Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Blessed Christmas to All

May the Christchild be born anew in your heart. May you be enfolded by the true love of God and may that love be shared with those who have no one on the eve of a most blessed day when God was poured out in flesh for all people.

May God Bless you and your family and friends!

Friday, December 19, 2008

No More "Do It Yourself" Christianity

One of the big complaints I heard about the Catholics when I left the Catholic Church was "Catholics just blindly follow the pope." Naturally, I had to think about that. In the new religious circles I hung out in I found myself agreeing that the Holy See did seem to be the prime interpreter of Holy Scripture. Thye other part of that complaint was that Catholics were not scripturally based. Well, I was able to convince myself that it seemed true. I knew that I did not read the Bible growing up, so therefore, it must be true.

Oh, there is so much false about those complaints and my going along with those complaints. First of all, the richness and the stability of the Catholic Church comes from the fact that it is the Holy See who interprets Scripture. I think that many people forget their Christian history. First of all, our New Testament did not get put together immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact it was through the Holy See that the canon of Scripture was decided. It was decided through the teachings handed down through an episcopal and apostolic succession. This episcopal and apostolic succession is better known today as tradition. The Holy Spirit was promised to the Church so that this "tradition" would be sure and certain it its practice and interpretation.

When I decided I need to return to the Catholic Church it was through the knowledge that those complaints about the pope and the Holy See were misinformed. When I had first left the Church, I bought into the idea that I could interpret Scripture according to my own feelings about life and God. The problem is that the 'winds of doctrine" from so many theologians were spinning around the world. There were so many schools of thought and many of them allowed the every changing whims of society to be reflected in the theology du jour. let me say that again...most theologies today have allowed the whims of society to shape the theology, rather than allow the theology to shape the society.

It dawned on me when I began my return to the Church that just like a child who doesn't get his own way, he will cry and complain how unfair or unjust the parent is, so it is with society and the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has taken heat on many of its stands. The Church has been called unable to change and a dinosaur. The fact is, the Church has not allowed society to be the arbitor of Scriptural interpretation or moral decisions. And while society has been in flux trying to find itself, the Church has remained and will remain the ROCK. Hmmmmm, the ROCK... now where did I read in the Bible something about the ROCK?


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not perfect is a Good Start

I must admit that I found it difficult to take the first steps in returning to the Catholic Church. As I mentioned in previous blogs, most of my hesitation to return to the Church revolved around so much misinformation about the Church. When I left the church I wandered far and I tried many alternatives to Catholicism, from New Age to Protestantism and everything in between. I go married to a divorced woman, and then I became a pastor of a Protestant church. in so many ways I ex-communicated myself from the Catholic Church. I know many, many people who made rather poor choices in life, simply because they failed to gather enough or at least the right information before ploughing ahead.

I am the first to raise my hand and announce that I chose to stay away from the Church because I was sure the Catholic Church did not want me back. In my mind I was an unforgivable sinner for the Catholic Church. I heard all the rules, so I thought. I heard all the horror stories from former Catholics who entered into the Protestant church where I was the pastor. I suppose it was a simple case of "misery loves company." I was fed a very negative image of the Catholic Church and I accepted the complaints of others as the truth!

Between my mother's prayers for me and the intervention of a dear friend, I softened enough to listen to people who were still in the Church. It is amazing how much the joy in a person's life can show on their face and can be heard in their voice. It was the joy I was missing. Naturally, I wondered if the Catholic Church had changed, or had I never really known the Catholic Church at all?

Sure there are things that cause ex-communication in the Church, but that does not mean that the Church desires that you remain ex-communicated. On the contrary, the Church wants to welcome Catholics who left the Church back in. Fact of the matter is that the Church is based entirely on the idea that human beings are sinners by nature! People sin and the Church wants to heal the pain and set the sinner onto a healthy and wholesome path.

The wonderful priest who welcomed me back has a church whose Sunday attendance has risen from about 400 a week to well over 5000 a week in less than 10 years. The dear priest has added so many Masses to make it convenient for everyone who wants to attend Mass to attend. Even more impressive is the attendance at Confession (the Sacrament of Reconciliation). He is the only priest at that church and he listened to at least 35 confessions this past Tuesday evening when I went. At Mass on Sundays (and during the week), he takes the time to talk to as many people as he can before and after Mass. He welcomes all of us and reminds us that we must come as we are...sinners. I needed to hear that! The church was made for sinners. Conversion of sinners is what Christ is all about... well that and to praise and worship!

Fear of return, or the sense that we are unworthy to return is something that needs to be dispelled. The Catholic Church has gotten a bad rap over the years about the rules to exclude. The Church is working very hard to include.

Now, I do have to say that I had to make some changes in myself! I couldn't go on living as I did. But, conversion, or in the case or returning Catholics, reversion, it is a dynamic and ongoing process. If anything can be learned it is to have patients and pray! It is also important to find the encouragers of the Church! God knows we have had enough discouragers!


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Seeing God in the Rearview Mirror

How in the world did my life turn out as it did? Is life random? Sometimes it appears that way. But, when I sit and think about it, no it really isn't random. I can see a divine plan...sometimes.

I like to explain life in metaphors sometimes. I think of my dediscovery of the Cathloic Church in metaphorical terms. One metaphor or another makes life so much more understandable. Jesus did it in his parables, so if it is done right, it ought to be useful. I look at my return to the Catholic Church and my life in general as a journey. It reminds me of how I drive. I get in the car and I know I have to get to work in the morning. I used to live about 50 minutes from my job. That was quite a haul. Much of that trip was back roads, with occasional highway driving.

When I go to work I usually keep my eyes on the road in front of me (always a good idea). But, on a 50 minute car ride, I find that my mind wanders. I do believe that if we travel the same road enough, sometimes our minds go on autopilot. Well. one day I was travelling along and I began thinking about one of my many problems awaiting me when I got to work. I replayed probable scenarios of how to handle the impending issues at work. Suddenly, I noticed a herd of cattle walking down a side street and close on the driver's side of my car. Needless to say, my wandering mind re-focused on the reality at hand. I slowed the car down and immediately looked in my rearview mirror to see if my mind was playing tricks on me or I really did see cattle in the road. (I should mention I did pass a few farms on the way to work, but cattle in the road was never something I saw before).

I stopped the car and continued to look in the rearview mirror. Nothing! Then suddenly, from the side street, there was the first cow, followed by another, and then another. I got out of the car and walked toward the intersection. I saw that just down that side street a fence had broken and out came the cows. I immediately called 911 to get some help.

My life has often been like my ride that day. I usually went through life and just worried about everything but the moment at hand. Then suddenly I wondered how did I get to this point in my life? It was when I looked in the rearview mirror of my life that I saw God had taken me to this place or that place. God had brought this person and that person into my life. It was through the rearview miirror that I realized what was happening while my mind was on other things in life.

Take a look in your rearview mirror every now and again. You mind be surprised how you got where you are. My only suggestion might be, and I am still learning to do this myself through my new life as a Benedictine Oblate... live as much as you can in the present moment. But more importantly...keep you eye on God in each moment. After all, He is the one who is directing the traffic!


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Good Resource for Returnees

I was so easily led astray when I left the Catholic Church. There were plenty of people who were quite sure that they knew the Catholic Church and they were sure it was backward, and anti-biblical. Of course I didn't get a great biblical education growing up, so I assumed their statements were true. I admit at that time in my life I did not want to hear both sides of the story.

When I returned to the church after about 25 years away, I began to read the wonderful Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is such a magnificent document! I grew up with the old Baltimore Catechism, but this new Catechism is so comprehensive and speaks very clearly to the many issues which confront the modern Catholic today. Everytime I pick up the catechism I always say, "I wish I had this document years ago!" It is true. I may have had some difficulty in accepting some of the statements in it in my early 20's, but it is such an honest, straight-forward document. I also think that in my maturity, I gained a more intense respect for the Church's bravery to stand up as a beacon in the midst of a dark, immoral world.

Perhaps we can begin to discuss the many themes of our culture today and what our Church has to say about it.

God Bless!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Birthday of Someone Who Drew Me Back

Well, birthday, but not the traditional kind. On December 10, 1968 the dear soul Thomas Merton was birthed from this life into eternity. One of the books I read while I was wandering away from the Catholic Church was Merton's Seven Storey Mountain. This is essentially Merton's autobiography. Merton was a man who came to the Catholic Church and before he became a Trappist monk, he lived quite a bohemian life. I think that is where I identified with him. Merton was definitely a "regular guy," who was gripped by God and felt a strong need to be closer to God.

Merton's popularity grew especially after his death, when his books became quite popular. In his own time, Merton skated on the edge of his faith and often pushed the envelope of accepted Catholic social teaching. At the untimely end of his life, Merton was in the process of creating interfaith dialogue with the Buddhists. I am not saying Merton desired to be a Buddhist, rather I am saying he wanted to create an atmosphere where God could be shared and we could begin to listen with our hearts.

I recommend any of Merton's writings to you, and her was a prolific writer. If you are a newly returned Catholic, thinking about a return, or a non catholic who finds the Catholic Church interesting, I highly suggest you start with The Seven Storey Mountain. Maybe it's me, but I can hear God's gentleness and mercy speaking through Merton's words.

So many people who come to the Catholic Church or return to the Church can look back over the years and see God's Hand guiding them carefully to a place of wholeness and healing in the Church. It is an awesome feeling! And when you read Merton, there are many places you can feel God's Hand touching Thomas Merton.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Journey Back-Part 3

Now, let me bring to up to date. As I said in my last installment, I was longing to have the Eucharist back in my life. I no longer wanted a symbol of Jesus Christ with me, I wanted Jesus Christ with me! And it happened with a call from a friend from my past who remembered me from twenty-five years before. She knew I was a Catholic. She knew I used to attend Mass regularly and she simply said, "Why don't you come to Mass with me some morning?" I did just that. I travelled about two hours to the church I grew up in to go to 7:30 AM Mass. My eyes were riveted on the priest as he stood before the altar and spoke the words that changed this simple bread and wine into the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

My friend understood my position and she knew I was going to be divorced. She also knew how I left the church. But, she also told me I should speak with a wonderful priest she knew who was very understanding and very good in explaining the real stance of the Church on many issues. It was true! I had never bothered to get the Catholic Church's stance on anything. I made many decisions about what I could and could not do on the preconceived notions that I had.

This very gentle and caring priest met with me and I told him my whole life story in all its tragedy, grief, sin and pain. And in the midst of my story, I looked into his eyes and I am certain I could see Christ smiling back at me! The priest allowed me to finish and said very clearly to me, "You are most certainly welcome to come back to the Church! Its been twenty-some years now, would you like to make a confession and start again fresh?" WOW! Start fresh! Twenty-five years of sadness, loneliness, pain, confusion, loss melted away. Yes! It really did. It was a moment that was literally life-saving! I was a Catholic in good standing again. The issue of divorce still needed to be addressed, but as long as I was not re-marrying at that moment, I could still receive the Blessed Sacrament!

I was home again in the Catholic Church. I knew I could no longer be a pastor in a place where I no longer had the same theology of the Eucharist. It wasn't fair to that church or me. After a discussion with the council of that church, I left them and returned to the Catholic Church.

My eyes are now wide open in the Church today. I now see so many things available to me that I never noticed before. I said to my friend, if I had known so many of these ways to serve the church were open to me, I doubt I would have left. One of the things I wanted was to grow spiritually. I began to look at the Catholic ways to grow. And I discovered the Benedictine Oblates. This is a group of women and men who associate and support a Benedictine monastery while living outside the monastery and living a secular life. The difference is an Oblate will follow the Rule of St. Benedict, pray the daily prayers of the Church, and learn to seek God's presence in various ways. But this is for another installment.

Ok! There you go! That is my story. I re-discovered my love of the Eucharist and I found my way back home. I mentioned in my first installment that I am sure my mother had something to do with my return. Let me say this very clearly. I am 100% certain that we can pray others back to the Faith. When I left the Church my mother wanted me to be happy, but she knew that the Truth (note capital T) lay entirely in the Eucharist. She prayed for me to re-discover that Truth for which I throught was outside of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, my mother died five years before I returned to the Church. But, it was near my mother's birthday on a warm and sunny May morning that my friend took me into Mass in my home church. I think it was a happy birthday for my mom that day! Her prayers were answered!

You know, everybody has a unique and beautiful story about their coming to the Catholic Church. There are so many people like me who are genuine in their search for Truth. I have learned the tragedy of taking the Eucharist for granted, and I have learned the indescribable joy in meeting Jesus Christ again in that Most Blessed Sacrament.

It is my hope that this blog will be a way for everyone to learn the true teachings of the Catholic Church. I hope that everyone will discover ways to bring family and friends who left the Church back into the fold. I hope this blog becomes a way for anyone who is away from the Church to find a way to at least re-connect with their heritage.

Until tomorrow!
God Bless You!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My Journey Back-Part 2

It is not easy to find happiness and wholeness in this world of ours. And I searched all over until I found a peace that really does pass all understanding. Now, I will pick up where I left off on my journey back to my Catholic faith. I had tried the New Age philosophies. But, my sensibilities were jarred too much. I knew I needed Christ. Christ for me is the center. But, since I left the Catholic Church and since I married outside the church, and to a divorced woman, I figured that any return to the Roman Catholic Church was out of the question. This was especially true since the woman I married had converted to Catholicism with her first husband, and after her divorce she refused to get an annulment. She found that idea to be hypocritical. I just went along for the ride on that issue because I just wanted to be married (not a good reason for marriage!).

I became a Lutheran first, because I figured that Luther was a Catholic in the beginning, so I must be in good company. It was about that time that I thought I might want to go into the ministry. A Lutheran pastor offered to help me prepare for the step toward ordained ministry. I practiced Lutheran liturgical functions and I even gave a sermon or two, which now seem so ridiculous.

After three years in that church, the pastor became a charismatic/pentecostal in a sudden conversion. He insisted that God wanted him to begin a new church that got away from the Lutheran and Catholic ritualism and returned to basics. I was so impressionable at that time that I agreed to join this pastor. I put aside the idea of seminary and helped this pastor start his new church. It sounded like such a good idea, but there is a problem when pastors have no one above them to oversee there actions! Needless to say, this pastor became very authoritarian and began to interpret the Bible according to his understanding. Naturally, he felt that God had given him special powers to interpret the Bible. I became very skeptical and ran quickly from that church!

I was hurt by that experience and I felt betrayed by my own ability to discern spiritual matters. At the same time I wanted to serve God. I wanted to find a home where I could find a way to learn more about God and reach out to others. I found a rather liberal denomination that I figured would accept someone like me. I was a former Catholic who wanted to be a pastor. This liberal denomination accepted me and allowed me to go to seminary. This became both a blessing and a curse for me.

I was warned when I began seminary that the object there was to first tear down all you believe, then provide you with new ideas, then finally you were to rebuild a new theology. In the process I was taught how wrong the Catholic Church had been over the years. I was taught how the Catholic Church refused to change with the times and it became a dinosaur and irrelevant in today's world.

Here is the important part! Here is where my Catholic faith re-awakened inside me. I became a Protestant pastor, yes. I felt out of place, however. Something inside me was unsettled. I was successful in my pastorate. My congregation was very supportive of my ministry, but I was not happy at all. From the first day I began as a Protestant pastor, I knew what I was missing. It was the Eucharist. The Eucharist as it is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church is the centerpiece of the faith. I needed the very presence of Jesus Christ within me. Jesus was not available to me in the symbolic communion I was performing. I was now about twenty-five years away from the Catholic Church and I felt sad, alone and hopeless.

In the meantime my marriage had been falling apart. If I was on a ship at sea without a rudder. In my poor understanding of the Catholic Church I didn't think that I could ever return. I thought I was doomed to go through the motions of a pastor in a religion that held no close relationship to God for me. I would often drive past the local Catholic church in the town I worked in and wish I could just come home! I would go to meetings with nuns and priests, but I was afraid to approach them with my thoughts of returning. For the longest time I was like the young boy looking through the window at the candy in the candy store.

In my next installment I will explain the sudden and dramatic events that brought me back to the Catholic Church. I hope this story can bless you and help you in your journey, whether you are returning to the Church, thinking about it, or know someone who may be considering a return.

May God Bless You!


Welcome All Who Come Here!

I am starting this blog maining because this would be something I wish I had when I was thinking about returning to the Catholic Church. If you read my brief biography, you can see I left the Church when many young people tend to wander off. This is not unusual; many people go looking for the deep answers to life.
For me, I felt the Catholic Church was filled with rites without meaning. There were many people (friends and aquaintances) who were more than willing to agree with me. Unfortunately for me, I did not give any serious listen to the Catholic Church's side. These other friends were staunch anti-Catholic Protestants, New Age promoters and well meaning former Catholics who were hurt by the Church.
My dear mother, I know now was hurt by my decision to leave the Church, but she never said a word to me. She wanted to be supportive of my decisions in life. I also have no doubt that she prayed every day for me to find peace in my soul.
In my immediate search, I decided to go to opposite end of the religious spectrum in my search for truth. I dabbled in the occult. An older and wiser looking co-worker told me about a religion called ECKKANCAR. WOW! That was fascinating to a young twenty-one year old. The belief of this groupm was that you could reach perfect knowledge by following the teachings of certain dead Masters who acheived this perfect knowledge. This religion had it all! It promised out-of-body experiences, essentially gnostic insights and knowledge. There was "body harmonics." I am still not sure what that was about!
That phase waned quickly because it did not provide me with anything truth. It only gave me a few psychosomatic highs, but no real answers. I decided I needed something more conventional. At the same time, I also felt as though I had abandoned my one true faith. If you are a Catholic who has left the faith, I think you may know what I am talking about. There is a feeling deep inside that says, "You are a Catholic."
In my next installment, I will take you further into my journey back to the Catholic Church. Stay tuned... many strange and unusual things happen.
You may be a returning Catholic, thinking about returning, know someone who might return, or you are new to the Catholic Church... no matter who you are, please share your feelings, hopes and desires about the Catholic Church. God places us here to help one another. Perhaps you need someone to help you now, or you may be that person who will help another who was searching like me.