You Raise Me Up

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Conversion Story: Jennifer Fulwiler

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I have Decided

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At Gethsemane

2011 Apr 24 UT  Carl Bloch Gethsemane

Gethsemane is far more than the physical garden where Jesus prayed the night He was taken.

Gethsemane is a place in the human heart, a destination we all reach. Some of us will go there many times in our lives.

Gethsemane is what I call The Alone. It is that stripped-bare moment when the pretenses and self lies that sustain us in our illusion of invincibility and significance are taken from us. Gethsemane is the realization that we are alone in a way that the glad-handing niceties of human interaction hide from us.

Emotions such as loneliness and even despair are trivialities when contrasted with the stark solitary helplessness of The Alone. It is a stunning thing to look into the eyes of another human being and see satan looking back at you. It is a soul-scouring reality to face the insignificance we really are to other people.

That is Gethsemane, and it is what Jesus faced for you. And for me.

“Can you not wait with me one hour?” He asked the disciples, and the question vibrates with the isolating aloneness that prompted it. He had to face the awfulness of what was coming without human succor or understanding. When they came, when Judas struck Him to the heart with a kiss of betrayal, when He looked into the pitiless eyes of Satan, staring at him from another human face, He was alone.

That was Christ’s Gethsemane. Our Gethsemane, even though it will differ, is in some ways like it.

My friend Linda Caswell is director of All Things New, a ministry that shelters and redeems women who have been trafficked and prostituted. These women know The Alone not as an event or passage, but as the whole of their lives. They have inhabited The Alone the way you and I inhabit our jobs, families and lives, because it has been their lives.

Most of these women have had very few positive contacts with people of faith. They avoid churches because the men who have bought them are also in the churches. Their only safety is in Jesus, but they do not understand that at first.

When Linda shows them the movie that Mel Gibson made, The Passion of the Christ, it inevitably breaks through the hard shell of their self-defenses. Women who do not understand the Gospels as anything but a lie told by lying liars who buy and sell them break down and sob uncontrollably when they see Jesus humiliated, beaten, tortured and disregarded.

This Jesus, the One who prayed “let this cup pass” in Gethsemane, they understand. And by the miracle of the grace of the cross, they believe that this Jesus understands them.

Their lives, which have been an unending Gethsemane, open to this brother God who was beaten, tortured, humiliated and disregarded as they have been.

Because He understands. Because He does not disregard them. Because He is the only One who can go with them into The Alone of their personal Gethsemanes.

Jesus Christ suffered for us to redeem us from our sins, from the things we’ve done. He also suffered to redeem us from the things that have been done to us. In this cruel world where the biggest and the meanest usually make all the rules, the things that are done to us can cut deeper and leave us less able to see the Divine than our sins.

We put people outside the bright circles of acceptability that we draw around ourselves and those we deem worthy. We cast them into the hell of unending Gethsemane where no one keeps vigil with them and no one cares that they are alone.

Only Jesus, Who has been there, can penetrate The Alone of our lives. He is the One, the only One, who can draw people back from the man-made abyss of life lived in The Alone where we cast so many of the people that He died to save.

It is important to remember this at all times, but especially today when we re-enact the Last Supper. Jesus was becoming Christ on this night when He gave us the Eucharist and the servant priesthood. He was teaching us how to love with a love that passes all human understanding and how to live the life of the Kingdom in this world. He was showing us that even in our Gethsemane, even in the deepest pit of The Alone, we are never alone, for He is always there.

And he will keep watch with us, not just for an hour, but for the whole of this life and into the one beyond.

 

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2013 Favs: You Belong to Me

A few weeks ago, my pastor preached a homily based on what is a simple but absolute fact of all our lives.

We will die.

You are going to die.

I am going to die.

It may be in a car wreck this afternoon as you go to the store to buy milk. It may be years from now as you sleep in your bed at 85. But you and I will die.

My pastor told us that when we die, someone will say to us, You belong to me. The question is, who will be saying this to us? Will it be Jesus, welcoming us Home. Or will it be someone else?

We are the ones who decide who will tell us You belong to me on that day. We decide, not so much by the things we say, but by what we do. Who do you serve with your life? Whose teachings do you follow?

Do you follow the troubling teachings of the Gospels as elucidated to us by the Holy Father, Pope Francis? Or do you follow the serpent who whispers in all of our ears, Take. Eat. God is a liar. You will not die?

As with all really successful lies, this one was part truth. When the serpent whispered You will not die in Eve’s ear, it was true. All the serpent had to do was add one word to make it absolutely true. That word was today.

You will not die today. 

Take. Eat. And you will be like God, knowing right from wrong. And you will not die today. 

There are many serpents in our world today, and each one of them speaks to us in the peculiar language of our own hearts. They tell us that what we want to do is right and the Church which tells us otherwise is wrong, cruel, hard-hearted and mean to tell us it is not.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your sexuality, your politics, the way you treat your family or some secret sin you keep to yourself. You have your own serpent to whisper in your ear and tell you, God/the Pope/the Gospels are all liars. Do this and you will be free of those binding appeals to lying morality.

And, of course, you will not die. 

But it’s all a lie from the father of lies. The Gospel this Sunday talks about judgement day, when Jesus told us that one will be taken and another left behind. Many preachers concentrate their preaching about this on some final Judgement Day for all humankind that recedes in front of us like the horizon as we live our lives.

But I think that there are two judgement days and the one we need to concern ourselves with is our own personal Judgement Day that is coming at all of us faster than any of us wants to believe. On that day, someone will say to us You belong to me. 

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to encourage Christians to take a stand for Jesus in a post Christian world. Since I am myself a politician, I am calling you from the depths of my experience to cast off the false gods of political claptrap and follow the Gospels of Christ without compromise.

Do not follow false teachers who are the political serpents whispering in all our ears and who edit the Gospels of Christ to serve their political masters. Do not bow down before the elephant or the donkey. Do not do it.

When we die and someone says to us, You belong to me, we are the ones who will have determined which voice we hear saying it. We are choosing now as we choose who we serve, who we follow and who we believe.

Follow Christ.

Follow His Vicar who was chosen by the Holy Spirit and who cannot teach us that which is contrary to the Gospels of Christ.

Stop trying to lead, and follow. And stop quibbling about it.

I have learned from my own disastrous failures at doing it my way and I am telling you now from the bottom of my heart: There is no other Way.

 

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The Making of the Passion of the Christ

 

 

Memories of what went into making this remarkable move.

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The Battle of the Bulls

I want to write about the possibility of a government shut down this week, and I will write about it.

But today I’m up to my ears in alligators, family style.

So … I’ve decided that this post I wrote at the end of a legislative session here in Oklahoma might start you off. It doesn’t deal with the specific issues at hand, and the federal stand off is almost breathtaking in its ruthlessness. What I’m describing here is healthy political give and take. However, much of the psychology is the same. Read, and think about it. Then, we’ll take up what’s happening now tomorrow.

We shut down the session Friday and it wasn’t pretty. Oklahoma‘s constitution requires that we end the legislative session by 5 pm on the last Friday of May each year. What that means in the real world is that no matter what else we do, we must pass the budget by that day. Otherwise, all the money stops and the lights go out all over the state.

We did manage to get to the finish line with a budget of sorts, but not without a lot of drama. We skated to the edge of the cliff more than once in the last week, always barely avoiding the messy business of adjourning without funding the government. Egos were bruised, names were called, deals were done and legislators and staff drove themselves past simple exhaustion into incompetent somnabulence in the process.

By the end of session, most of us weren’t fit to drive a car, much less make laws for millions of people.

This annual exhibition of legislative histrionics makes the voters mad. In fact voter anger is why we have to shut it down by 5 pm on the last Friday of May. Back in the day, we used to cover the clock with a towel or sheet or maybe some unlucky legislator’s jacket, and just keep on fighting. We went right around the dial, 24-7, until the deals were done. The people of Oklahoma, in a disgusted pique, passed a constitutional amendment by means of a referendum petition that required us to take at least 8 hours off each day and to end the session on the aforementioned last Friday of May.

It was a good idea, but good ideas are very seldom a match for human nature. That’s the force driving these annual end of session train wrecks; testosterone-fueled human nature. The Oklahoma legislature is run by people with y chromosomes. It always has been. I don’t want to sound sexist, but it’s just a fact that when men who have more ego than brains start shoving each other around, the discussion quickly descends to an unacknowledged battle over who is the real alpha male around here.

All the talk about “the people” and “policy” and “rights” devolves down to who has enough manhood to make the other guy do obeisance.

I may get myself uninvited to lunch with the boys for saying all this. It’s definitely not politically correct. But it is the truth. Decisions are made which affect the lives and futures of millions of people, including people who haven’t been born yet, based on this chest-thumping battle of the bulls.

Those of us who don’t have quite so much testosterone get into it, too. Female legislators are quite as capable of standing our ground as the guys. The difference is we usually have some vague notion of why we’re actually doing it, and we aren’t nearly as likely to offer to “take it outside” and “settle it there.” In fact I can honestly say that in all my 16 years as a legislator, I have never threatened anyone with a right hook to the jaw for disagreeing with me.

Remember: This is Oklahoma. I’ve seen legislators come to blows more than once in my tenure in office. A year before I was first elected in 1980, one legislator brought a gun onto the floor of the House with the intention of shooting one of his colleagues. I met one of the legislators who disarmed him when I was elected the next year and married him a couple of years after that. Two kids and almost  30 years later, we’re still together.

I expect some people will be upset by this view from the inside of the legislative rumbles. But I have to admit, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind the yelling. I don’t mind the fist fights. I don’t mind the shoving and threats and bombastic carrying on. I don’t mind because, messy and ridiculous as it sometimes is, it’s also democracy in action.

I would much rather see a messy session shut down where everyone noisily had their say than a well-mannered tea-sipping shut down where only a few powerful nabobs made all the policy. We practiced hard-ball politics this week, but we also stopped some horrifically bad bills from becoming law. I am convinced that we saved lives and protected the state’s economy from ruin by the moves we made. It took both parties and every single one of us to do it.

I was so tired last Friday that I was dizzy-headed and nauseous. I had to concentrate to vote correctly on the rapid-fire procedural votes that we were shooting at one another, something I can usually do on automatic. I saw other legislators start making speeches on the mike when they were recognized to ask a question, debate the wrong bill and repeatedly get befuddled about what they were trying to do.

All of this was exhaustion, and exhaustion to that level when you’re making law is not good. It also wasn’t necessary. We wasted a lot of time twiddling our thumbs in the days leading up to this; time we should have spent hearing bills in a more judicious fashion than this last-minute onslaught.

But I still prefer that to any “reform” that would tamp down on it. When you bring  150 people together from all over a state as big as Oklahoma, from rural folks who live in counties with more cattle than people to city dwellers who worry about gangs, you’re going to get disagreement. The only way to avoid it is for some of them to sell out the people they’re representing.

That’s what usually happens. I’ve seen it over and over. I saw it this session. But something happened this last week and the House members rose up and started representing their constituents. That’s how the bad bills died.

But bad bills which are pushed by powerful people who stand to make a lot of money from them don’t die easily. The resulting fights were why we were all so tired.

Was it worth it? Oh yes.

But I’m sure glad I don’t have to do it again this week.

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Lumen Fidei, Part 1: The Light of Faith and Conversion

Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith, by Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict, is a wonderful piece of writing that I think is exactly right for us in this time.

It talks about the many ways that faith illumines our walk with Christ in this life, and how that faith leads us to the world beyond. It is about the transforming power of conversion. I was struck over and again while I was reading it by how completely its words seemed to speak directly to my own experience of conversion, from that first abrupt turn to Jesus and throughout the on-going conversion that has been my life since.

This experience of seeing my own walk of faith and my own needs — both intellectual and emotional needs — addressed in papal encyclicals is not new to me. I have been consistently amazed by the power the Holy Spirit infuses into the writings of the various popes to speak accurately of and directly to the broader human condition.

The fact that I saw my own experiences of conversion reflected in Luman Fidei leads me to believe that my conversion and my walk are far more universal than I had ever supposed. There is so much in Lumen Fidei that applies to us as individuals and as Christians in a newly post-Christian world that I am not going to attempt to summarize it in a single post. Instead, I’m going to unpack it a bit at a time and ponder what I learn from it.

Each of you would probably learn something different if you read it. Great spiritual writing is always like that. Ten people can read the Sermon on the Mount and experience 10 different insights. That is because the Sermon on the Mount has so many dimensions and also because the Holy Spirit guides us in our reflections to learn what we need at that time in our lives.

It is the same with this encyclical, or just about any of the encyclicals, for that matter. I encourage you to read it and reflect on it for yourself, then bring your thoughts here to try them out. Mind on mind generates better thinking that just going off alone. I think we can teach one another.

Conversion is not just a one-off, falling-off-a-cliff moment. It can be that, but, if it is real, it is always more than that. Conversion is a process of re-orientation.

The way I’ve always put it is that Jesus doesn’t change what we do. He changes what we want to do.

Lumen Fidei puts it like this:

Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time … faith is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond ourselves towards the breadth of communion.

In other words, God loved us before we were conceived, and has called us to Himself when we were apart from Him. That initial moment of conversion is built on the first spark of faith that allows us to say “yes” to this love. In my case, I said “Forgive me.”

My first conscious experience of God as Another was the instantaneous experience of love and joy pouring into me as soon as I said that. It was God’s answer to my “yes” to Him.

Just as the love of our parents when we are little gives us the security to explore the world and learn about it without fear, this powerful love of God that we can actually feel as a sensation transforms us from the inside.

The fact, the simple fact, that God Is, that He Is a reacting being whose first persona is ecstatic love and joy of a quality we have never known was possible, changes everything else. Faith, which was a spark of desperation when we said that first “yes,” becomes a certainty in the reality of this love.

Faith in Him, in His goodness and His love, teaches us a new kind and level of security. It is security built on a different reality at a different plane than the ones we ordinarily build our lives around.

The foundations and walls of security people try to erect for themselves are made of labor, blood and money. We amass wealth, commission armies, put up buildings and buy locks, all to give us security from the thief, the tyrant and the caprice of life. All these things are open mouths into which we feed our days erecting, maintaining and controlling them in the vain hope that they will keep us safe. Whatever safety they give is predicated on the fact that they themselves also devour our energies and strength. None of them can, in the end, save us from our own weaknesses and mortality.

The security of Christ is built outside of time and without our work. We do not supply it, and we do not maintain it. Time cannot erode it and death does not end it.

Faith is the light, shining in the darkness of our narrow existences which illumines this security and lets us experience it. Faith does not create the security of living in Christ. Rather, it lets us experience it to its fullest.

Faith in Christ allows us to see the new path before us. It opens our hearts to the teaching and promptings of the Holy Spirit, which in turn, change us from the inside out. Over time, we are converted to a new way of looking at ourselves, other people and life. We are changed, re-oriented. The things that matter to us change, and the things we do change right along with them.

We become new creatures in Christ.

This is the full experience of conversion, which is on-going, life-long and radical. It is how Christ transforms the world; by transforming each one of us individually.

And it all depends on that first radical turn away from flat, one-dimensional life of no faith, no hope, and doing it all for ourselves. It depends on that initial “yes” of faith.

 

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

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Book Review: God’s Favorite Place on Earth

To join the discussion about God’s Favorite Place on Earth, or to buy a copy, go here

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Frank Viola, who blogs at Rediscovering the Supremacy of Jesus Christ, is offering 25 free books or audios to those who buy his newest book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth, in the next week. To learn more, go here

That offer makes a good book a good deal, as well.

God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a combination first person fictionalization/meditation/teaching on the Gospel stories surrounding the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This family lived in the little town of Bethany, and Gospel accounts make it clear that their friendship with Jesus was both personal and on-going. 

These people knew Jesus in the intimate way that friends know one another. They also recognized Him as more than just another rabbi. They got Him at a time when His own disciples were often confused the things He did and said. 

This is the same Lazarus who died and was dead four days when Jesus stood at his grave and, with the words Lazarus come forth! raised him from the dead. 

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First, Jesus meant it when He said that being his disciple means taking up our crosses and following after Him. The message in Viola’s fine book is three-fold. 

Second, God’s ways are not our ways. He doesn’t work according to our time-table or our human goals. He has His own plan and our part in it is to follow Him and do what He tells us to do.

Third, (and most important) Christian life is Christ-centered living. It is not about our missions or our apostolates. It is not a function of how many hours we spend at church or how we vote. Following Christ means following Christ and Him crucified.

Frank Viola has written a fine book that gave me meat for thought about my own Christian walk and the ways in which I put things ahead of Him in my life. It was a convicting and uplifting read, both at once. 

I heartily recommend it. 

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Holy Father Demonstrates Humility and Simplicity on His First Day in Office

Habemus Papem!

 

We have a pope, and our new pope has his own way of doing things. Twenty-four hours after he stood on the balcony and gave us his first blessing as our Holy Father, Pope Francis is already exhibiting an independent streak.

He dressed more simply, refused a Papal limousine, asked for our prayers and (get ready for this) went back to the Vatican hotel where he had been staying before his election to collect his own luggage and pay his bill.

I don’t see these changes as a departure from the papacy as it has been, but as a return of the papacy as a pastoral office that speaks to the world in the name of Christ the Lord that it always has been. Rather than behaving in a manner befitting what the press has termed “Christ’s CEO,” Pope Francis has shown us a Holy Father who has come to serve the Lord, and us in His name.

I think it would be a mistake for anyone to take this gentleness and simplicity as weakness. Pope Francis’ actions demonstrate an unruffled confidence in the Christ of the Gospels that comes from the kind of faith that survives anything the world can throw at it. He is humble, but I predict that we will see that it is the humility of an inner strength born of great faith and holiness.

I’ve excerpted an Associated Press article detailing the Holy Father’s first day in office. You can find the entire article with all the details here.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis put his humility on display during his first day as pontiff Thursday, stopping by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay the bill himself in a decidedly different style of papacy …

… He kept the simple iron pectoral cross of his days as bishop and eschewed the red cape … choosing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy.

… “He believes the church has to go to the streets, to express this closeness of the church and this accompaniment with those who are suffering.” Francis’ authorized biographer,

…Sergio Rubin, said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.

… Rubin recalled how the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would celebrate Masses with homeless people and prostitutes in Buenos Aires.

… Francis began his first day as pope making an early morning visit in a simple Vatican car to a Roman basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary and prayed before an icon of the Madonna.

He also told cardinals he would call on retired Pope Benedict XVI, but the Vatican said the visit wouldn’t take place for a few days.

… Francis, the first Jesuit pope and first non-European since the Middle Ages, decided to call himself Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, the humble friar who dedicated his life to helping the poor.

The new pope, known for his work with the poor in Buenos Aires’ slums, immediately charmed the crowd in St. Peter’s, which roared when his name was announced and roared again when he emerged on the loggia of the basilica with a simple and familiar: “Brothers and sisters, good evening.”

By Thursday morning, members of his flock were similarly charmed when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he routinely stays during visits to Rome and where he stayed before the start of the conclave.

“He wanted to come here because he wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house,” said The Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, who is staying at the residence. “He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one.”

He then paid the bill.

“People say that he never in these 20 years asked for a (Vatican) car,” he said. “Even when he went for the conclave with a priest from his diocese, he just walked out to the main road, he picked up a taxi and went to the conclave. So very simple for a future pope.”

Francis displayed that same sense of simplicity and humility immediately after his election, shunning the special sedan … so he could ride on the bus with other cardinals, and refusing even an elevated platform from which he would greet them, according to U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

… “I think we’re going to see a call to Gospel simplicity,” said U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

… Francis’ election elated Latin America, home to 40 percent of the world’s Catholics … On Wednesday, drivers honked their horns in the streets of Buenos Aires and television announcers screamed with elation at the news.

Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, said the cardinals clearly chose Francis because he was simply “the best person to lead the church.”

Reporter Rob Gillies in Toronto, Karl Ritter and photographer Luca Bruno in Rome contributed. (Read the rest here.)

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