Esprit

Engaging the spirit, challenging the mind.

Category: Living the Christian Life

An Easter Poem

Today we celebrate Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead–but more than that.  We celebrate all that He obtained for us through His death.  We could not obtain the good of new and everlasting life without death, as there is no Easter without Good Friday (and that is why we call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion “Good”).  But often, we struggle to let the old things pass away that the new may live.  That is the hardest part–not clinging to what was or what we hoped would be.  If we cling to the old, we cannot have the new. All things, to grow and ascend, must die in some respect that something greater might be raised up from within.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24, ESV

And so, I’d like to share a reflection from Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing:

“On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdala meets the resurrected Jesus.  Initially she does not know who he is and she supposes him to be the gardener, but immediately upon recognizing him, she tries to throw her arms around him.  Jesus, for his part, tells her:  “Mary, do not cling to me!”  What lies behind Jesus’ reluctance to let Mary touch him?  Mary Magdala herself, had we ever found her gospel, would, I suspect, explain it this way:

I never suspected

 Resurrection

  and to be so painful

to leave me weeping

With joy

 to have met you, alive and smiling, outside an

  empty tomb

With regret

not because I’ve lost you

but because I’ve lost you in how I had you–

 in understandable, touchable, clingable

  flesh

 not as fully Lord, but as graspably human.

I want to cling, despite your protest

 cling to your body

cling to your, and my, clingable humanity

cling to what we had, our past.

But I know that…if I cling

you cannot ascend and

I will be left clinging to your former self

…unable to receive your present spirit.”

Have a blessed Easter.  Christ suffered, died, and rose again that you might have hope.

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Derek Prince: Sowing & Reaping

templatemast

March 17, 2014

Sowing and Reaping

Galatians 6:7

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.     NIV

There’s a warning against deceiving ourselves, imagining that we can sow one thing in life and reap something different, imagining that we can get away with things that God won’t see, that we won’t be caught up with the consequences of our actions. The Bible warns us this isn’t so. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

We know this is true in the natural realm. We know that if we plant an orange pip an apple will never grow. We know that if we sow maize, barley will never grow. What we sow is what’s going to come up out of it. So many, however, that see this in the natural don’t realize it’s equally true in the spiritual.

God has made the whole universe with the same principle – that what we sow we reap. If we sow unkindness, we’ll reap unkindness. If we sow selfishness, we’ll reap selfishness. If we sow bitter words, we’ll reap bitter words. But if we sow peace, we’ll reap peace. If we sow love, we’ll reap love. If we sow joy, we’ll reap joy.

Are you dissatisfied with your life? Are you dissatisfied with the way things are? Remember that what you are reaping is the result of what you have sown. If you want to reap differently, you’ll have to begin to sow differently. God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

—Derek Prince

To listen to Derek’s original audio on our website click here.

Child of the Light

The past few weeks have been filled with a theme:  Walk in the light.  At church a couple of Sundays past, we dedicated a new baptismal font.  It reminded me of the song we used to sing at another church I used to attend:

I want to walk as a child of the light / I want to follow Jesus

God set the stars to give light to the world / The star of my life is Jesus.

In Him there is no darkness at all / The night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the light of the City of God / Shine in our hearts, Lord Jesus.

I want to see the brightness of God / I want to look at Jesus

Clear sun of righteousness, shine on my path / And show me the way to the Father.

We would sing this song whenever someone was baptized as an expression of the heart of the believer choosing to follow Christ.  The verses echo the single-hearted devotion to the vision of God espoused by David in Psalm 27:  “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” (27:4, ESV)

From time to time, and hopefully more frequently in the future, I attend Mass at a wonderful monastery run by an order of monks and nuns called The Community of the Lamb.  They felt called to come to the United States from France to live in an impoverished and troubled community    On New Year’s Eve, the feast of the Blessed Mother Mary, the celebration began late on the 31st and continued into the New Year. As the clock struck midnight, we heard gunshots outside, which is expected.  But then, there seemed to be more gunshots than normal…then  the sounds of ambulances, sirens, and shouts.  It all lasted what seemed to be a long time.  Outside, it was dark, it was late, cold, and in a state chaotic confusion.  But inside, we basked in warmth and light and praise.  It was a beautiful picture of life in Christ vis a vis life in the world.

The order came to a dark place to be a lantern in its midst.  Day in and day out, they pray and praise and sing purely because God is worthy of praise–like the seraphim about His throne singing “Holy, Holy, Holy!”.  To some, monastic life seems dreary, boring and austere.  But the more time I spend with the Community of the Lamb, the more I can see how brightly the light of Christ shines among them.   Also, having been taught by several nuns, I’ve always thought the stereotype of the legalistic and harsh nun was unfortunate, as most that I have known have been without fail the most kind, empathetic, and charitable people I have ever met.  I remember once when very little meeting a nun in the store and my mother and I were so happy to have met her that we went searching the convents in the area to see if we could find her again and visit her.  We didn’t find her, but in my memory I can still see her looking down at me, beaming a smile.  She was filled with light and it was that light that drew my mother and I to her.  (No wonder saints are always depicted with halos!)

When I take the time to set aside all of my daily cares and allow their chanting to flow through my spirit, I realize just how small my concerns are, and often feel embarrassed by the worldliness of my desires.   No one knows but me, and yet the purity of the light in their midst shines upon the dark spots in my soul.  I find myself wondering why I’ve been preoccupied with such and such a thing, or why this and that seemed so important to me before I walked in.  C.S. Lewis has some thoughts on this, from his essay “The Weight of Glory,” in the book by the same name.  In fact, just this morning, our priest read the excerpt (starts at 30:40):

https://soundcloud.com/st-aidans/the-power-of-our-desires

The whole sermon is definitely worth hearing, but the quote is here:

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

the-weight-of-glory-cover1“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

Lewis is one who had a particular gift for conveying the light of God in the coming New Creation through his writings.  My favorite book of his is The Great Divorce, which I recently had the opportunity to see dramatized by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts.  It was such a wonderful adaptation of the book, and completely faithful to its theological message.  And as such, it quickly reminded me of why reading Lewis has always been so spiritually fruitful:  Lewis makes the thought of heaven genuinely more desirable than anything we could ever call good on earth.  I say “genuinely” because there are no “shoulds” or “supposed to’s”about it.  When you see the vision of the goodness of Christ and His Creation through Lewis’ eyes, you cannot help but to see it as so much more beautiful and wonderful and worthy than even the best fallen humanity has to offer.

The light is always available to us.  It is our choice whether to walk in it or not, whether to abide in it or not; whether to allow ourselves to continually experience the warmth of His Sun, or to allow ourselves to be tossed to and fro by the vissicitudes of life and our own frustrations, disappointments, and strivings.  Moreover, it is up to us to desire the light more than the darkness of this world.  One way to continually cultivate a desire for light is to meditate on those things that fill us with light.  This accords with Paul’s admonition in Philippians:  ” Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  (4:8, ESV)

In an essay titled “Transposition” included in The Weight of Glory Lewis envisions the possibility of our earthly lives taken up into the life of God.  Those familiar with musical terms will know that to transpose a song means to take a melody and accompanying chords and shift it into an entirely new key.  It will sound the same, yet different.  I realized at the performance that so much of the joy and delight I’ve found in reading Lewis’ writings is that he is constantly showing his readers the possibility of the transposition of this life into a higher, brighter key.  We know that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” and at the same time rejoice in the fact that “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.”  The Light that Christians bear within is enough to overcome the darkness of this world.  And the Light within us bears witness to our hope of joining Christ in that City where the Sun never sets.

Happiness

I came across this tweet today and, honestly, immediately felt a little deflated by it, a little defeated.  “Getting to good” as I’ve often articulated it in my mind and prayers has been a consistent goal of my life.  Despite my feelings about the tweet’s message, I knew it spoke the truth, a truth I already knew: Wherever we go on this earth, “the world, the flesh, and the devil” have preceded us and meet us there.  In protesting about this to God (Fr. John Cyr did say almost always, didn’t he?), a thought came to me:

There is but one Life, which is Christ.  There is only life in Christ or death in the world.  

As the Apostle John tells us, “all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”  1 John 2:16 ESV.  Though we are encased in corrupt bodies upon a failing planet that groans for its redemption (Romans 8:22), it is not exactly our natural, terrestrial existence which precludes our happiness.  Rather, is is the spiritual corruption within and the world’s schema without that bring about our death.  There is no way to pursue our corrupt desires (whether sexually lustful, or greedy for possessions, or desirous of accolades, and so on) or flow with the world’s values and priorities and yet participate in the life of Christ.  This life in Him, this constant abiding in Him is our happiness–in this life and in the next.  For this reason, the Apostle Paul tells us “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”  Colossians 3:3-4 ESV

In light of that truth, what happiness could the world offer that would not somehow entangle and obscure our vision of Christ?  To seek the happiness that does not deceive, we must, as Fr. John advises, pursue God.  With that in mind, have an amazingly happy 2014.

Blessings.

Keeping the Commands of Christ – Week Two – Follow Him

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'” Matthew 4:19, ESV

Andrew initially encountered Jesus by following John the Baptist and went to tell his brother Simon that they had found the Messiah.  When Jesus met Simon, He told him that he would be called Cephas (Peter).  Later, Jesus approached both while going about their daily work and told them that He intended to change their lives.  He laid out His simple vision straightaway: they were going to turn from catching fish to catching people (for God).  He also told them just how it was going to happen–it would happen by following Him.  They became Jesus’ disciples and were transformed from fishermen into apostles of the Kingdom of God, preaching, performing miracles, and guiding God’s people.  After Jesus’ resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the religious leaders marveled at the changed men before them, as Luke records “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  Acts 4:13

They took note of the fact that they had been with Jesus.  Walking with Christ was the means of their change. The transformation came through discipleship.  When Jesus originally approached them, He did not say, “Be inspired by Me” or “Think well of Me,” or even, “Make Me a part of your life.”  Rather He said “Follow Me.”  In responding to His call, Andrew and Peter walked where He walked, slept where He slept and came to do the works that He did.  They listened to and learned from Him.

We are to do the same–follow Him in spirit even if not physically.  Recently a fellowship group I’m a part of had a dedicated time of prophecy and encouragement.  We were to speak words over one another as the Spirit led.  When it was my turn to receive a word, one young woman said that I tend to pay attention to words and take time to think about exactly the right one to use.  She then said that I should take Christ’s words and allow those words to continue to lead and guide me.  To some, that could sound vague, but it didn’t strike me as such at the time.  It was a call to renewed focus on meditating on the word of God.  I’m not surprised, then, that I later felt led to start this yearlong reflection on the commands of Christ.  I believe that such meditation is an answer to the same call Andrew and Peter answered; by hearing His word and learning to think as He thinks, we will be transformed.

We might have many goals in life, but it bears repeating that the leaders took note that Andrew and Peter had been with Jesus.  Whatever we become in this life, people should be able to recognize that we have been with Christ.  The apostles had the bearing, the speech, and the works of men who had followed Christ and were recognizable as such.  Their transformation was astonishing, as it did not come through schooling (as the leaders noted) or any other training aside from walking with Christ.  Education serves a useful purpose as a tool, but we can only be made Christlike in holiness and power by truly becoming His followers..

Repentance for Christians – Doubting Cheap Grace

There’s a paradox in God’s grace–it is free, but never cheap.  It is widely available to all, without any restrictions on who may receive it.  But having received it, it demands of us our very lives.  God’s grace does not come cheaply to us due to the fact that while He freely pours out His grace for our aid, we must continue to sacrifice everything and give all of ourselves to Him for that grace to be fruitful in our lives.

Some doubt the possibility that the Lord could keep forgiving sins–70 x 7 times, as it were.  Some say that if God were to just say, “Okay! You said sorry, so everything’s good now,” that people could just keep sinning and saying sorry, never really changing and leaving the sin behind.  But as the Apostle Paul said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:2-3

Christ made God’s grace available to us with His sacrifice of complete and perfect obedience, the pouring out of Himself unto death.  Entering into the life of Christ through faith, we do the same.   To repent is to take up a cross and continue to carry it unto our death.  If we choose to sin, we put the cross down and seek after our own will and pleasure.  But should the Spirit of God convict us and we yield to Him once more, we pick the Cross up again.  There is no repentance without taking up His Cross and dying to self.  For that reason, no truly repentant sinner simply skips away from God with a pardon.

Even the woman caught in adultery, after Jesus stopped her accusers, was told to go and sin no more.  (John 8:11) Christ’s pardon was the opportunity to repent and follow God.  She received God’s grace, which is available to us all for one purpose–to know Him and to love Him.  There is a Eucharistic prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, from the Anglican liturgy that says “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.”  Seeking pardon without seeking renewal of life is to seek cheap grace, which is not what the Lord offers.

Sometimes Christians find themselves confessing the same sins again and again.  When people are confessing sin and choosing to sin over and over again in the same cycle (while these cycles do happen, they most certainly do not have to) a possible cause is that one hasn’t yet reached the level of genuine repentance.  Discussed in the initial post, repentance is essentially a bowing of the knee to Christ.  It is an assent to God’s way of thinking about things and the recognition that one has followed one’s own will above God’s and then relinquishing one’s own will in submission to God.

And so, there are many things that one can experience emotionally and psychologically that make for less-than-authentic repentance.  One might be very grieved over the consequences of one’s actions.  One might be disappointed in one’s failure to meet God’s expectations, or acknowledge that one has hurt others or failed to meet their expectations.  One might cry and recognize what a terrible thing one has done, perhaps feeling very sorrowful.  But not even sorrow for sins committed suffices for true repentance.  We ought to have contrite hearts regarding our sin.  But beyond having an emotional response to the reality of one’s sin, one must lay down one’s will and submit it to God, choosing to obey Him rather than oneself and doing that which one failed to do before.  Sorrow for sin that results in renewed obedience is the godly sorrow the Apostle Paul speaks about, saying “I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief…For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”  2 Corinthians 7:9-10  Think of this–Judas Iscariot recognized the evil he had done in betraying Jesus and took his life rather than submitting himself to God.  He felt bad, but it didn’t result in repentance.

I should note that while making restitution where necessary should follow repentance and certainly amendment of life should follow as well, our will is to be directed toward God rather than simply trying to fix and change whatever is bad.  The difference between the two inclinations can be subtle.  Speaking of Judas Iscariot again, before his suicide, he took the silver he received for betraying Christ and attempted to give it back to the religious leaders.  They wouldn’t accept it from him and he left it in the temple.  What Judas had done was done and there was no way to go back from his betrayal of Christ aside from casting himself at His feet and doing what he would not do before–submit to Him.

Choosing to sin is, in essence, a denial of God’s right to be Lord of our lives.  It takes us out of our proper relation to him.  The same night that Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied knowing him at all.  Peter, who, when Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?” was the first to proclaim Jesus’ identity as the Christ.  (Matthew 16:16)  But when confronted with the possibility of suffering in order to be faithful to Him, Peter gave in to his own desire to avoid pain.

When we choose sin, we may not think of it as denying Christ, but that is what it is at its core–a denial of His identity and right to our obedience.  Both Judas and Peter sinned, but Peter ultimately repented and was restored by Jesus after His resurrection.  In restoring him, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”  In His preaching, Jesus defined loving Him as obeying Him (John 14:21).  So where Peter had denied Jesus’ Lordship, Jesus had Peter confess it.  And having done so, Peter went forth to build the Kingdom of God.

And so, it’s less important to introspect on just how bad we are than it is to make sure that whatever sin has been identified, our response is the denial of self where self was indulged before and the laying down of one’s own will in exchange for the taking up of God’s.  Repentance comes not simply in recognizing that we’ve done wrong, but in answering “Yes!” to the question–“Despite what you want, think, feel, or what anyone else does or says, will you obey God above all else, thinking as He thinks and doing as He wills?”  A heart with such a posture has reached the point of repentance, which is what enables Christ to enter in and transform our hearts.

Keeping the Commands of Christ – Week One – Repent!

Matthew 4:13-17 –

13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,

the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people dwelling in darkness

have seen a great light,

and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

 ________________________________________

While Jesus’ turning of the water into wine at Cana was His first miraculous sign (John 4:11), the ushering in of his public ministry can be said to have really begun with the preaching of repentance.  John the Baptist, the one sent to “prepare the way of the Lord,” preached a Gospel of repentance, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:2;10)  When Jesus began preaching, He proclaimed the same message.

Repentance prepares the way for the Lord into our hearts.  He seeks to be Lord–ruler–but we have set up fiefdoms here and there, strongholds where His will in our lives does not prevail.  Christ is glad to conquer our heart, but we must let Him in, and we do so by repenting of that which we know is against Him.  But what does it mean to repent?  On it’s most basic level, repentance means to turn away from something, to change one’s mind.  It is not wavering, but involves intent.  In preparation for Jesus’ ministry, the Father sent John the Baptist to exhort people to turn away from their sins and to think differently about their actions.

To repent does not mean to perfect oneself.  It means to change the state of one’s heart from one of rebellion against the ways of God to one of obedience.  Even if we think we’re pretty decent, even if we believe that certain things are okay, the question is whether we are willing to change our minds and follow God’s commands rather than our own desires and will.  Such a change is the essence of repentance, which leads to conversion of heart.

People who are “converts” to something have adopted a new way of life, a new way of being.  God desires all who serve Him to have converted hearts.  Speaking of repentance and conversion together, the Catechism states that “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. (1431)  Repentance refers to our thinking about something; what we once looked upon as good, right, OK, acceptable, etc., we reject as unacceptable, wrong, bad, etc.  Or perhaps even things we looked down upon–for some, maybe faith itself–we now hold in esteem.  St. Augustine puts it wonderfully:

Gates of Repentance I by David Wolk

“Whoever confesses his sins…is already working with God.  God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God.  man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities:  when you hear ‘man’ – this is what God has made; when you hear ‘sinner’ – this is what man himself has made.  Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made…When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works.  The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works.  You do the truth and come to the light.” (Augustine, Tractates on John, In Jo. ev. 12, 13) (1458)

Even if we accept God’s definition of right and wrong, the sins we commit originate in our hearts, and  to change our heart is up to God.  For “The human heart is heavy and hardened.  God must give man a new heart.  Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: ‘Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored!'” (1432)  While many have a profound conversion experience at a point in their life–I did–this call to repentance and conversion of heart is continuous.  As we grow in our understanding of God and of the nature of sin within us, we continue to turn away from that which is sinful and toward the Lord, ever relying up on His grace to experience change from the heart.

Reflections on 2012–You Either Know God or You Don’t

I often find different themes running throughout my spiritual life, sometimes through a word or phrase, recurring dreams or conversations with other believers.  In the latter part of 2012, I found myself often thinking, “You either know God or you don’t”–not to anyone else, but to myself.  I either know God or I don’t.  So much energy can be expended reading, reflecting, talking, serving and doing any number of things centered on one’s faith.  But at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding–You either know God or you don’t.  You either hear His voice or you don’t.  He either claims you as His own or He doesn’t.  And as Jesus warned us, there will be many who will point to all the spiritual things they had done to prove that they knew Him, and He will deny ever having known them at all. (Matt. 7:22-23)  A troubling thought.  The Lord is a living Person, more real than anything we can physically see or touch–for it is only in Him that we and all that is around us exists.  (Acts 17:28)  In all our religious doings, if we do not manage to connect to this Person in an active and dynamic way, we’re going to miss the point.  When I speak of connecting with Him, I’m not necessarily speaking of spiritual or mystical experiences; those are special favors granted by the Lord and are more like icing on the cake rather than the cake itself.  Rather, I’m speaking of knowing Him and being in fellowship with Him, of loving Him with heart, mind, soul and strength.

Christ provided a perfect example of what it looks like to love God and thus to remain in fellowship with Him.  It was through His perfect obedience unto death that He remained in unity with the Father.  Never boasting of Himself or of His power, one thing He did say of Himself is that “He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”  John 8:29 ESV  The Father remained with Jesus and Jesus remained in the Father through submission to the Father’s will.  This is how we grow in God, how we come to know Him in truth–through obeying His word.  As Christ also said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  John 14:21  What an amazing promise and invitation!

So, with my spirit having pondered what it truly means to know God in 2012, and desirous to enter more deeply into the life of God, I thought it fitting to focus on the commands of Christ in 2013.  There are hundreds of commands throughout the New Testament, but one ministry takes all of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels and identifies 50 commands of Christ.  A reflection on one of those commands every week will lead right up to 2014.  And I am confident that the Lord will be faithful and good this year to produce good fruit from those reflections and make good on His promise, drawing near to those who draw near to Him.

Let us draw near to Him–check back on Sundays for a reflection on His commands.  Blessings!

Don’t Try to Convert Me!

I was having a lively conversation about society and politics with a couple of fellow boarders in our common space, and the conversation eventually turned to religion.  I was in and out of the conversation, so I forget how the conversation ended up there, but one got my attention when she exclaimed “Don’t try to convert me!”  She wasn’t speaking to us, but was saying that’s how she often felt when approached by people of faith.  She shared her experience of growing up in a hyper-religious community that might well be classified as a cult, and she said she’d had people trying to convert her all her life and she was really tired of it.  The other person in the conversation shared her sentiment, though without having had the same traumatic experience.
That exchange made me pause to reflect on the various motivations people of faith can have when spreading the Gospel.  The way they spoke of people trying to convert them sounded a lot more like people attempting to control them and conform them to a certain pattern of behavior than people attempting to share genuinely good news about Christ.  They had certainly encountered ideology, but it seemed like they hadn’t really encountered Christ’s love for them in those who professed His name.

For the Christian engaged in society, discerning the difference between ideology and love is paramount.  Ideology is an idea of how the world works and ought to be.  Ideologies motivate individuals to shape the world around them and impose a certain type of order upon it.  Ideologies come in many different forms, and may be religious, secular, conservative, liberal, or anything in between.

Because God is love, Christianity is not an ideological faith.  Christianity can be and has been made into an ideology, but ideological Christianity is not the Gospel. God’s love invalidates ideological Christianity because love gives for the benefit of the other, whereas ideology merely controls.  Even God’s commands are for our good, and enable us to share intimately in His life.

Love gives freedom to choose against the good; though love doesn’t remove negative consequences, nor does it sanction evil.  But love is the constant call upwards, the constant call into light and truth so that the other might be healed, might be blessed, might grasp hold of the abundant life made possible by Christ.  Love is always acting for the benefit of the other, and not for the satisfaction of our own minds about the way other people or the world around us ought to be–nor out of annoyance that people aren’t as we think they ought to be.  And love respects the individual enough to affirm the capacity of each to choose right and reap the benefits, or choose wrong and suffer the consequences.

People often shirk away from those attempting to speak about Christ because they sense–sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly–that the person sharing isn’t really concerned about their good but more about getting them to act a certain way or to affirm a set of beliefs that validate the other’s worldview.  People can often project negative motives onto others where they don’t exist, but too many times the perception is true.  Speaking the Gospel (or the truth more generally) in love isn’t so much about how something is said as much is it is about what is motivating the speaker.  It’s about a heart that is genuinely moved by concern and compassion for the other, moved by a deep desire to see the other blessed.  The truth–even when spoken in love–often offends those who don’t want to hear it; but even so, if we want to truly bear witness to Christ, then His heart must be our heart.  We can only give what we have; so to communicate His love for another, His love for them must first be in us.

Why I “Came Home” to Catholicism

I was brought up in Catholicism by way of schooling and an independent decision at age 10 to formally enter the Church.   As a teenager, a desire to grow more deeply in my faith, knowledge, understanding, and fellowship with other believers led me to drift away from Catholic circles.  In the 10 years since then, I’ve been a part of a Southern Baptist church, participated in an Orthodox parish, was received into the Anglican Communion, became a postulant to the Episcopal priesthood, ultimately left and fellowshiped in Pentecostal circles (picking up the gift of tongues and a strong understanding of demonic deliverance) as well as very small corners of Protestantism, until I was recently led to reconcile myself to the Catholic Church.

I have pages and pages that I have written detailing my spiritual journey, and the thoughts and experiences that ultimately led me to return.  Each item on the list could be the length of a book chapter.  I wouldn’t say that the list is in order of importance necessarily–all the reasons ultimately created a critical mass of assurance that it was time for me to pack up and head home.

1)    I ultimately concluded that I could trust the Church’s teachings to most effectively lead me into a deeper knowledge of God and a life of obedience and virtue.

2)    After leaving, I only became increasingly more Catholic in reflecting on God, mankind, and the world, despite being out of communion with the Catholic Church.

3)    I believe division in the Body of Christ is inherently scandalous; the interminable fracturing of the Body both burdened and wearied my spirit.

4)   Both the fruit and power of the Spirit have been made manifest in my life through distinctly Catholic concepts and teachings, namely receiving the Sacraments and praying the Rosary.

5)   Increasingly, I began to see a certain light and quality of virtue in the lives of some around me, and *almost* invariably, they were Catholics.

6)   I believe that the prevailing understanding of “sola scriptura” has much more to do with adherence to modern epistemology than with faithfulness to God.

7)   I believe that the prevailing understanding of “sola fide” gives young believers a strong religious ideology, but an incoherent spirituality.

8)   I believe that every believer is following a final authority of some sort, even if it is simply one’s own reason.  I became increasingly skeptical of the idea that I should be the ultimate arbiter of doctrinal truth, regardless of how sound I find my own arguments.

9)   I do not believe it possible that the Lord left His Church without a means to preserve the faith and authoritatively settle questions of doctrine.  The most prevalent mode of preservation of the faith across denominations is to further fragment in response to disagreement; and the most well-known, historically Protestant institutions of learning have by and large dropped the torch.

10)    I became increasingly concerned that most denominations were putting the ball on the hard pastoral questions, even where those questions have serious spiritual implications (e.g., When do divorce and remarriage constitute adultery?)

11)   I believe Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:11-15 indicate that the Body of Christ is to be growing in its unity and knowledge, meaning that Christendom should have stronger ties and deeper spiritual insight today than it did 100, 500, 1500 years ago; I believe the Catholic tradition enables the Church to grow without having to continually reinvent the theological wheel.

12)   I came to understand that the emptiness of theological education and spiritual formation in Catholic schools and parishes had a lot more to do with the lack of catechesis after Vatican II than with deficiencies in the Catechism itself.

13)   I realized that even in Scripture, moral defects in leaders did not undermine their authority unless and until God saw fit to dispose of them in judgment (Saul, Eli’s sons, the Pharisees—Matt. 23:1-3).  Peter’s sin, neither before nor after the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, disqualified him either from apostleship or authoring Scripture.

14)   Whenever I was done with the debates and wanted a definitive answer, I would turn to Catholic sources and see them as offering the most coherent explanation and depth of insight, regardless of whether I believed in the Church’s authority.

15)   I refuse to allow my faith to be scandalized by scandal.  As a fellow believer returning to the Church told me, “I can outlive him.  I was baptized before he was a bishop, and I’ll be Catholic longer than he’ll be an $!?%*#&.

Postscript:  I received many blessings in my time away from the Catholic Church.  I fellowshipped, learned, and grew with some wonderful believers.  I would hope that nothing I’ve said suggests otherwise.  Like I mentioned, the fracturing of the Body of Christ was a significant part of my thought process in returning, and I wouldn’t do anything now to intentionally alienate myself from fellow Christians.  It’s time to mend the broken pieces.

Resources:

The Way of the Lord Jesus by Germain Grisez

The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi

Return to Rome by Francis Beckwith