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Posts from the ‘Diocesan Column’ Category

Too Much of Sherlock, Once Upon a Time, and The Paradise

Being Catholic has its challenges.

When I was an Evangelical Protestant, I knew that I loved Jesus. If He showed up, I knew I would hit my knees. If He would have visited a neighbor’s house or stopped by my local church, I would have dropped everything to be with Him. If He wanted me to tarry an hour with Him, I wouldn’t have fallen asleep – like the disciples did.

I loved Jesus. And I knew it. And I would show Him just how much I loved Him when I was finally with Him in Heaven.

I still love Jesus. Becoming Catholic doesn’t change that. Some things are changing – like how well I know myself – really know myself.

There are so many ways to show our love for Christ in this Catholic faith. He shows up everywhere. At times, that can be a pretty uncomfortable reality.

Now I have my chance. Jesus is showing up at Mass every day at 8:00 AM. What is my response? I sometimes get in the habit of going (and I love it). But then I get sick – like two weeks ago. And I start watching movies at night and begin to sleep in until it is too late to make Mass. Life as a writer is unpredictable. Some weeks, I have time to spare. Some weeks, I am scrambling to meet a deadline – like three weeks ago when I needed to get a draft back to my editor. When my schedule lightens, I have all these gaps in my day. What do I do with the gaps?

Too often, I sit back and say, “Ah, this feels nice.” Too often, I turn off the alarm and roll over.

Some might say it is borderline scrupulous to be so hard on myself.

I know better.

It isn’t a sin to miss daily Mass. It isn’t a sign of a serious problem to watch a little television or sleep until 8:00 AM now and then.

But these are opportunities for me to show my love, and failing to carve out time regularly for Jesus Christ when I am perfectly able to do so is a sign of my fidelity – or lack thereof.

I’m doing a bit of an examination of conscience because I have a big project that is about to fall into my lap. Now is the time to get myself back to a schedule. I need to be more deliberate with my time.

If a late-night movie means I can’t get up and get going in the morning, there is a problem. I can’t let it affect my work – and I never should have let it affect my daily Mass habit.

After all, Jesus is more important than the work, more important than the movie, more important than sleep.

I know this. I have always known this.

But now, as a Catholic, I have so many opportunities to give my love to Jesus and to receive His love for me. This morning, I overslept. Actually, I woke up at 5:30 AM and made sure my sophomore (daughter) got ready for school. Then I went back to sleep.

Yes. I did. Pathetic, isn’t it?

I know what love looks like. I don’t have to imagine what I would do if Jesus showed up. He’s showing up.

And now,  the response is up to me.

I know what the “holy” me looks like. She makes time for Jesus Christ. She gets in a habit of going where He goes and being where He is. And when I wear that habit like a garment, it feels wonderful. Perfectly tailored for me. My coat of many colors crafted by the Father.

A doting Father.

A life-giving Lord.

And longing replaces should. Scrupulosity is crushed. It all comes down to love. Mine. And His.

His love is constant. Always trustworthy. Always on time.

The question of fidelity rests with me.

So, there has been a little too much Sherlock. Too many nights watching Once Upon a Time. Too much of The Paradise in place of The Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God awaits.

August – Why it is INCREDIBLY Important to the Catholic Church

From the archives: “Why August Matters”

Catholic by Grace diocesan article 2009

It is one more way Protestants and Catholics are different from one another. Someone walks through the door of a Protestant church, they say they want to be a member, and that’s it. They are signed up. Maybe they take a course for a week or two – but probably not. Then, they stand in front of the congregation, profess the faith publicly or present a letter of transfer from another denomination or congregation. And they’re in.

Catholics don’t work that way.Everything takes time. Lots and lots of time. Potential converts aren’t usually invited to Mass. They sort of wander in. There’s almost no reason for it, except that the Holy Spirit is alive and well.

These converts-in-waiting pop in and out each week, without being bothered very much, and after a few months (or a few years), someone thinks to invite them to RCIA class.

Without knowing why they are saying yes, they agree to give it a try. Something tells them that they are ready for this. It is time. That’s all they know.

And timing is everything.

That’s why August is so very important. It is the perfect month for discernment. It is the right time for Catholics to look around and figure out who they have overlooked. Maybe someone has been visiting for a long time, and they need a nudge. Maybe there is someone who hasn’t even made it to Mass one time, but the Holy Spirit is telling you that person needs Mother Church. That person is craving the Eucharist, and she doesn’t even know it. But when you invite her, you think she will probably sense it as well.

August is the right time to discern where the Holy Spirit is working and who the Holy Spirit is calling. It’s time to step out of your comfort zone. I like the old saying each one reach one. What would happen if each one of us tried to reach just one other person? Some potential converts would say no thank you. But be honest, would that take any time off your life? What have you really lost if that happens? Sure, it’s possible that nothing will happen when you activate evangelization in your sphere of influence.

But then again, maybe something will happen.

And that something is the mightiest miracle on earth. A life is changed. One more person encounters Jesus Christ and His Church. You have brought another human being to the Eucharist, and he has received the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord.

You have nothing to lose. And they have everything to gain. So, what’s stopping you? It’s August. RCIA classes are forming in parishes all over our country.

This year, discover just how important the month of August really is.

If you take just a little initiative, imagine where your friend could be standing next Easter Vigil – and you, right behind him with your hand on his shoulder. If God blesses you like that, I can tell you from experience, the tears will be difficult to contain.

Miracles are like that. But they usually start in the quiet heat of an August evening. Make a call. Stop for a visit. Send an email. Invite someone to try RCIA this year!

(A 2014 SHOUT OUT to Sharri. See you at Easter Vigil, little sister!)

The Assumption of Mary (leaving the Left Behind craze…well…behind)

Mary was assumed into heaven.

It’s one of the more difficult teachings for converts to grasp. But there are ways to approach the Assumption so that non-Catholics may come to believe.

In 1995, I wrote an article for Protestant newspapers called “Trends in Christian Fiction” which considered the possibility that a Christian fiction book might hit the New York Times Bestseller List. I traveled to key Protestant publishers – Tyndale, Crossway, Moody, Victor and Bethany House – to interview editors. The publishers handed me galleys, and they all believed their books had that crossover appeal. Only one actually did. Left Behind was on the publishing turnpike back then, and it was among the galleys I brought home with me after that Chicago-Minneapolis trip. Tyndale released the book within six months of my visit, and the book (and subsequent series) was a huge success.

Nicholas Cage and Lea Thompson star in a screen adaptation of that book. The movie opens October 3, 2014. So the Left Behind craze continues.

I have one question.

And it isn’t about whether or not the idea of Rapture is biblical. My question has nothing to do with Christians disappearing when Christ returns. I’m not going to take the time to explain why Catholic teaching on eschatological things is solid and Left Behind theology is Hollywood science fiction.

No. I’m pondering something else.

Why is it so easy for people to believe that Jesus Christ will return and “rapture” those who love Him, leaving behind the rest of the world, but those same people find it impossible to believe that Jesus Christ came for His mother and assumed her, body and soul, into heaven?

Why is that harder to believe?

When I ponder the glorious Assumption of Mary into Heaven, I have to smile. It fits. It makes sense. A perfect and loving son would do that if he could.  A divine Son did do it because He could.

Jesus Christ looked upon His mother, and Love broke through the veil.

Jesus, the perfect Son of God, would not let His mother’s body know corruption. Not this mother who was so carefully created – so immaculately formed.

In May, I traveled to the Holy Land. We visited many places, but one place that stands out in my mind is Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion.

Let me take you there for just a moment. Step with me into the Tomb of King David. Let’s pray there, together. Let’s think of David’s descendent, the Christ, who was given an eternal throne.

Now, let me lead you just a few steps from the place where David is buried. There, you will find the doors to Dormition Abbey. According to tradition, Mary fell asleep and was assumed into heaven here.

There is a place in Ephesus that also makes this claim, but many Catholic sources say Mount Zion is more likely. And I agree.

The one who is Daughter Zion and mother of David’s eternal heir should end her earthly life here – and be visited by the Lord who lovingly laid claim to His mother – right here.

Come to me, my beloved mother. Come and see the place I have prepared.

With angelic shouts and trumpet blast, she was raised and crowned Queen. Earth was silent. But heaven erupted with great jubilation.

Why is it so easy to imagine a silly story about Jesus coming to Earth and Christians across the world disappearing? Airplanes crashing as pilots disappear into thin air. Cars crashing as drivers disappear. Students leaving behind open books and laptops? Why is that easier to imagine, but Mary’s Assumption seems far-fetched?

I stood in the crypt of Dormition Abbey. I thought of King David’s bones which were just a few steps away. And yet, in this crypt, there are no bones. Mary is not here. And nobody has claimed to have Mary’s remains. Why? Because there are no remains.

In fact, the disagreement about a possible site for the Assumption exists because there are no bones to settle the matter. The dueling claim underscores the reality of the Assumption. She is not here – or there!

Yes, Jesus Christ will return again. And He will raise the living and the dead. It won’t follow the plotline of a Hollywood thriller. But there is precedent for our rising to meet the Lord. Although Mary’s Assumption is unique, the One who assumed His own mother will return – for us. The dead in Christ will be raised to new life. But the unfaithful won’t be left behind – although they probably will wish they had been left. Earth is preferable to eternal separation from God. The Bible tells us we will be divided—the faithful going one way, the unfaithful another.

Leave the Left Behind hoopla in Hollywood.

Turn your eyes to the Holy Land, or Ephesus, or even toward heaven.. And celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What Jesus did for Mary – in a unique and special way – gives us hope that one day Christ will return. So let’s model our lives after the Blessed Mother – remaining faithful until the end.


Catholic by Grace Column May 2014: What’s the Deal with Mary and the Month of May?

It is May.  That means Catholic schools and parishes will be having May Crowning.

About two years after my conversion, the whole Mary-and-the-month-of-May thing hit my radar. “So what’s with Mary and the month of May?” I asked my cradle Catholic friend. She explained that the Church has set aside the month of May to honor the Blessed Mother – hence, May Crowning. It’s time to pray the rosary and present the Blessed Mother with flowers and a crown, she said.

Try explaining that to your Protestant family & friends.

You do what?

We pray the rosary…  [You’ve already lost them, and you haven’t even gotten to the part about the crown.]

Have you ever read the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff? It’s kind of like that.

If you mention May and the Blessed Mother, you have to mention May Crowning.  If you mention May Crowning, you have to explain how Mary is the Queen of Heaven & Earth.  If you mention that Mary is the Queen of Heaven & Earth, you have to talk about the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, the Ark of the Covenant, the New Eve and why that’s all scriptural. You’ll have to crack open the Bible and look at the Book of Revelations and the “women clothed with the sun” and explain how Mary was prefigured by Hannah, Ruth, Queen Esther, and Judith.

And if you make it to Judith, you are going to have to explain why Judith is not in their Protestant Bibles–but they don’t know what they are missing because Judith is the most amazing widow in Salvation History.

And if you find yourself back to the Bible, you are going to have to talk about the rosary again and how those prayers come right out of the Bible because Jesus prayed the Our Father, and the Hail Mary is a combination of the words of Archangel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth.

And if you manage to explain why Catholics pray memorized prayers, you will have to explain that we pray in many different ways and it all comes together in the Mass and the Mass fits into the Liturgical Calendar and the Liturgical Calendar takes us from Advent to Christmas to Ordinary Time, to Lent to Easter to Pentecost, and then to…

To the Blessed Mother.

And… if you mention the month of May and the Blessed Mother, you’d better put on another pot of coffee because you are about to cover the same ground all over again.

Our Faith is organic. It all fits together. It cannot be reduced to one sound bite. It lives and breathes and has a complexity and beauty that is as mysterious and glorious as the Body of Christ.

And the month of May is connected to that living, breathing intricacy.

Let’s face it. The best way to experience Mary’s month is to become a little child. Don’t try to figure it all out at once like someone cramming for a final exam.

Just go cut some flowers and lay them at her feet. Pick up your rosary and pray the Glorious Mysteries.  Or simply plan to learn the Hail Mary if you have never tried to do that.

For you see, it all comes down to this:

Sometimes, the best way to find Christ is to let yourself find Mary.  Embrace the simple elegance of it and the organic complexity will fall into place.


March 2014 Catholic by Grace Column

I remember the day I discovered the joy of playing with a prism and the power generated by a magnifying glass. I was sitting on the windowsill of our fifth grade classroom and chatting with friends. We were looking at Mrs. Grace’s plants and goofing around with the magnifying glasses and prisms. I was fascinated by the rainbows appearing on our notebook paper when we held a prism just so between our fingers and thumb. What an amazing thing, this ray of sunlight! I studied the spectrum, trying to figure out just where one color ended and another began.

A friend was playing with the magnifying glass. She was fascinated by the pinpoint of bright light that she could generate by steadily holding the magnifying glass in one position and letting the sunlight pass through the glass. As we watched and laughed at the wonders of science, her paper began to smoke, and the little spot of bright light turned brown. The paper was on fire. There was one collective intake of breath, and then everyone was silent. We had heard about that sort of thing happening, and now we had witnessed it for ourselves.

If you’ve ever played with rays of sunlight, you understand how our lives can be a prism in the hand of God. Our works become a rainbow of colors for all to see. Beautiful. Drawing the eyes of others toward God, causing their souls to marvel and wonder.

Our souls can be a magnifying glass in the hand of God. We lift our hearts up, and Jesus Christ is magnified. Everyone in proximity holds his breath in wonder, in awe. Miracles happen. Lives are set ablaze.

The divine light reveals our unique gifts, like the colors in the rainbow. The divine light reveals God himself. Power. Majesty. The consuming fire of God.

That day, on a windowsill in a fifth-grade classroom, a group of children were stunned into silence for just a moment. We had been fascinated by the rainbows. But when we realized the power of the sun, and what we could do with a little magnifying glass, we made no sound at all. This was a power too great – something too important – to misuse.

We looked at each other with big eyes and open mouths. And we quietly put the magnifying glasses away in a box. We had uncovered a secret about the sun that demanded maturity, awe, respect. When we opened our science books, we now understood as children who had experienced it personally. Hands-on education. The kind of learning that sticks around long after the test and the last day of class. The kind of learning that even the most apathetic student will abide. Yes, he will keep coming back to discover more.

And so it is in matters of faith. Let the little ones  – the curious and the apathetic ones – gather around. Let them see the Son as he passes through your life, yielding the colors of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control. Watch, as he displays his power in the middle of human suffering. Or sorrow. Or death. Miracles happen right here. And everyone is stunned. They cannot help but ponder it all. And they will not forget.

It’s Mrs. Grace’s classroom all over again.

St. Catherine of Siena once said we will set the world ablaze if we become what we were meant to become. And what is that? A magnifying glass in the hand of God. Come, let us magnify the Lord, together.



March 2014 Catholic By Grace Column


Crane Creek was the rambling stream that ran behind our Iowa home when I was a child. It was the swelling water that rushed mightily in the spring and flooded the basements, except ours – thanks to the sump pump the board of trustees included in the building plan of the new parsonage.

The creek was the frozen play land where I first learned to keep my ankles firm when they wanted to twist and buckle in my new white ice skates. It was the same creek where some guy veered off the road one night and drove down the embankment and right out on the ice but didn’t break through. He just opened the door of his car and crawled on all fours across the ice to safety. Nobody told us how they got his car off the ice and back to the road.

The creek ran beside the park where I slid down a splintery slide and tore an eight-inch hole in my favorite jeans – back when I was still young enough to climb the slide but old enough to care about favorite jeans.

It’s where my sister, brother and I cut grass and made pocket change for pool admission at the local KOA.

Crane Creek. It’s where my brother caught blue gill too small to eat, and I became an Iowa girl always and forever.

It’s where I took walks when I needed space, where I realized how much I didn’t want to move to my father’s new pastorate. I wanted to stay there, by the creek, near friends, and marry and have babies who grew up to skate and slide and fish.

Place matters.

It forms us. It stays with us. Like the Church, where our fingers dip, where we are washed and freed from every stain. Where we return every Lent and remember. Reclaim. Renew.

It’s there always. A water that captures us and captivates us and never lets go.

Water strong enough to hold us, even when we crash into it like that driver on a cold January night crashed into the frozen creek behind our house. Yes, even then it saves us. Protects us. Bears us up. Read more

The Smithsonian, Hope Diamond, and Litany of Saints

We visited the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. when I was thirteen. A few of the collections were particularly memorable. The locomotives in the train room frightened me. That’s where I first realized that I was a little claustrophobic. The fifty-two foot Foucault Pendulum and the American flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem were fascinating. We spent three days visiting the Smithsonian. Each day, my sister and I ran straight for the railing where we could look down and watch the pendulum swing back and forth. At the end of each visit, we said our good-byes to the stained and weathered American flag.

But the two things that I remember the most were the Hope Diamond and the Bradford Toy House. Read more

October 2013 Catholic by Grace Column

It was such a weird assignment. But, then again, it was a college sociology class, so that may explain a lot.

Assignment? Deliberately do something counter to social mores, observe reactions of those around you, and write about it in your journal.

One student – a middle-aged man with a large beer belly – went to McDonalds and ordered a Happy Meal. He asked for a boy’s toy and proceeded to sit directly in front of the counter and eat the meal himself. Read more

September 2013 Catholic by Grace Column

Dad tried to convince me to become a Presbyterian minister. Presbyterians had embraced women’s ordination. My father could think of nothing that would make him prouder than for one of his children to follow in his footsteps and become a Protestant preacher. Read more