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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Living Bread, for the World

Long before I centered on the Eucharist as the focus of worship—the real meal that Catholics celebrate–I understood this breaking of bread as how us saints can make known our brokenness to each other in fellowship. ‘Communion’ involves just that—gathering in community before the Crucified in order to place our wounded lives in His. Somehow, He takes the edge off our edginess and makes us better gifts for the world—a little more humble, clear, and merciful.

The meal we share isn’t an official sacrament but rather the common grace of the ‘one another’ that somehow gives us a share in Jesus’ words (Jn. 6:51): ‘I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.’

When we gathered in Philadelphia last week for a ‘Gender Matters’ conference, I wondered who would break bread with us. I don’t know many Catholics there (it was sponsored by the Diocese) and I’ve little marquee value. Praise God.

How surprised I was to discover a host of hungry, humble saints from that area who came together to ‘eat’ with us that day—to go further along the little way of offering our wounded lives to Jesus and each other so He can season and solidify us—at least enough for us to convert the world rather than be converted by it! My fear turned to faith as I met person after person whom Jesus had connected to us through one person who knew another person who knew another, etc.

This is the miracle of Jesus’ Church composed of His many members—little grains of wheat, each one, crushed in surrender to Jesus and releasing many seeds in the dying that bears much fruit (Jn. 12:24), especially when we gather in order to become ‘living bread’ together.

The miracle of many members—Archbishop Chaput blessed our gathering as he trusted my colleague Marco Casanova who just finished seminary there in Philadelphia. With Chaput’s go-ahead, Marco began to connect with friends in the area who loved Marco and wanted to know what he was up to. I had come often to Philly to be converted by Christopher West and company (their take of St. John Paul ll’s work is splendid) so he did his part to direct friends our way, including his parents and sister who are now charter members of our Living Waters family. At West’s Institute, I had met moral theologian and bioethicist Dr. John Haas who I respect more than almost any other, so I was incredulous when he agreed to open our meal with a word on the dignity of gendered humanity that blew everyone away.

Especially lovely was a table full of radiant nuns—aptly called the Sisters of Life—who were directed there by my best friends in New York City, Joe and Anne Nolte, who know all about me and love this work anyway! We were hosted in the parish of Monsignor Hans Brouwers who had started Courage in Philadelphia years earlier; his still vital, fatherly advocacy was healing for all of us. We love Courage and took heart in partaking of their pioneering efforts in Philly. Friends from Baltimore who love Courage and Encourage joined us too, as did some cool evangelical friends of Abbey from her Penn State days.

Many more to name, no more room. It is enough to say that Jesus is joining His members together to become a fragrant, nutritious loaf of ‘living bread.’ He is doing it! We need not fear; let us rather behold the Spirit as He unifies saints who together are turning outward to become the ‘real meal’ for a world that will choke on its own poisons until we become what we eat—the healing body of Christ, broken for the world.

Bless you all. Please join us for our forty-day-fast: ‘Becoming Good News’ for the lost and the least, beginning October 16th. More on this next week!

You can purchase “Becoming Good News” in book form directly from Desert Stream or get it for free from Amazon for your Kindle.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Ecstasy

The Crucified rallied the nations last week in Kansas City; under the flood of His Divine Mercy, we wept for joy. Ecstasy. No better way to describe the 80 Living Waters leaders who gathered around His self-giving in order to offer themselves better to others.

Jesus gift to us at Calvary is accurately defined as ‘ecstatic’: its Greek root means ‘to come out of oneself.’ Jesus’ dying released a river of blood and water. His life source left Him and became the source of our lives, the transforming power that renders us new creatures. Together, His ecstatic gift unites us as one Body. On the cross, Jesus made us His bride. You could say He consummated that union for us through the ecstatic love that crescendo-ed at Calvary.

God reminded us of that consummation on last week’s Feast of St. Augustine, who wrote: ‘This second Adam [Jesus] bowed His head and fell asleep on the cross, that a spouse might be formed for Him from that which flowed from the sleeper’s side…What can be purer than such blood? What more health giving than such a wound?’

We needed healing from His ecstatic wound, cleansing and repair for our wounds. Many tribes and tongues came together—a variety of ages, cultural traditions, economic and educational backgrounds. Most obvious was the divide between Protestants and Catholics. Many of our leaders from fiercely Catholics nations barely know any Protestants; and the vast range of the latter—from Anglicans to Pentecostals–have an equally diverse range of opinions on Catholics!

Our wounds are a great leveler. One priest among us shared with dignity his sexual abuse by an early mentor; he welcomed an ecstatic outpouring from evangelicals who loved him well through a variety of spiritual gifts. Humbly offering our wounds to Jesus via His members invites a rich exchange of ecstatic love that dissolves some of our corporate divides. Ecstasy.

Personally, each of us brought our sins against chastity—as diverse as our Christian traditions. We are united in the conviction that the second Adam always points us back to the first Adam ((Matt. 19: 4-6); at the same time, Jesus points us forward to the glorious redemption of our bodies, radiant in full consummation with our Bridegroom. We live now ‘in-between’ the times: although certain of design–the ecstatic complementary gifts that God fashioned from Adam’s rib—we are also clear on the chaos incurred by sin in our frustrated, fractured efforts to ‘come out of ourselves.’ We have done so regrettably; we, bathed in ecstatic love, assess the damage done: adultery, abuse, addiction, SSA, gender self-rejection, mangled marriages, persons tempted by bitterness due to betrayal then prolonged, unwanted aloneness.

Many different divides and one cure—the Bridegroom consummating love with us and releasing the flood that keeps our heart soft and straight, ready to tell the truth of sorrows and shame but more than that, how the ecstatic mercy of our Bridegroom is mounting, growing, its waters rising in our personal temples (Ezekiel 47) as we throw open the doors and windows and allow others to witness how His loving kindness has shattered the enemy’s design for us.

Our hearts speak truth—we at Living Waters are the first to declare our sin so that the triumph of mercy might extend to a weaker brother or sister. It does! We rejoiced in the epistle reading last week in which St. Paul exhorts us to turn from all sexual immorality as such sin exploits our sisters and brothers (1 Thess. 4: 3-8).

How liberating to hear God’s Word and to go boldly to the throne of grace, allowing the fire of mercy to burn off the deception that immoral acts are fine if each party consents. Lies that we have lived! We now want only to edify, not exploit, the weaker member! We wept as He rained mercy, not judgment, upon our corporate repentance.

As the nations shared of the impact of Living Waters, it was clear that this ecstatic witness of hope amid heinous sins had loosed a river throughout churches that is unstoppable. Instead of shame, the peoples of the earth are receiving a double portion of joy and favor (Is. 61:7), and ‘where that river flows, everything shall live!’ (Ez. 47:9).

His ecstatic love for us produces ecstasy. We live now to come out of ourselves and prepare a more robust, pure Bride for the One who gave all to gain us. No other way to live. No other way we want to live. His ecstatic love is better than any other way of life.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Messy, Joyful Easter

I woke from a fitful sleep, jet-lagged and already critical of the things that awaited me at morning Mass. I countered with a prayer for humility and tolerance of things I dislike like dour congregants and uninspiring music. After all, it is Easter! Jesus is walking through walls and telling folks to get their hands off Him then insisting that they lay hands on Him—all kinds of messy, unpredictable stuff.

I cringed slightly as I eyed the cantor for the morn; golden in her intentions, her voice hurts me. As she geared up for the processional hymn, she appeared shaken like a diver peering into the pool below and realizing it may not be deep enough. But she soldiered on and was soon joined by the booming off-key voice of a visiting pastor whose joy in serving us that morning overtook all else.

His sheer exuberance invited us all in to celebrate: Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. Like my critical spirit. Listening to cantor and pastor make a joyful noise at once delighted and convicted me. God is so much bigger than my snide critique. He wants to blow open our defenses, walk through our walls, and rouse us to cooperate with Him in dissolving others’ defenses against the Holy One.

The pastor grinned from ear-to-ear as he showered us with the waters of cleansing (a cool Catholic thing for the several Sundays of Easter); I obviously needed to renew my baptismal vows that Sunday! And I found that if I sang along with the cantor during the offertory I could not afford to be critical of her. The pastor sermonized powerfully on how community is essentially for grasping the hope of new life—we behold the glorified One together. I was proud to be there.

I left Church joyful, expectant. I wanted to give new life away. Later on I ran into a guy whom I had met a few years back. At that time he announced to me rather arrogantly that he was a ‘gay Christian’ with a new boyfriend. Things had gone badly for him: I could tell from his few words and demeanor that he was suffering. Though he did not recognize me at first, I did him and I told him specific things I had not ceased praying for him in the last five years. He was speechless and teary-eyed.

Messy, joyful Jesus is on the move. Walk through walls with Him. It is Easter and that changes everything.

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Behold the Lamb 5: Liberty and Loss

A young Catholic priest who participated in a recent Living Waters Training engaged a lot with our mostly evangelical crowd; he got kicked in the stomach a few times by persons who introduced themselves to him as ‘having become Christians after they left the Catholic Church.’ Ouch.

What they meant, I think, was that they found a ‘spirited’ personal bridge to Jesus in one of many gatherings where their young-adult-ache for Him was quenched by a more dynamic spirituality than what they experienced as Catholic kids.

Beautiful. But also costly. On this 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, in which we celebrate the freedom to change and change again our approach to how we gather as Christians and why, it may be wise, even healing, to consider the downside of ‘start your own’ church movements. (Will we ever forget Robert Duvall’s film ‘The Apostle’ in which he ordained himself through the laying on of his own hands?) Don’t get me wrong. I value many of the lifeboats launched from the leaky vessel that the Catholic Church had become by the 16th century. But I also witness the fissures of ‘reform’ that continue to fan out, fractures that fracture people who conclude in their confusion: ‘I need not gather at all.’

One example may be church leaders who insist on a particular facet of the Gospel based on their ‘leading’, often in response to what they did not like in their previous church/movement. That can result in two ills: the malformation of the saints due to a skewed Gospel and also an unwitting rejection of members who don’t/can’t line up with the particular emphasis of the visionary leader. A colleague of mine with some identity conflicts had no choice but to leave an effective evangelistic movement because her pastor assured her that the church would not invest in the healing of her or anyone else’s soul.

Related but worse are pastors who fall into serious error and, having created a system of impotent eldership in which they are virtually unchecked, perpetuate their errors. That includes (but is no way limited to) churches which bless sexual immoralities, including LGBT+ liberties; that may also relate to a strain of ‘hyper-grace’ churches that refuse to give formation to members as to avoid ‘legalism.’

More dangerous still are ‘Spirit-led’ leaders who add ‘thus saith the Lord’ to their disagreements with persons. Rather than sort out conflicts rationally and relationally, these shepherds resolve conflict by the sheep either putting up or shutting up. A tragic subset here is shepherds who cloak lust in ‘love’ and use spiritual power to seduce. These wolves make rabid the sheep and deserve the millstone Jesus reserves for them (LK 17: 1, 2).

Lastly, I notice some losses and limits to churches founded on young-adult vitality: that post high-school season in which persons are most inclined to establish an identity founded upon Jesus Christ. Many of these gatherings are glorious! Yet one does not stay a young adult forever, and when that season passes, these ones may grow out of ‘church’ altogether and determine nothing else will do, especially the relatively stodgy churches of their pre-revival youth. Older ones who invest here may find themselves beside the point. A quiet servant I know worked tirelessly at such a ‘young’ church for 20 years then began to realize that no-one there cared much about her. She left and no-one noticed. She struggles to engage with any church now.

That is the problem and the opportunity. We need the body. We need healing when our churches let us down. And we have choice. We can forgive her, we must forgive her, or a part of ourselves dies. We are the body, and to be at odds with any part of her is to be divided in ourselves.

This Lent, I implore you to forgive that part of the body that wounded you. Jesus took the hit at Calvary for nothing less. If you extend the mercy you have received to that part (it does not mean you agree with it!), you do your part to heal yourself and His beautiful, broken bride. I then urge you to exercise your freedom to discern where you are to take your place once more. We cannot say we love Him without standing with them. Again.

‘Jesus, in accord with Your Word, we confess that we have become like ‘those who have given up meeting together.’ Rather, we ask for mercy to extend to our church wounders and the power once more to ‘consider how we might provoke one another onto love and good deeds…and all the more as we see the Day approaching’ (Heb. 10: 24, 25), the Day of Your return for one glorious Church.’

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Behold the Lamb 3: Dirty Mother

‘In the Church, God has put Himself into hands that betray Him over and over.’ Pope Emeritus Benedict

I was outraged. A well-known actress whom I understood from good sources to be a Christian of integrity starred in a film that featured ‘gay’ sex; she justified the movie–and lesbianism in general–as a beautiful glimpse of human potential. I have since discovered that she as a young teen had been sexually abused extensively by her youth pastor. Huh. Hard to make a case for chastity when your shepherd makes you the meal (EZ. 34:2, 3).

22-years-ago, a staff person from our ministry developed an elaborate plan to sexually violate two teenagers seeking chastity in our midst. He succeeded. His wickedness divided their lives and their families, and brought serious disgrace upon the churches we served as an organization. These two men struggle to see Jesus clearly now. A ‘trusted’ representative shattered their vision at its source.

That was apparent when we gathered as a healing prayer group in my parish one Lent and were gifted by a man who had just re-entered the Church for the first time since his priest violated him as a teen. Jumpy and suspicious, his breath sour with alcohol, he muttered something of how hard it was to be inside the place where night fell (EZ. 34: 12) and the Son has yet to rise. He appreciated our kindness but couldn’t yet believe or receive it. How do you trust a dirty mother?

Wolves in shepherd’s garb are equally opportunity destroyers: neither catholic nor evangelical, they are just profoundly disintegrated persons hiding in the folds of Mother Church. And Jesus is on the move, shaking out her trains with fierce love and empowering the defiled to speak. Her pastors must become prophets on behalf of those finding their voices—listening and tending to the distressed, while refusing to tolerate demonized ones who sacrifice little ones on the altar of their perversions, and who will do it again unless they are halted.

So we take our places as members of this one Mother. We love her by apprehending her monsters and refusing their monstrous eating habits. We do this on behalf of the consumed; why should they come home if we don’t first clean house for them? We give them first place at the table, and dare to believe that Jesus in His divine mercy can transform shame into cleansing and healing.

Few Christian leaders abuse children. Yet when we fail to discipline those who do, we permit its stink to permeate the whole. Chastity is mocked; our common enemy is freed to roar about and take many captives. Like the drunk and dodgy man in my parish. Like the actress I mentioned who became an outspoken LGBTQ+ advocate. Or the two guys under my charge who were morally handicapped before becoming men. They weren’t born that way. They were abused. Lord have mercy on us. Clean Your Mother, Father God.

‘We cry out for those who were lost on that dark day, O God. Your house of healing became a house of horrors for them, O God. We are sorry for the violence done against them. We are sorry for sliming Your Name. Jesus, release Your flood of blood and water upon our corporal shame, beginning with the violated. Wash us and we shall be clean. No other way except through Your dying, and ours. Raise up trustworthy servants to help ensure the trustworthiness of Your house.’

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