saints, and what I had experienced about prayer, it seemed reasonable that the Saints in heaven who cheer us on (Hebrews 12) might indeed be praying for us and with us.

For conscience sake, I still could not address this glittering congregation, but I realized I could ask the Lord to have one of them pray for me. And because I was helping Rich in the sixth grade Sunday school class where we were studying patron saints, (a special saint who is chosen by a Catholic Christian as a special prayer partner), I decided to choose one for myself, too.

When I committed myself to pray the rosary that summer of 2006, I did not have a clue what a mirror it would be to my soul . . .

Or how doing so would change my attitude about Catholic prayer.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Little Foxes of Fear

The fear of rejection caused me to isolate myself in early 2005 after Rich was received into the Catholic Church. By the following year, that fear had become a cautious timidity. I warily explored the Mass and Catholic Christianity, trying to ignore the cultural cautions of my Protestant roots. Yet even as I found Jesus so real in the Eucharist, I was plagued by the anxious whirring of the stress of being different – something I was reminded of each Sunday.

Why was I so bothered by this reality? I didn’t know. However, I was constantly reminded that no matter how often I attended Mass or met with the members of the home Bible study, I was forever out of step. I realized I would never quite be accepted within the Catholic culture. I would always feel alien.

It was an uncomfortable place to be.

Yet all the while, Jesus tried to point me toward Himself and His peace.

As I read the devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, I came across this entry, “Is the grace of His ministering life being worked out through you in your home, your business, and in your circle of friends? Have you been wondering why you are going through certain circumstances? In fact, it is not that you have to go through them. It is because of your relationship with the Son of God who comes, through the providential will of His Father, into your life. You must allow Him to have His way with you, staying in perfect oneness with Him.”

Anxiety, like the little foxes that spoil the vines, had turned my heart from the graces of Christ’s love to a self-ward dwelling on my difficulties.

Even when the Holy Spirit pointed me aright with whispers that the journey of faith often leads through difficult times, I ignored Him. I let the social and cultural stresses I experienced tempt me to be full of worry. Yet, despite my negative responses to Christ’s gentle call, somehow He used my anxiety to prod me toward His loving embrace.

During the following few months, it slowly dawned on me that my sense of alienation was rooted not in my present, but in my past. I had thought I’d left those long forgotten days of alienation behind.

In the summer of 1952, before I turned five, I discovered what it meant to be a social oddity. My sister had several episodes of epileptic seizures which often left her unresponsive, and sometimes without respirations for extended periods. I remember my mother frantically calling the fire department (who acted also as paramedics) each time Jan had an episode. Meanwhile, I was sent across the street to stay out of the firemen’s way. From there I would watch our living room window hoping to see the men who were trying to revive my sister. Standing around me were neighbors from the other apartment houses who, for reasons I still do not understand, berated my mother and accused her of calling the fire department so often because she was seeking attention for herself. Even my best friend’s mother found fault with us. She was a Christian Scientist and did not believe in sickness. When my parents rejected her idea that Jan was not really ill, and that they should stop seeking medical help for her, my friend’s mother would not let her play with me again.

Thus in 2006, as I attended the Catholic Church with Rich, I felt myself alienated once more. The experience was like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool filled with snakes. So devastating were my memories, I panicked. Yet, Jesus was there with me in the pool among those snakes. His strong arms held onto me, as He gently encouraged me to open my eyes to His reassuring presence there with me. And slowly I realized that He was not going to leave me. He was going to help me.

I discovered later that He would do so though a series of unexpected events.

One Sunday afternoon, I was stressing over some event (which I cannot remember) from that morning’s Mass, mulling over how different I was from the rest of the congregation. I sat at our computer, trying to avoid those nagging thoughts of how useless it was to continue to attend services with Rich.

As I absently surfed the web, looking at nothing in particular, I remembered a comment someone made about Mother Angelica, the founder of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). I had listened to Mother Angelica sometimes on the radio. I found the EWTN web address and clicked the link to the opening page. That was when I discovered Mother Angelica was recovering from a stroke. I was saddened by this and I followed the links to the prayer response page—joyful to know there was something I could do for her: I could pray. The site did not ask me if I was Protestant or Catholic. It just asked me to choose the number of prayers I would say for Mother Angelica’s healing. I typed a number and then noticed there was an option to pray a rosary.

For several months prior to this, I had been using rosary beads only to meditate on the various Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Light). I had found this practice to be very worthwhile and spiritually fulfilling. But when I saw the option to pray a full rosary for Mother Angelica, I wondered how I would be able to do so the “Catholic” way, since much of the rosary includes the Hail Mary and other Marian prayers, which were alien to my experience as a Protestant Christian.

However, I continued to sense the Holy Spirit’s prompting to pray a rosary’s length of prayers for Mother Angelica, and I felt overwhelmed with a surety that, no matter what others might think of me, I was not a misfit, that my place with Rich in the Catholic Church was part of God’s plan for my faith journey. And in a split-second, I decided that if Catholics could say rosaries, I could too. With the click of the mouse, I committed myself to saying 365 rosaries for Mother Angelica’s health.

A moment later, anxiety gripped me. I was assaulted with any number of “what ifs” – such as, What if I am doing something terrible, using a rosary to pray? What if Catholics find out and scoff at me? What if this type of prayer is only for Catholics? What if this turns me into a Roman Catholic?

Fear can generate a long list of reasons why we should not seek to follow Christ’s leading. I ignored the “what ifs. I knew our Father in heaven is pleased when we dedicate ourselves to communicating with Him. So I set out to keep my promised prayers . . . .

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Idols of My Own Making

The summer of 2006 brought many interior changes. Christ’s love in me made my heart swell with joy each time we attended Mass. Like David, I longed to be in the house of God, our Catholic church. There the wonderful Presence of the Lord Jesus drew me to Himself. Christ’s presence in the Eucharist was for me a rich and soul satisfying certitude, better than any other church experience I had encountered. In His presence, the sorrow caused by division vanished as Messiah’s peace comforted me.

Soon I discovered I treasured all that reminded me of Jesus at the Catholic Church: the priests, the altar servers, the lectors, the cantor, and the people in the pews. In Christ, all are alive, all are His, and in Him we are all connected. At times I felt that deep connection with the community during Mass. Often the joy of Christ’s love seemed to flow through me to the congregation, and I rejoiced. It was a time of wonder.

But my Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Baptist mix of traditions rejected the design elements of the very place in which I rejoiced in Christ’s love – that being the Catholic Church’s sanctuary. Try as I would, I could not ignore the people I saw kneeling before statues. The scene reminded me of idolatry in the Old Testament, and I knew God’s clear message – no image is to receive worship. God alone deserves worship, and He is jealous of His right.

The statues seemed out of place.

Yet, I also knew Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as our self. And so, the love of Christ led me to a more complete understanding of Catholic prayer. When I saw people praying before a statue of the Blessed Virgin, I too wanted to pray with them – not to the Blessed Virgin, but to agree with their prayers. I knew in my spirit that each brother or sister’s petition was directed to God, and knowing this, I asked myself, “Could prayer before icon or statue in the Roman Church be actually a means of Christ centered worship? What on the surface seemed to my Protestant Christian traditions so wrong – could it be right?”

Setting aside my reservations, I watched and listened; I read and prayed, and learned that the Catechism of the Catholic Church soundly condemns idolatry.

I slowly discovered God has given a unique gift to Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. On many levels within and without the sanctuary, the very building is an open book of godly remembrances and forms a kind of catechetic (or teaching) puzzle. As I discovered the pieces linked together, I found a wealth of Biblical instruction.

The furnishings of the altar, the icons, the stained glass – the entire building, displays the promises of the Old Testament, and the completion of those promises in New. Here is the worship of the one God of Israel, the life of His Son -- Messiah Jesus -- and the life of His body, the Church. It is visible on the walls, floor, and ceiling. It’s all around any who care to see. The examples are many. The red glow of the lamp burning near the Tabernacle harkens back to the, ner tamid – which in Jewish tradition is a representation of the incense that burned before the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. This ner tamid indicated God’s Presence in the synagogue. Now it burns in recognition that the Bread of Life – God in the flesh, the Christ in His Sacramental Presence – is with us.

The altar of the Jewish Temple, the table of Showbread, even the table in the upper room where Jesus ate the Last Supper, all meet their fulfillment in the table of Eucharist “celebration.” The altar also reminds us of the love feasts held in the homes of the early Christians, the love feast which is now the family’s Eucharistic meal, our Last Supper. And in sharing this meal, the Church anticipates the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

I rejoiced in these lessons. But the statues and icons -- I wondered how they fit in.

Then I remembered the church has historically sought to make the Bible an aural, visual, and tactile experience.

Christ’s love, again, opened my eyes to see the images in paint and stone were instructive and uplifting. When I look at the statues of Mary and Joseph, they remind me that marriage is a holy covenantal relationship held together by Christ, the covenant Giver. In an icon of The Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph call out the truth that God cares for His holy institution, the family. The statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague reminds me that Jesus was born very God and very man. It says to me, Christ, even as a child was God in the flesh. The saints that surround us remind me of Christ “in us, the hope of glory.” From age to age the Spirit of Christ is the same. These images evoke so many wonderful thoughts of what God has done through others, and what He is doing in the present. Yes, the entire sanctuary became for me an anthem of praise to Christ’s glory, and an encouragement that called me to press on in Christ.

It has taken some time for me to understand the difference between reverence and adulation. I now see that Icons and statues are made for reference, and not for worship. The images decorating our sanctuary represent snapshots of family, much like photos we display in our homes.

Instead of taking issue with these silent witnesses I now remember how much they are teaching me and calling me to Christ. And for that, I am thankful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Life with Two Traditions II

The Mystery of Suffering

During the summer of 1958 I lay in my bed praying and sobbing into my pillow for my sister who slept next to me. Night brought both of us blessed peace from her frantic slaps, nagging pinches, and repeated questions generated by her illness-induced hyperactivity. As I cried to Jesus, begging Him to heal my sister, to keep her safe from more sickness and give her peace, I did not know my deep sorrow was part of the unfathomable mystery of suffering.

Now, decades later, my sister is completely vulnerable and helpless. A childhood illness coupled with encephalitis has locked her into the mental capacity of a six-month-old. It has robbed her voice of words. Her hands do not move to her will, and caregivers must position her in bed and wheelchair.

That traumatic event more than fifty years ago compounds the grief we still feel as a family. But her condition never prevented us from our commitment to her well-being. We love Jan, and do our best to ensure she has every opportunity to remain healthy and happy. She is our flesh and blood. She is family.

Yet, our mother’s heart still aches with deep regret for her daughter. Our father’s heart was squeezed by anguish into silence much too soon. And my sister’s illness altered my life, and that of my brother. We did not realize it at the time, but Jan’s illness enriched our lives with a sense of mercy and gratitude.

And I have learned Christ’s love is present in the midst of any difficult situation.

As baptized and blood-bought Christians, we are all members of a family – the universal Church. Christ shares His mercy and tender love through our members. His love fills us with the desire to be together, to pray with each other, to look deeply into each other’s eyes and find the Spirit of Christ looking back. The Blessed Holy Spirit puts within us a need to lean close and hear what our brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in Christ are saying.

In the summer of 2006 Rich was invited to teach a home Bible study. Some of the people who attended his study on the Lord’s Prayer had, for several weeks, engaged him in friendly discussion over lunch. Both Rich and I enjoyed getting better acquainted with these wonderful people. The opportunity to continue to meet and talk about Christ and the Bible was very pleasing to us all.

As we met each week at the Bible study I came to consider these people family, so I was taken aback by some of the discussion as we studied through 1 Peter. Many of the bible study members began speaking of encounters they’d had with Protestants – encounters that deeply offended them, encounters typically rooted in false perceptions of Catholicism.

As devastating as the unseen illness that sapped the life out of my sister’s limbs and erased the words from her brain, the suffering of division has devastated Protestants and Catholics alike.

As I paid attention to the family, I heard stories that embarrassed my Protestant sensibilities. These Catholic Christians shared their wounded hearts. They told how Protestants had demeaned Catholic piety by asserting that Catholics tried to earn their way to heaven. I heard the crass way the Blessed Virgin Mary is attacked, and how some Protestants believe Catholics are impure pagans and idol worshipers.

As I listened, I was reminded that on any given day, Protestant radio, calling itself “Christian radio,” encourages listeners to share Christ’s salvation with Catholics – in other words, to “get them saved.” Rarely, if ever, did I hear radio preachers encourage their listeners to share Christ’s love with Catholics, or to search for unity and fellowship with their Catholic brethren.

No wonder Catholics back away from me when they learn I am a Protestant. After all, you never know when a Protestant will attack your life in Christ, or the Blessed Virgin, the Mass, or even the Holy Eucharist – and in so doing, violate the very Christianity they claim to represent.

On the other hand, I have experienced a version of misinformation and misperceptions about Protestants from some Catholics.

It does not edify my spirit to be dismissed as someone who could not possibly understand the deep mystery of the Eucharist, or of the Mass. It hurts me when some of my Catholic family consider me a Schismatic, or perhaps even a Heretic. It wounds my heart to know some Catholics don’t consider me a child of God on my way to heaven, just as they are. And like Catholic Christians, it hurts me to realize some do not consider my devotion to Jesus, to the Scriptures (which is His holy Word) and to my (Protestant) Christian traditions as valid expressions of my love for the Savior.

It is as much a mystery that the family continues to choose the suffering of division, as it is that our Father permits us to do so. Perhaps He is waiting on us to choose aright. Unfortunately Protestants and Catholics (and Orthodox) seem determined to hold on to their misperceptions.

I wonder sometimes if we are as helpless as my sister.

And then I remember our Lord can bring healing and life out of disease and death. The One who touched lepers also went out of His way to find those rejected by family and friends. The One who washed the dirty feet of His disciples, and prayed that we would be a united family, is able to bring us into accord.

Jesus has ever opened to us the mysterious grace of His suffering. Here we see our sin actualized upon “Him who knew no sin; who became sin for us.” How undeserved, how marvelous is Christ’s love for us as He prays for His Mystical Body, His family, to be united. Facing the monstrous weight of our sins, our loving Lord called upon His Father to keep us together, all of us, united, one with Him and each other.

“Holy Father,” the Lord prayed as He prepared for His crucifixion, “keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are . . . .I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (St. John 17; Italics mine).

That same fervent petition for unity comes in prayer raised to the throne of Grace each Sunday during Mass. My heart yearns after that desire, and calls out a fervent, “Amen…so be it “each time we pray.

As did Mary, let us accept the sufferings that come when we embrace truth. Christ is truth. Our reasonable service is to lay down our lives for Him. Before our Father a great cloud of witnesses renews their petitions for us to persevere. This moment – this time – is our opportunity to be the answer to our Lord’s petition.

The Holy Spirit ever calls unto our hearts to seek unity. Have we turned up the volume of our iPod to block His voice? Our Father’s hand remains out-stretched to heal. Why do we refuse to grasp it? Our Elder Brother even now intercedes for our unity. Have we forgotten His reminder that godly sorrow leads to the mystery of repentance and renewal?

Perhaps out of the suffering and difficulty of the past, all baptized believers of today will allow the risen Savior to heal our wounds of division. In response to the Holy Spirit’s tug on our hearts, may we seek the Father’s will, spoken through His Son, Jesus, and be restored to family once more. When that happens, like the difficulties that took place in my own family, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox will find family means acceptance, and compassionate care of our imperfect members. Through that recognition we – and our world – will be inexplicably changed for the better by the ordeal.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

“Listen and Attend With the Ears of Your Heart”

---St. Benedict of Nursia

During the summer of 2006, our priest welcomed Rich to teach a study of the Lord’s Prayer. It seemed natural for me to be present at the study since it was held right after the 10:00 Mass we attended.

For a year I had found my vertical relationship with Jesus growing, while my interpersonal relationships with members of our congregation remained superficial or nonexistent. I’d given up trying to get to know people and had settled into the mold of an unseen persona. I wondered out loud to Rich if a Protestant at his study might be disruptive. Rich assured me he was able to keep everyone focused on the lesson. From our experiences with Bible studies in Protestant churches, I knew he could do that.

Had the pastor’s invitation to Rich occurred a year earlier, I might have spent that hour in the car or at a nearby coffee shop. I would have found references to Mary, the Sacraments, the Magisterium or any number of other Catholic beliefs that were bantered about during the discussion, very uncomfortable. But because Rich and I had agreed to remain together at the same church, I had become accustomed to hearing about those beliefs. Although I did not share them, I believed they were valid for Catholics because they represented facets of a Roman Catholic’s spiritual relationship with God.

I am sure those few weeks would have been only another interesting inter-church experience for me had it not been for two things. First, Rich engaged me in the discussions as he did the others around the table. I was forced to participate and, in so doing, the men and women at the study learned I was a Protestant. (I was nervous about that discovery because of what I had experienced previously.) These people were surprised to learn I was not a Catholic, but as the weeks continued, they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Second, what these people did not know was God had given me a love for them.

That love had flooded into my heart weeks earlier on Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Easter. Our parish had an Adoration planned for that afternoon. Adoration is a time set aside to worship the living Christ who manifests Himself within the consecrated host . . . the Bread of Life physically present with us. Catholics meditate on this spiritual idea, seeing beyond the natural, and believing Christ’s word in its literal meaning . . . this is my Body. This is similar to the Protestant view of a literal seven day creation, the Flood, or the parting of the Red Sea.

Rich decided to attend, and I thought I’d go along, too. Rich’s description of his initial experience with Jesus at an earlier Adoration had intrigued me. I hoped to spend some quiet time with Jesus, much like I did each Sunday when we entered the church before Mass.

We sat near the back of the church and could barely see the white circular host in the golden case called a Monstrance – from the Latin, meaning, “to show,” and defined as, “A receptacle in which the host is held.”

I remember kneeling in my pew and praying in tongues (a charism of the Holy Spirit) for a few minutes. Soon, my knees hurt and my back was getting tired. Several women were praying the Rosary, which seemed to go on and on. I longed for them to stop, simply because their vocal prayers intruded into my mind and made it difficult for me to form my thoughts into prayers. I wondered, perhaps coming to the Adoration was not such a good idea.

Ending my prayer, I remained on the kneeler. My mind wandered, but I tried to keep it focused on that little white disk in the Monstrance. I believed Jesus was there. (Months earlier, the Holy Spirit had taught me that Jesus is present within the consecrated host). I had long ago learned to be quiet before The King of Kings in my personal devotions and to wait upon Him. This was such a time.

And then, somehow, inexplicably, as I knelt, Christ’s love flowed into me until I thought I could hold no more. It left me breathless.

The Holy Scriptures describe an account of two disciples on the road to Emmaus who meet the resurrected Jesus. When He made Himself known to them at supper, and then vanished, they turned to each other, realizing who had walked with them that afternoon. "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?" they exclaimed. (St. Luke 24:32, NASB)

In a similar way, I found Jesus before me that Divine Mercy Sunday, and in revealing His presence, my heart indeed burned with His love.

I sat back in my seat. Rich was praying. I was dumbfounded and strangely energized. I looked anew toward the Altar. As the recitation of the Rosary continued I wondered, “What is happening?” No one else seemed at all affected. I prayed silently and fervently, “I love you, Jesus. What is this?”

I was so full of energy I could not sit still. I knelt again. I sat. I knelt once more and silently praised the Lord, though I wanted to shout. A second time, the Holy Spirit pressed Agape love into my heart. In it flowed with compassion, joy, and peace. The Holy Spirit gave my heart “ears to hear.” By the time we left the sanctuary I’d “fallen in love” with Jesus again, and with His Church – all of His Church. Any lingering doubt that I should continue to attend Mass with Rich had vanished.

I cannot explain the how or the why of this heart change, but it altered my life. I have never been the same since. Shortly afterward, I wrote a friend,” Just as when we close our eyes and turn our face toward the sun, then turning away and opening our eyes we see the world around us as a pale image of unreality, so my view of my former walk in Christ is a paler image of what it is now.”

The reality of this heart change manifested itself as I sat in Rich’s study of the Lord’s Prayer, listening to him and the other Catholics comment about the Scriptures, the Catholic Church and her teachings – and even make a few unflattering comments about Protestants – yet I was not offended by it all. I had found myself filled anew with Agape love as soon as I entered the room.

This was a sea-change for me, and evidence that Christ’s love had entered my heart.

I soon discovered I liked listening to their conversations. I also felt a bond of fellowship in my heart for each person. And as we studied the Lord’s Prayer, I found myself listening in on the heartbeat of the Roman Catholic Church. It was a deep, steady beat of constant love and devotion to the Trinity – the loving Father, Christ, the suffering Savior, and the wonderful Holy Spirit.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Life with Two Traditions I

It is often the little things we do or say that make an impact on the lives of those around us. By May 2006, I had experienced Jesus’ love at Mass and also through people at the Catholic Church. The pastor and his staff had encouraged my walk among this new culture of believers with their willingness to answer my questions and to find information for me about Catholic faith and practice. From these acts of thoughtfulness I gained confidence to explore the traditions of the Mass. That summer I felt more comfortable to make the sign of the cross, genuflect, and kneel in prayer. As I participated at Mass I began to understand to some degree what Catholics believe. Many of those beliefs revolve around Sacred Tradition.

For Catholics, tradition is identity. It reflects an unbroken line of historical veracity that begins with Pentecost.

The dictionary defines tradition as the handing down of beliefs, customs, and information from generation to generation by word of mouth or by practice. With regard to Christian theology, tradition incorporates a “body of teachings . . . held to have been delivered by Christ and His apostles, but not originally committed to writing.” Roman Catholic Sacred Tradition combines oral traditions, (e.g. Sunday is “the Lord’s Day”) with sacramental acts (e.g. making the sign of the cross), as well as remembered events (e.g. the Assumption of the Virgin). Since the Apostolic era, the Mass is central to Catholic Tradition. For Catholics, much like Jews at the Passover celebration, the Mass provides a portal of involvement that is as timeless and personal as it is supernatural. Just as the Passover meal allows its participants to reenact the events of the Exodus as eye witnesses, the Mass allows its participants to be eye witnesses of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Together, the Mass, the special days of celebration, sacramental practices, the teachings of the Lord Jesus and of His apostles have nourished the Catholic Church since the first century. In combination with the written Scriptures, these all embody the whole of inspired tradition. Thus, Sacred Tradition is as important to Catholics with regard to faith and morals as the Holy Scriptures are to Protestants.

Protestants recognize the Church was born at Pentecost, but for many (especially those who are unaware of their Roman Catholic roots), historical tradition begins with the Reformation.

Although Protestants retain some of the early church’s core beliefs, such as those embodied in the Apostles Creed,* most of Protestant tradition is based on sola scriptura -- Scripture alone. Committed Protestants use the Holy Scriptures to form their doctrine and practice. And, much like the devout Jews of Berea (Acts 17), they study the Word of God daily. Like the noble Bereans, dedicated Protestants – laymen and scholars – expect the Holy Spirit to lead them closer to Christ through their study of the Holy Scriptures. As they search the Scriptures and discuss them with one another, Protestants expect to be educated, gain a greater understanding of God’s love, and be prepared to witness for the Gospel. This tradition of study and dialogue mirrors the ancient Talmudic method of pil-pul, defined by the Jewish Encyclopedia as a “penetrating investigation, disputation, and drawing of conclusions, and is used especially to designate a method of studying the Law.”

For me, resolving the differences between the two “traditions” was of great importance. I came to realize, lurking in the shadows of this controversy, was a passion, fervor, and zeal of each group’s commitment to particular Christian world views. A year earlier, these respective views had made of our home a “no-mans land” of theological disparity. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit showed us a better way.

The Lord has taught me the great value of both Catholic and Protestant traditions.

My faith tradition is expressed primarily through meditating on the Holy Scriptures and in prayer. How would I know in Whom I believe without His words and actions written down to guide me? Holy Scripture has been the practical means Christ has used to mature my relationship with Him.

My husband has shared with me his love of Sacred Tradition, which he sees as vital to His life of faith. He explained to me his understanding that Scripture undergirds Sacred Tradition because Sacred Tradition is intricately intertwined with Messiah Jesus, as revealed in Holy Scripture.

As I see it, without a vibrant and maturing relationship with Jesus, Rich and I would both be weakened in our spiritual journeys. How Jesus uses His gifts of Sacred Tradition in combination with the Holy Scriptures to mature us, I can not tell. However, I know my life in Christ would be subject to disorder without the continued washing it receives from Scripture. As I meet Jesus in the Mass and explore Sacred Traditions, I discover a spiritual vibrancy that allows me to see in them the breath of God, and to experience in my heart a great renewal.

Latin Text (ca. A.D. 700)
Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem; Creatorem coeli et terrae.
Et in Jesum Christum, Filium ejus unicum, Dominum nostrum; qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria virgine; passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus; descendit ad inferna; tertia die resurrexit a mortuis; ascendit ad coelos; sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis; inde venturus (est) judicare vivos et mortuos.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum; sanctam ecclesiam catholicam; sanctorum communionem; remissionem peccatorum; carnis resurrectionem; vitam oeternam. Amen.

Modern English Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I did not expect to find Jesus so startlingly close at Mass. He found me. That he included me in His embrace through spiritual communion opened my heart to the Holy Spirit’s teaching.

I did not expect to explore the Passion of Christ. It explored me. What could I do but follow, seeing how great a salvation Jesus purchased with His suffering and death.

I did not expect to encounter the mystery and truth of transubstantiation. That mystery captured and transfixed me. Christ’s love melted my icy attitudes and set aside past perceptions.

Freed from the biases that had kept me from seeing, I could now, with open eyes, see the glorious worship of God inherent in the Mass. I began to participate with my whole heart, and as the Lord transformed my previous misperceptions into a clearer perspective, I reached out to my church “home” with opened arms.

I had once thought of Catholic worship as cold, devoid of joy, or personal interaction. I had experienced the camaraderie among Christians in Protestant churches we attended, but now, my experience in church was not primarily horizontal but vertical in emphasis. Here I had an opportunity to be alone with the Savior in a sanctuary where He resided not only in the person of the Holy Spirit but also in the consecrated host within the Tabernacle.

I admit my fervor to understand what my husband and others saw in the Mass drove me to scrutinize everything I encountered in the Catholic services. This investigation, and my longing to know truth, led me to pray that I might comprehend what I intellectually knew occurred at the consecration. And God answered my prayer. I suddenly grasped the authenticity of belief: the bread and the wine change into the body and the blood of Messiah Jesus.

This was no superstition or wishful thinking. The Holy Spirit impressed upon me this truth in such a way that I became convinced and now fully believe. Oh, how precious is the gift of Christ’s presence to the church.

Before the anniversary of Rich’s entrance into the Catholic Church, I was reformed too, into the renewed Christian I am today.

The Mass begins for me at home as I prepare to meet Jesus. I pray and often read my Bible just as I have done for many years. I also attend to one small gift that I have not had the occasion to give Him before. I make sure my hair and forehead are clean in anticipation of the blessing He bestows.

Time stands still the moment I step into the entrance of the church and dip my fingers into the font of holy water beside the door. I make the sign of the cross, reminding myself of my death and burial at baptism, and of my new life in the risen Christ. In some mysterious way, as I move my hand across my chest to make the sign of the cross, the crucifixion becomes terribly real and personal.

As I walk to my pew, I am greeted by silence – a holy hush that is found where the Infinite is revered. It is not simply stillness, or emptiness. It is a purposeful silence, a silence disturbed only by the echoes of kneelers lowered to the floor. It is silence broken by the soft wrap of Rosary beads against wood as the faithful pray. It is the silence of footfalls as priest and choir prepare to serve. It is the deep breath before the glorious beginning of the Mass.

I look for the golden Tabernacle because I know within it lies the bread made flesh, and I rejoice in Jesus who graces our church with His presence.

Genuflection is no longer a polite adaptation. Instead, it is an act of love for my Lord, the King of Kings. Too quickly, we have found our seat and I am on my knee, reminding myself with the little prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. --Touch my forehead, fountain of all wisdom clear my mind of worthless thoughts; touch my chest, wounded Savior I am yours; touch my left and right shoulders, teacher and comforter give me wings to rise above my sinful self.

Thus begins the Mass for me – no longer ritual, but an opportunity to make an endless prayer of worship to the Trinity.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lessons from a Saint

Sometime in January 2006 Rich brought home St. John of the Cross’ book, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” He handed it to me and said with affection, “I have seen you in such turmoil these past few months. Perhaps this will help.”

I doubted a book would help. Attending Mass with Rich might have become more comfortable and welcome, but my day to day life was like one long dark tunnel. I leafed through the book and laid it down. A moment later, I opened it again. For Rich’s sake, I gave the book a read.

Chapter after chapter of mind-numbing lists about sins and difficulties began to pile up into a mountain of woe. St. John of the Cross wrote of what may never happen, what will happen, and what might happen. I put the book down a dozen times, yet it did seem to be saying something – although I was not quite sure what that was.

Half-way through the book, it began to make sense. His message about purgation after purgation was no mere method of spirituality and growth, but rather a litany of the Father’s love for His beloved children. Our deserts and long dark tunnels were meant by God to purify our lives from all the dross (sin) we accumulate.

I was encouraged. The difficulty in which I found myself was not haphazard or happenstance, but designed by my Father to mature me. St. John, a Biblical scholar and a spiritual counselor, knew what he was writing about. His own experiences included many difficult and life-threatening times in which he had learned that helplessness brings strength to the bond between the Trinity and the child of God. The Father expressed His love for me by allowing me to be helpless so He could rescue me by removing sins buried deep in my heart. Those sins kept me from seeing Him correctly. It hampered the work of the Holy Spirit and it kept me at a distance from Jesus, my heart’s desire.

When I understood God’s purpose in bringing me through my “Dark Night,” I rejoiced, thankful for such “love divine, all loves excelling.” My Lord Jesus was determined to soften and cleanse my heart that was encased in stony sin. He wanted to make me into His likeness, as St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”

When I realized this, I wanted Jesus to take over my life more than I had ever desired it before. I determined I would not stand in the way of any purging He wanted to do.

The Holy Spirit showed me where I needed to change. These are some of the areas He helped me work on – and on which we continue to work.

Rebellion was the first. I had always wanted to have a say in what and how God would do with me. To live otherwise meant He was in complete control, and I unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) found that objectionable. Although I said I wanted Him to lead me, I thought I might decide on how we got there.

Self-will was next. I saw how dominant my will could be as Rich began talking about becoming a Catholic. It was a terrible, aggressive sin that I had practiced well. So thoroughly was it bonded to me that I could not see it as an error. Instead, I thought of it as a beneficial part of my character.

Anger clung to the first two. Although I recognized this fault as a young Christian and had tried to keep it in check, I could never root out its deep core. This flaming emotion set me to pouting and drove me into depression.

Self-pity rounded out the four. It often filled my mind with the lie that Jesus had abandoned me. I fled from problems because I thought them either too hard for me, or they were a rebuke from the Master. I did not see the problems as His loving refinement, so that I might be useful to His purpose.

Cooperating with the Holy Spirit opened my heart to His continual attention. I heard His voice clearly through our pastors, and through reading the Bible, listening to Christian music and other methods the Holy Spirit wove in and out of my life. He spoke to me so kindly, leading me out of the darkness into a place where the light of Christ could touch my heart with His life, encourage me to trust in His eternally living Presence and give me the brotherly kiss of fellowship.

Purging of my more weighty attitudes led to purging of many others.

Christ then set before me the very misconceptions and biases I had struggled with since Rich became a Catholic. They were the religious and cultural mainstay of my Protestant identity. They had been for me the only true Christianity. The Lord asked me to explore them one by one, and He helped me come to an accord of sorts with each. I would explore the Eucharist, the papacy, communion of saints, Mary, and Sacred Tradition.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Opportunity

In January 2006 I wrote a friend, “Until this time I have been smugly happy in my own conceits about my place and part in God's family. Lately, though, I have been pondering the words of John: ‘He came unto his own and his own received him not.’ And I wonder how often I have been unreceptive of Him?”

I thought for years I was as close to Jesus as I could be. I thought I possessed all I needed of Christ. Then Rich’s conversion to Roman Catholicism sent my soul on a desperate journey to reconnect with my commitment to Jesus. As I prayed over how I would follow Him at our Catholic church, I discovered (much to my surprise) my once Christ-centered life had become complacent and stagnant. My sense of contentment was the result of years of rote practice, and the loss of a lively joy in my first love -- Christ. I needed renewal, and Jesus, whose compassion is boundless, revived in me a deep spiritual passion, even while I fussed at Him about the method.

The Lord would not let me languish long in the nether-world of status quo. He knew I needed love that was like living water springing up into new life, and He shook up my world for my good and His purposes.

The Holy Spirit poured Christ’s love into my soul, and like cold water on a hot frying pan, love exploded into my life. His gracious gift of Spiritual communion had created in me a desire to know Christ better. That desire grew stronger each day until suddenly in one moment of clarity I became converted to Jesus’ agenda.

That moment came on a sunny afternoon as I listened to a radio program discussing the servant-hood of the believer. As I listened, my soul stirred, and I remembered a worship song by Kelly Willard entitled “The Servant.” Years before, that song so resonated with my spirit that I had found myself singing it at all hours of the day and night. It became my constant prayer to the Lord. Here is one of the verses:

“Make me a servant, humble and meek
Lord, let me lift up, those who are weak.
And may the prayer of my heart always be;
Make me a servant, make me a servant,
Make me a servant, today.”

At the time, I wondered why I was prompted to pray those words over and over.
But now, several years later, as I listened to the radio discussion on servant-hood, I realized the Lord had answered the desire He placed into my heart years before--- the desire to be a servant.

To think the Holy Spirit had put that song in my mouth so many years earlier, and that He had schooled my heart to plead for servant-hood, energized my desire to agree with what Christ purposed to do with my life.

I did not realize until then that I had been offered a wonderful opportunity.

At last the heartache and heartburn of being separated at Communion seemed to have a purpose. No longer was I only obeying the Catholic Church’s rules of communion concerning non-Catholics. I perceived that I could live out the scripture by expressing love that is patient, love that seeks not its own, is not provoked, and does not take into account a wrong suffered. I realized, too, it was no accident that I received a blessing in place of communion. There was a reason I was a Protestant living and worshiping side by side with my Catholic husband.

The Lord was granting me an opportunity to learn humility and love.

More encouraging verses flowed into my heart that January afternoon. The sadness of being a non-communicant gave way to the privilege of following Christ’s example of servant-hood. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2: 3-8 NASB)

It was not lost on me that, for the most part, the only others who came forward for a blessing were those too young to receive the Eucharist; and I marveled that the Lord placed me in such a position. Nor, was it lost to me what Jesus had once said about permitting children to come to Him – “for such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Like children, I could come, not demanding a place at His table, but to lay my anguished heart at His feet, and receive the various blessings He gives,for it is Jesus and Jesus alone who imparts blessing.

The honor to be like our Master in some small way is the joy of all the redeemed. I thank you Jesus, for this opportunity and the lessons in humility.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Preparation to Love

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son {to be} the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
1 John 4:10-11 (NASB)

My experiences with Catholic community’s cool acceptance – and perhaps tolerant reception – were not the embrace of welcome I had known in Protestant congregations. I wondered how I could love this Catholic community. For that matter, how would I love anyone? I knew as a Christian I did not need to be valued in order to love others. But I wanted to be valued. I was not a Saint John.

I realized, though, that to function within the cultural and spiritual community of the Catholic Church, I needed to actively do what love does – be kind, patient, endure . . . all the verbs St. Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 13. Lacking Christ’s love, I did my best to fit in. So, in order to be inoffensive, I crossed myself and genuflected when I entered or left the pew. I knelt or stood with the rest of the congregation and recited the creed and other responses.

Although I recognized anew the glorious work of my Savior on the cross, I nevertheless needed the gift of God’s love, and the mystery of love’s healing work, to see past the actions of others and my perceptions of them.

God’s Spirit urged me to embrace the Protestant/Catholic divisive encounters I experienced. I was beginning to understand that my Father in heaven was using those difficulties to change my heart. And the transformation of my heart – to which the Holy Spirit continued to call me – would be accomplished through love.

During January 2006, the Holy Spirit continued to point out that Christians should love without qualification. As I knelt in the quiet of our church, the crucifix above the altar exemplified a clear image of how down-to-earth Jesus expressed love, and that expression began to seep into my life. It began to probe my motives and actions, while at the same time the balm of Christ’s peace comforted me as I attended services with Rich.

To revive and school my spirit, the Lord repeatedly took me back to 1 Corinthians 13, and He seemed to underscore each word or phrase.

1 Corinthians 13 (from the New American Standard Bible):

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. “

“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. “
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I slowly began to agree with Christ’s Spirit. My prayers grew more fervent. I wanted to love the way I knew Christians should love, but realized I could never love on my own. I needed Jesus to love through me.

One morning a flood of realization burst into my yearning heart. I expected an answer because, as “a child of the King,” I knew He loved me and wanted to help me. However, in order to answer me, my Father first had to prepare me. Jesus had cautioned against filling old wine skins with new wine, lest the old skins break and the wine spill out. And so Christ set about to make my wine skin new.

I think I must be very slow-witted. How had I not seen my self-centered agendas? Reading the Bible that morning, I was dumbfounded to see my motives from Christ’s point of view. My true self-centered format lay open before me. What I previously dismissed as my personality traits or inborn attitudes stood out plainly as selfishness. I tried to excuse my faults by rationalizing away the conviction of my sin. I thought, “Surely I could never be as loving as the Scriptures commanded. I had tried too many times and failed miserably. There is no way anyone could live like 1 Corinthians 13 describes.”

The graciousness of our God supplied me with the help I had asked for. Again, I discovered that Christ’s help came with my obedience. If I was to receive Christ’s gift of love, I had to put aside my rationalizations and own up to my sin. When I did, the Holy Spirit began to point out my faults – not just on that morning, but all that day, and into the months ahead. I was convicted of my sins each time they occurred. And I quickly got the message: now was the time to pay attention to my sin.

I soon recognized the juxtaposition between the Scripture’s definition of love in
1 Corinthians 13, and my actions and thoughts. Each time I snapped at Rich, the Scripture dropped into my mind: “Love is kind.” When I grumbled under my breath after Rich did something that really annoyed me, the Holy Spirit whispered, “Love is patient.” At each turn God exposed my petty motivations in the light of His word.

When I asked the Father to help me love like Jesus loves, I had not expected He would give me a heightened awareness of my wrong doing. But in order for Jesus to love through me, I should have expected He would first teach me humility. The more I discovered how sinful the rags were that covered my selfishness, the smaller my self conceit grew.

I can only hope it continues to diminish.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Rediscovering the Price

“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”


“Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

When did I forget this wonderful truth? What happened between September 1974 – when I first learned this song – and the year 2005? Somehow my knowledge of the saving blood of Jesus had become a vague memory. Was it because churches we attended had replaced their hymnals with modern choruses and anthems of praise? Or was it my familiarity with the facts of Christ’s death that made this gift of grace simply historical information. Whatever the reason, that “precious flow” lost its riveting appeal.

I can remember sermons exhorting us to “come to Jesus,” who died for our sins. Our pastors preached that only Jesus, the spotless lamb, could atone for the rebellion of Man against a loving and righteous Creator; that Jesus Christ, alone was pure, righteous and without sin, that He alone could become for sinners the perfect blood sacrifice for the atonement God required.

When I heard this preached, I pondered that loving work of grace, that undeserved forgiveness purchased on a splintery wooden cross for the sake of all mankind. Simply knowing this seemed enough for me. I was satisfied that I had chosen to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation.

However, Rich became aware of his lack of focus on the Lord’s passion in early 2000. He placed a crucifix in his office and told me he needed to be reminded of the costly debt God paid for our rebellion. But I missed the point, and mumbled an agreement about remembering the cross. I must have been sleeping.

Five years later on Easter Sunday 2005 my eyes opened again and I was dismayed. As we entered the Catholic Church we were to call home, there in full sight and centrally located was – to my eyes – a shocking wooden effigy of Jesus in agony on the killing field of my sin. It was repulsive and brutal, with its stark nails, drooping head, and spear-wound in the side. I hated looking at it. I would not look at it.

Yet I deeply yearned to know Christ better.

That yearning grew because as I knew in my heart the Holy Spirit was calling me to want to know Jesus Christ better. But to know Him you have to look at Him. To see Jesus the Messiah with the eyes of faith means to see Him on the cross.

God’s love for His creation is not a sweet chocolate-pudding type of love. It is love that is bold and sharp. It is not only joyful but also excruciatingly costly.

In my sleepy state of spiritual numbness, living for Christ meant I wanted Christ’s love to be comfortable. His life renewed in me should be like a happy warm summer afternoon. I wanted to follow Him without recognition of how much Christ set aside for my salvation. I wanted to minimize His very human pain and the blood dripping from His wounds. I wanted to muse on Calvary and consider the cross simply a treasured symbol of faith.

However, the more I encountered Jesus’ body dying and garlanded with our hideous sins, I glimpsed the mercy and love of the Father.

After weeks of avoiding the Crucifix, I looked. And my look became a gaze, and then a longing to know Jesus better. I learned that my will, my anger, and my plans were like dung. In the presence of such a gift, how could I dare be anything but contrite? The Father used the battered body of His dear Son to remind me of true love. The Holy Spirit gently took my heart in His loving hands and whispered, “Look and see how to love.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Christ Makes All Things New

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. “ 2 Corinthians 5: 17 (NASB)

I admit I do not fully understand this statement from Holy Scripture. However, when the Lord revealed to me that He was indeed physically present at Mass, that understanding so unsettled me that all my preconceived notions about God dissolved. Intellectually, I knew acquaintance with the Creator of the Universe exposes us to powerful effects. What I did not expect to discover was His loving kindness in such glorious generosity.

Never had I encountered such love.

I am not sure if my outward appearance or demeanor changed. But I was so internally energized by what I knew to be true I could no longer live as I had in the past. Much like my first encounter with Jesus many years earlier when I accepted His redemptive work for me on the cross, and I acknowledged Him as lord of my life – all my previous understanding of God passed away.

I’d thought I knew Jesus. I’d thought I knew my place in Him. But I’d thought wrong. What I wanted became as dross – not all at once, but with each day I changed more and more until I discovered my interests had changed. Christ was supreme and what He wanted was now what I wanted, and I wanted nothing else besides Him.

For years I had pursued the art world as a means of self gratification. I used my artistic skill to promote the personal goals of my vision, my insights, and my personal longing for recognition. But Christ’s love changed me in such a way that I only wanted to draw or paint about Jesus.

Previously, I failed to execute art work about Jesus because I could not communicate myself visually about this subject. Now I could not staunch the flow of ideas that expressed themselves in images about Messiah’s sacrificial love. I went from drawing pretty trees and misty landscapes to the bloody sacrificial wounds on his hands, feet, and side.

I have posted two art works below. The first one, completed in 2003, is an example of images I explored for many years. The second, completed in June 2006, demonstrates the new images that were an outflow of His Grace.

Forest Fantasy

Sacred Heart

The Holy Spirit has given me images that come as fresh innovations, and helped me create something I’d not, to this point in my life, been able to express – that being His wonderful love for humanity.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

He is Lord of All

C.S. Lewis writes in his book, Surprised by Joy, how, as a boy, he discovered joy one morning while walking in the countryside. That moment of beauty and insight so indelibly pressed itself into his heart and psyche that Lewis longed to recapture it ever-after. He later recognized the moment for what it truly was – an encounter with the eternal presence of God.

In a similar fashion, a moment (several moments, really) of joy pressed itself into my heart as the wondrous presence of Christ became exquisitely real to me at Mass.

It’s not that I hadn’t experienced from time to time the joy Lewis talks about. I’d known wonderful times of “refreshing” (a Pentecostal term for the work of the presence of the Holy Spirit) during Protestant church services, or at prayer. I’d experienced flashes of insight into the Holy Spirit’s presence when a passage of Scripture seemed to jump off the page and grab my attention. However, none of my earlier experiences with God can compare with the brief flashes of insight He gave me during the fall of 2005 and winter of 2006.

Until that time I had unknowingly dragged behind me a long and ponderous chain of doubts and half-truths as I attended Mass. Like Charles Dickens’ Marley of the Christmas Carole, I forged my chain with prejudicial ideas that rejected Catholic traditions and beliefs about the Mass as silliness, at best, and absolute superstition at its worse. My preconceived religious fervor determined for me what God could and could not do, and what He would and would not do. Like Marley, those chains held me prisoner in the twilight, unable to experience the day.

The Holy Spirit began to release me from those chains first with insight about the Eucharist. When He revealed His truth, I suddenly understood that Jesus is indeed physically present at the Mass. So complete was the impact on me that all my former chains of ignorance about the Mass dropped to the floor with a clanging thud.

In subsequent bursts of comprehension, the shackles of my Protestant points of view were shattered as I discovered anew our Father truly is and was and will be – all at the same time. Our mighty Lord really is the Lord of eternity; He is not bound by time or space. He is present at the Mass from the breaking of the Matzo and sharing of the Cup, to His crucifixion upon Golgotha, and His resurrection on the first Easter morning.

When those truths settled over me, I wept because it was too beautiful and too wonderful to know, and I realized how profound and magnificent is the gift of the Mass.

As I continued to attend Mass, talk with Rich, and listen to Catholic radio, the Holy Spirit confirmed over and over the insights He had shown me. And with each confirmation, I was amazed that what the Holy Spirit taught me is exactly what the Catholic Church teaches.

No longer believing the Mass superstitious or an absurdity, I am certain the Mass is a moment in time when the past and the present come together. Oh! How like our loving Lord – our Emmanuel – to be physically present to meet with me and with anyone else who seeks Him.