A Guided Meditation

1b66c4f33289d343a73a914c3452ce7cI wrote this for one of our youth ministry gatherings.
If you can have someone else lead you through this, stop now and do that.
Otherwise, take your time through this exercise and don’t read ahead.


Our spiritual and mental abilities are gifts from God.  This includes our memory, intellect, and emotions, just to name a few of them.  During this exercise, we will utilize the gift of our imagination.

Take some time to quiet yourself, making room for the Spirit.

If distractions arise, ask the Lord to hold on to it for you so you can let it go.

Focus on your breathing or your heartbeat to help you do that.  Something automatic and repetitive.

If you are reading this to yourself, close your eyes during the pauses to keep your focus.

Imagine your are standing on the cobblestones of a courtyeard outside a big European style cathedral on a warm sunny day.  The cathedral is tall, made of stained glass and stone. In front of you are two massive double doors.

 

You walk toward the doors.  As you do, a man with dark, tanned skin approaches you.  He introduces himself as Paul.  “Follow me, I want to show you something.”

 

As you get close to the doors he stops, looks up and says, “This building gives me such hope.  Long ago, God was seen as so distant, but through Christ we have churches like this everywhere as a reminder of just how close God has come to us.” Turning toward you, “So close, even, that people laid hands upon Him and killed Him.  It truly is remarkable.  Anyway, what I want to show you is inside.”

 

He pushes the massive door open with great ease.  The church is huge and open.

 

Multi-colored lights stream through the windows, a baptismal font serenely trickles, you hear quiet chanting from up near the tabernacle.

 

“I love walking in here.  Can you feel it?  Can you hear it?  It is peaceful.  This peace points to Christ.
He is our peace.
He brings peace to creation and humanity.

He has carved out a space where we can all gather.  Where everything that we are can encounter all that is good, beautiful, and true.”

 

He leads you further into the cathedral, under the tall vaulted ceilings and warmed by the lights from the stained glass windows.

 

He directs your attention to the stained glass windows. They are the tallest you’ve ever seen.

 

“Look, do you see that window?

 

Glassblowers made rock, sand, and broken glass into these good and beautiful works of art that proclaim the truth of God’s love for us.  So to God blows His breath into us.  He holds every one of us in hands, each of us a colored piece of glass, with our own brokenness.  Yet, he bring us together in a good way, to make a beautiful work of art, proclaiming His truth.

 

Each shard belongs.

 

Each piece essential to completing the image.

 

All the glass, whether it is a blade of grass, Jesus’ toe, filler in the sky, or Christ’s heart is illuminated by one and the same sun.  So to, we are all made radiant by the same Spirit.

 

No longer are we discarded shards, but we properly belong to the whole.

 

Beautiful in our own right as we capture the rays of the sun, purposeful as we are built into the walls of the Church, and so good as we tell the story of Christ with our lives.

 

I once reminded the Christians of Ephesus, that: ‘You are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the capstone.  Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord.’

 

This window reminds us of that.

 

Like us, it only finds its true purpose when it is for Christ.  Christ is working in us, to make us a church of people not of walls.  Wherever you go, He wants you to bring the Spirit of God with you.  Like a piece of glass that can bring the rays of the sun with it.

 

You belong here.

 

You are meant to stand alongside disciples like Francis, Mary Magdalene, Maximillian, Theresa, Oscar, Thomas, even Peter and me.

 

You are a piece of colored glass.

 

Will you allow the Father to bring you into His image?

 

Will you let the Son wash you clean and hold you in place?

 

Will you let the Spirit fill you and shine through you?

 

Will you be like a piece of glass in this window?” He says as he slowly backs away leaving you looking at your window.

 

 

Reflection:


What did your stained glass window look like?

I invite you to talk to someone or journal about what it looked it like.  As well as:

  • Does that have a connection to your relationship with Christ?
  • How does that image speak to you?
  • Are there ways that you resist being part of that image?
  • What do you find encouraging about this metaphor?
  • In what ways do you struggle with it?

Feel free to offer comments below and share this or use it if you found it helpful.

Who You Talking To?

As summer comes to a close, I am excited for the 2nd Encounter Dayton on September 10 and Encounter Cincinnati on September 24.  Both of those are going to be great events.  We are going to be able to lift up praise to our God with our voices, return to His merciful embrace through Reconciliation, and stand face-to-face with Him in Adoration.  Now all of these things are available to us all the time.  Seriously, check Masstimes.org.  But I get it why they can all seem just a little more amped at Encounter.

A part of this reality might tie into the fantastic word that we get to hear.  The speakers have always peeled back the layers of distractions at every Encounter I’ve gone to.  This clarity helps me run, not walk to Reconciliation.  It reminds me to pray our praise songs.  It releases me to embrace the mystery of the Eucharist.  But not without a struggle.

See, whether it is Steubenville, Encounter, or a homily, I have a battle to fight inside.  Maybe you can relate to this.  The second I feel challenged or convicted by a message I cease to be the audience.  Do you know what I mean?  Instead of letting the words sink in, you spiritually deflect them, like Obi-wan with his lightsaber. “This talk is great!  So & so needs to hear this.”  Have you ever done that?

Don’t get me wrong, we can share pearls of wisdom with others, but if we don’t let that wisdom impact us as well then it wasn’t sharing at all.  It was more like pelting them with pearls of wisdom.  And we can’t do that!

We cannot do that because:

  • It can often come from a place of judgement.
  • We need to be challenged.  Jesus wants to be our best friend, and you know what my best friends do?  They tell me when I’m not acting like myself.  Is there anyone who knows the true you better than Jesus?  We need to let Him call us out.
  • If we train ourselves to deflect when God is trying to challenge us because it makes us squirrely and squirmy, we will do it again.  Only this time we might redirect when we hear the Lord say,
    • “I love you.”
    • “I am proud of you.”
    • “You are my beloved Child with whom I am well pleased.”

When you are at Encounter or listening to your priest’s homily, let the tough word sink in.  For if we can admit that our Father’s word of correction is truly for us, we can allow our hearts to truly hear His love for us.

Photo Credit: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Form_III/Legend

Quit Playing Games (7.23.16)

It was 7th grade.  We were sitting in line waiting for our name to be called to go out to our cars.  I had something pressing to tell my friend, probably something about the Pokémon I was looking for (yup we were playing that when I was in middle school too).  Knowing we weren’t supposed to talk, I folded my hands over my face so my palms covered my mouth and my fingers met on the bridge of my nose.  I was mid-sentence when my teacher crouched down right in front of me, hands just like mine telling me, “I can still see your mouth moving.”  That’s what he said, what I heard was, “I see you trying to be clever which means you know the rules, but you’re not that clever, so stop playing games with me.”

Similarly, I think God is telling us in today’s readings to not play games.  Listen to these words: “Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: ‘We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again’? Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves? I too see what is being done, says the LORD.”

We cheapen God’s mercy when we presume upon it, forgetting that it comes to us through the cross.  Jeremiah could as us: Do we tithe with the money we saved by buying sweatshop products?  Do our judgements and stinginess push scared mothers toward abortion?  Do we make the faults of our spouse or significant other the butt of our jokes with friends?  Do we have our morning devotion to our smart phone, burn incense to our flag, bow down to our politics, or ‘tithe’ to our own comfort while neglecting prayer, the Kingdom of God, putting on the mind of Christ, and giving to the poor?  Do we look at all these, shrug and say, “It’s ok, God understands?”

It is true God understands!  But we need to lift up a cry of, “Thank you God for understanding,” not dismiss him with the mindset of, “Forget God, He understands anyway.”  God is merciful when we fall, not merciful so we’ll fall.  The book of Wisdom says it this way, “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance” (11:23).

Through Jeremiah God essentially tells us, “I wasn’t born yesterday, so please, don’t play games with me.”  We play games with God when we ‘prepent’ (sinning counting on repentance later, “Father forgive me for what I’m about to do).  Or when we make a God a fool to manipulate.  Or in these striking words from Fr. Larry Richards, when we claim love for the Eucharist, but neglect one another (Fr. Larry is admittedly a little brash, but sometimes we need the challenge): “Do we see Christ, really see Him, in the people around us? Or do we come in and say, ‘Oh, I only see Jesus in the Eucharist and I bow down and worship Him. Oh Lord, I love you.’ But then I hate the people next to me. Oh am I sick of that. If you can’t love the person next to you, don’t play games saying that you love Him. Don’t even begin to do it because you are a liar. Don’t play games with God. If you sit there and you see Jesus here, then you darn better well see Him in the person next to you, whether you like them or you don’t like them, Christ is there. Stop judging them. Stop putting them down and stop saying all of these things against them. Christ is in the person next to you just as real as He is in the tabernacle and that take’s eyes of faith. Do you have the eyes of faith?”

Lord, help us to rejoice in your great mercy because we take you seriously and comprehend how great of a gift it truly is.

Absence

“Absence” by Billy Collins from Nine Horses: Poems

white-knight-chessThis morning as low clouds
skidded over the spires of the city
I found next to a bench
in the park an ivory chess piece –
the white knight as it turned out –
and in the pigeon-ruffling wind
I wondered where all the others were,
lined up somewhere
on their red and black squares,
many of them feeling uneasy
about the saltshaker
that was taking his place,
and all of them secretly longing
for the moment
when the white horse
would reappear out of nowhere
and advance toward the board
with his distinctive motion,
stepping forward, then sideways
before advancing again –
the same move I was making him do
over and over in the sunny field of my palm.

Like Billy Collins’ white knight I have been absent.  Though not moving in L shape directions but busy with other distractions that have kept me from posting.  So over the next week or so, my backlog of stuff will come.

Praying with the Psalms

I read the Amos prophecy and thought of some really cool, impractical thoughts I could offer.  So, I ruled out those.  Then I read the Gospel and felt so distant from cloak patching and wineskin drinking that I wasn’t sure what to say there.  I then thought, what about this often forgotten section, the Psalm.  Remarkable isn’t it?  We read the Psalms multiple times a day in the Church.  Psalms are included in nearly every office of Liturgy of the Hours, every daily Mass, and every Sunday Mass.  This is one rich Old Testament book.  So today, let’s look to the Psalm, and I want to offer a rewording of the Psalm as a meditation.  So you don’t have to leave this page, here is the original text:

“I will hear what God proclaims; / the LORD–for he proclaims peace to his people. / Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, / glory dwelling in our land. / Kindness and truth shall meet; / justice and peace shall kiss. / Truth shall spring out of the earth, / and justice shall look down from heaven. / The LORD himself will give his benefits; / our land shall yield its increase. / Justice shall walk before him, / and salvation, along the way of his steps.”

Help me listen for your voice, Lord.  I trust that You speak and that I will know Your voice for it will lead me to peace.  For with You there is peace as I am near the fullness of life.  I find peace in You, especially when I admit that you are God and I am not.  When I walk so as to please other people I find myself lost amid the paths of wilderness.  But when I fear You, when I desire to please You above and beyond any creature, for You are Creator, I find the narrow way stretching out before me.  When I walk this way I see how little comes from me and how all that is around me is a gift.  The world is charged with Your grandeur, O’ God!  When I walk with You, difficult things to reconcile become well acquainted.  To know You, to follow You, is to walk as a disciple of Love and Truth incarnate.  It is to stand in awe as Justice and Peace kiss where the beams of the cross meet.  We call this choreographed collision of Love, Truth, Peace, and Justice, Mercy.  Misericordia, Your righteous heart (cordia) stooping low to encounter the truth of our misery (miseri) which is lifted to You by Truth nailed to a tree.  In this mercy, this meeting of Your heart with our misery, we share in Your love, compassion, and even Your divine nature.  Help us to bear fruit, Lord, so that Your vineyard may grow…

Now this prayer isn’t over yet.  I did not rewrite the last two lines of the Psalm because want to invite you to adapt them into your own words.  Use this as an opportunity to practice praying the Psalms.  Even share your rewrite if you are so inclined.

– Spencer Hargadon

Letter to Mr. Challies

This is hardly my most eloquent letter, but it was honest and I think that adds eloquence.  To wrap up the series of posts responding to Mr. Challies’ “Why I Am Not Roman Catholic”  I wanted to share the letter I wrote him.  Thank you for those who followed the series.

Dear Mr. Challies,

Praise the Lord for your love for Him and your desire to bring Him glory, honor, and praise.  I am no judge of your heart, but I believe there is evidence through your work that your heart and affections are for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And I know it is because His love has come to possess you.  As He did for me, my co-author Adam, for Augustine, and so many of His saints through the ages, He has called, broken through our blindness and deafness.  Your passion for Him is indicative of this too.

I also want to commend the work your do on your website.  As is apparent by the content in this envelope, we have disagreements, but those should only be addressed by first saying, “Thank you for pursuing the furthering of the Gospel!”  Your conviction to spread the Gospel is so fundamental to the mission Christ has shared with us.  Thank you for embracing it.

It is our mutual love for the Gospel that has compelled Adam and me to write this response.  Do not let the Father of Lies convince you that there is an enemy where there is none.  He did this to our forefather Adam when Adam hid from God.  There may be differences in your understanding and expression of the Gospel with the Catholic Church, and yes, real and substantial differences.  But, She is not an enemy of the Gospel.  I believe in the power of the Gospel and encountered it, aka Him, in the Catholic Church.  I heard the call to discipleship as a Catholic returning to the Church.

I hope that our writings can help you see us as at least estranged siblings, instead of opponents of the Gospel.  Yes, there are theological and doctrinal differences, but Reformed theology is not the Gospel.  The Gospel is a proclamation of victory.  Through His incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit, Christ has won!  The revolution of disobedience and sin has been overcome by our champion, the New Adam, the New Moses, and the New David.

In our writings, we do not intend to bring conflict against your person or character, only your arguments and statements.  Anywhere we have been guilty of attacking you, I ask that you forgive us.  We are men defending something and someone dear to us, but we are not immune to the way in which our words can cut differently than intended.

We pray for you and your ministry.  Please pray for us.

In Christ,

Spencer Hargadon

Guest Post: The Gift of Trust

“The wages for sin is death.” (Rom 6:23)
“When sin reaches maturity, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:15)
Neither of those verses are from today’s readings, but they both came to mind as I was pondering the promise of punishment made in Amos 3:2:
You alone have I favored,
more than all the families of the earth;
Therefore I will punish you
for all your crimes.
The punishment at hand is enormous. When we stare the fruit of our sin (death) in the face, there can be roughly 3 responses. The first is feigned ignorance– choosing to disregard the effects of willfully pursuing ways of life outside of loving God and neighbor with our whole heart. The second is despair– to believe that our sin is too great for the love and mercy of our Lord, and to give up either on ourselves or on God. The third option is possibly the hardest, but inevitably the path we must take– to know both the gravity of our sin, and the endless faithfulness of our Lord, trusting in mercy but never ceasing in our desire to be perfected.
When we find ourselves in the third camp, there is nothing to fear. There are no storms of our soul, no matter how great, that are not calmed by the love and mercy of God. We do not fear for our bodies, because we know that bodily death is not the end. We do not fear for our souls, because we have entrusted ourselves entirely to the mercy of Jesus.  When Jesus asks his disciples, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” he is not mocking them. Hidden within the question is an essential truth: “I care for you so deeply that I will not let you perish. Please trust my love for you. Please trust my mercy. I am doing everything, everything, even becoming man, to show you how much I love you.” Beyond an intellectual understanding that God is greater than sin, Jesus invites us to give Him a gift– the gift of trusting Him.
-Katrina Boos

Appendix 3-Uncarnated Worship

Overcompensation is a huge problem for us.  As creatures in time and space we tend to overcorrect like a swaying ship, a swinging pendulum, or a husband in trouble.  This has happened with Protestantism’s view of worship.  In an attempt to avoid empty religiosity and outward false piety, some of Protestantism has taken an almost Gnostic approach to worship. There are those in Protestantism that reject most corporal, physical, or material means of worship.  This is an obstacle facing Catholics and Orthodox worshipping with Protestants because the two great historic Churches are so grounded in incarnational theology that the reduction of worship to merely songs and hand raising feels impoverished.  We want to worship like humans, not angels, for we are body and soul and profess the Incarnate Lord.  I believe this is also a source of the uneasiness Protestants feel regarding relics and Sacraments, especially the Mass.

Certainly we are called to worship God in Spirit and Truth (cf. John 4:20-24) and the interior disposition is essential for worship, “For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, cf. Matt. 9:13).  For without love of God and repentant hearts we are like the Pharisees, “like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth… on the outside [appearing] righteous, but inside … filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Matt. 23:27-28).

However, a spiritual interior disposition and vibrant material, sensory, corporal worship through ritual are not mutually exclusive.  We must not be like the Son who says he will go to the vineyard but does not (cf. Matt. 21:28-31).  Our worship needs to take form.  Throughout the Gospel’s Christ commends fasting as a physical accompaniment to prayer, almost a prayer of the body.   He also engages in very physical healings (cf. John 9:6), and we are told to anoint our sick (cf. James 5:14).  The laying on of hands is not only a ritual, but one that Paul tells Timothy to not do lightly (cf. 1 Tim. 5:22).  Jesus participated in Jewish ritual worship in the Gospels.  He “fell prostrate in prayer” (Matt. 26:39).

For the Catholic and Orthodox all of this finds its apex in the Eucharistic Liturgy.  It is in that communal prayer of the gathered church that we pray with our bodies through posture and lift our voices in song.  We find again the celebration of the Last Supper — the first Passover meal of the New Covenant (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-32).  We hear, echoed through eternity, Christ’s words of utmost bodily worship, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  It is in the liturgy that we find the altar we seek reconciliation before approaching (cf. Matt. 5:23-24).  It is where we find the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy that from East to West a [Todah] sacrifice will be offered (cf. 1:11).  And, yes, it is where my greatest contribution is a sincere and repentant heart (Psalm 51:17).  In the liturgy we find ourselves devoted to what the early church was devoted to, “the teaching of the apostles, communal life, breaking of the bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  This is not something supplemental for us, it is the source and summit of our worship (CCC 1324).

See, invisibility does not grant immunity from emptiness.  Just as I can go through hollow motions at Mass someone can sing praise based off of self-serving fleeting emotions or raise their hands to fit in or draw attention.  Simultaneously, just as someone can let their guard down by singing “Amazing Grace” I can truly open my heart by feeling the corpus (body) on the crucifix. Our salvation came from the union of Creator with creation. We would do well to not confuse that with being saved from creation.

Appendix 2 – Appeal to Tradition: the Trajectory of the Shots Fired over the Canon of Scripture

Catholics are comprehensive, interconnected, synthesizing people.  Well, at least the faith we profess is.  Unfortunately, many controversies between Catholics and Protestants are viewed in isolation, torn unnaturally from where they rightly fit.  It is like trying to determine if a single puzzle piece belongs without consulting the whole.  One area where this disconnect is most obvious is in regard to Scripture.  The debates over the Canon and Sola Scriptura lead to the need to appeal to an authority outside of Scripture.  There is no way for a Protestant to appeal exclusively to Scripture and maintain the current Protestant Canon, much less have grounds for rejecting the books of the Old Testament that they do.  So when you follow the trajectory is it really Sola Scriptura at all?

Recognizing this inevitability R.C. Sproul presents Dr. John Gerstner’s comparison of Catholic vs Protestant views regarding the canon.  Here is how it is presented:  “Roman Catholic view: The Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books.  Protestant view: The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books.” [28] Sproul then argues for the Protestant position claiming it defends Scripture and protects it. It supposedly “guards against an infallible church” [29] (wouldn’t want one of those).  He articulates that “Church tradition and church creeds can err.” [30]  Unless the creed is Sola Scriptura, then of course it can’t be wrong.  “Individual interpreters of Scripture can err.  It is the Scriptures alone that are without error.” [31]  Assuming you have the right books.  Of course, as Scripture helps interpret Scripture, not having all the books would put someone at a disadvantage.  One might do something, like misinterpret Romans, when missing books.  R.C. Sproul would have to admit this is possible since he defends that he only has a fallible collection of infallible books.  To be fair, all of Christianity existed in a pseudo-Protestant position before the Reformation.  It would have been similar to “We have a reliable though unconfirmed list of infallible books.”  It was when the question of the list’s reliability moved from theory into practice with the reformers that the Church did what she does during times of controversy, made an ecumenical and infallible declaration to protect that which was received.  The infallible Church was coming to the aid of the infallible books which were being cast aside by fallible men. [32]


28. R.C. Sproul, “The Establishment of Scripture,” Ed. Don Kistler, Sola Scriptura 41.
29. Ibid, 41.
30. Ibid, 42.
31. Ibid, 42.
32. Gary Michuta’s Why Catholic Bible’s are Bigger offers an excellent historical survey covering the canon conversation.  He helps cover that Catholics also believe in the reception of the canon not the “creation” of it like Sproul wrote in the above article (Sproul, 49-50).

“It has thought it proper, moreover, to insert in this decree a list of the sacred books, lest a doubt might arise in the mind of someone as to which are the books received by this council” (Trent, Session 4, “Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures”).

To his credit, Sproul avoids accusing the Council of Trent of ‘adding’ books to the Bible.