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Reflections on Faith - The Apostles, Pentecost and Charismatic Experiences - May 2007

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May 28, 2007

I had intentions to deliver a reflection on another topic, but as I sat down to prepare to work on today’s words – I came upon a teaching homily by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa. You may know that he is the preacher to the Pontifical Household… in other words – Fr. Raniero preaches to the Pope and to those in immediate proximity to him…. This reflection is based upon the readings from yesterday’s Gospel for Pentecost… and although today we enter Ordinary Time – and today, we honor Memorial Day – please allow the graces and gifts of the Spirit from Pentecost to carry us into Ordinary Time. Here then is a mini homily from the Papal preacher:

“The Pentecost Gospel presents Jesus, who in the cenacle on Easter evening, "breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" This breathing of Jesus recalls God's action, who in the creation, "formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being" (cf. Genesis 2:7). With his gesture Jesus indicates that the Holy Spirit is the divine breath that gives life to new creation as he gave life to the first creation. The responsorial psalm highlights this theme: "Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.
Proclaiming that the Holy Spirit is Creator means saying that his sphere of action is not restricted to the Church, but extends to the entire creation. No place and no time is without his active presence. He acts in and out of the Bible; he acts before Christ, during the time of Christ, and after Christ, even if he never acts apart from Christ.”

"All truth, by whomever it is spoken," Thomas Aquinas has written, "comes from the Holy Spirit." The most important thing about the creative power of the Holy Spirit is not to understand it and explain its implications, but to experience it. But what does it mean to experience the Spirit as Creator? To understand it, let us take the creation account as our point of departure. "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, and a mighty wind as of the Spirit of the Lord moved over the waters" (Genesis 1:1-2). We conclude from this that the universe already existed in the moment when the Spirit intervened, but it was formless and dark, chaos. It is after his action that creation assumes precise contours; light is separated from darkness, dry land from sea, and everything takes on a definite shape.

Thus, it is the Holy Spirit who transforms the creation from chaos into cosmos, who makes it something beautiful, ordered, polished ("cosmos" comes from the same root as "cosmetic" and it means beautiful!), he makes a "world," in the double sense of this word. Science teaches us today that this process went on for billions of years, but the Bible -- with its simple and image-filled language -- wants to tell us that the slow evolution toward life and the present order of the world did not happen by chance, following blind material impulses. It followed, rather, a project that the Creator inserted in it from the beginning.

God's creative action is not limited to the initial instant; he is always in the act of creating. Applied to the Holy Spirit, this means that he is always the one who transforms chaos into cosmos, that is, he makes order out of disorder, harmony out of confusion, beauty out of deformity, youth out of age. This occurs on all levels: in the macrocosm as in the microcosm, that is, in the whole universe as in the individual person.

We must believe that, despite appearances, the Holy Spirit is working in the world and makes it progress. How many new discoveries, not only in the study of nature but also in the field of morality and social life! A text of Vatican II says that the Holy Spirit is at work in the evolution of the social order of the world ("Gaudium et Spes," 26). It is not only evil that grows but good does too, with the difference being that evil eliminates itself, ends with itself, while the good accumulates itself, remains. Certainly there is much chaos around us: moral, political, and social chaos. The world still has great need of the Spirit of God. For this reason we must not tire in invoking him with the words of the Psalm: "Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth!" – [End of Fr. Raniero’s homily before the Holy Father.]

Briefly now, I want to again thank God for the gift of America – I preached about this yesterday at all of our Masses. I repeat again that which I believe has been placed on my heart to share with you: God will not allow the gift of American blood spilled on foreign shores to be wasted.

Though it is sometimes so very painful that our Country has (and will again) experienced the loss of young men and women in far away places – let us thank our God for the generally good intentions that have preceded our actions. Most reasonable people believe it has always been done for the good of others and for a vision of ultimate peace in the world… Enough of the negative interpretations of others and political rhetoric of why we have fought the good fight – let us kneel before our God and thank Him for his gift of America and the gift of men and women willing to try to share some of the benefits of this land of the free and the brave. Let us pray for those who gave the full measure of devotion – let us pray for those still in the service of peace.

May 21, 2007
7th Week Easter

During early years in the seminary, my wife and I (and some of our classmates who didn’t know about it) were introduced to a few people in the deacon candidate program who were quite charismatic – they were very spirited and outgoing. When they had an opportunity to pray out loud – they were able to speak to the Lord very beautifully – very much from the heart. For reasons that are too long to go into – one of the candidates was given the opportunity to continue studying to become a deacon – or to give that up and to continue a very spirited healing and prayer ministry. He and his wife decided to stay with their helping ministry and they dropped out of deacon formation. I’ve seen their picture in the Archdiocesan newspaper – and I hear of them from time to time. They are still quite active in prayer ministry.

Leaving that short story – during the last two years of my studies to become a deacon, my wife and I were invited to attend a few Charismatic prayer and music meetings at a parish off of Sheridan Street in Denver. I certainly felt a little awkward at first – but I found the music, the meetings, the speakers and testimony to be very uplifting. I just loved it – although as I say it did take some time to get used to a little more spirited and emotional worship in music and prayer. Nothing wild, mind you.

Later, I came to know the late John Paul II had a charismatic heart; he picked Capuchin Fr Raniero Cantalamessa as preacher to the Pontifical Household for the Vatican.

This Franciscan priest is definitely charismatic – and he is still the preacher at the Vatican under our Holy Father Benedict. And continuing, Denver Archbishop Chaput invited Fr. Cantalamessa to be the leader and speaker for the priest’s retreat in recent years at the YMCA. Finally, I just saw that Alex Jones who was the Protestant pastor, and who converted to Catholicism, he is now a deacon is a scheduled speaker for a large Catholic Charismatic program down south. Deacon Alex is a powerful preacher in his own right.

What does all this have to do with today’s readings? Well – some Catholics may think that the Charismatic movement was something from the late 1970’s and the 1980’s. They may dismiss it as something tried – now something of the past. I beg to differ. And it does relate to today’s readings…

Baptism in the Spirit is mentioned in all four gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles: Matthew 3;11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5 and 11:16. John the Baptist told his followers that though he baptized with water, the one who was to come after him, “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Today, as challenge and meditation, I ask: “Have you been baptized by the Spirit?”

“ Often we do not allow the Spirit we have received (in Baptism and Confirmation) to be as active in us as He wants to be.  I have heard analogies to explain this; here is one I just came upon.

Not to be disrespectful, the Holy Spirit can be seen as like chocolate syrup poured into a glass of milk – it goes to the bottom of the glass until stirred up.  But when it is stirred up, it permeates the milk and transforms it into something else. 

We can learn how to “stir up” the Spirit – and how to receive more of Him – from Jesus in the Gospels. The Lord teaches us that first we must thirst for God.  We must desire more and more of His Spirit.  Then we must believe that Jesus is faithful to His promises and will indeed give us His Holy Spirit. Finally, you and I have to ask God for the Holy Spirit. We must pray with perseverance, asking, seeking, knocking, believing that ‘everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’ (Luke 11:10).  We can follow the example of the early Church by praying for the Spirit in union with Mary and the apostles as they did at the first Pentecost (see Acts 1:12-14).

We are about to celebrate the end of the great events associated with Christ’s life on earth – and what happened after He ascended to heaven. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit – and when the Spirit came – we know how radically it transformed the recipients. Let us pray – let us believe – let us accept that the Holy Spirit can change us and shower us with His gifts… gifts that will help us to be a part of bringing the Kingdom of God to fulfillment in our lifetimes… even if it is one heart, one conversion, perhaps one healing at a time.

May 14, 2007
6th Week Easter - SAINT MATTHIAS

They nominated two men: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed and drew lots. The choice fell upon Matthias, who was added to the Eleven. Matthias is not mentioned by name anywhere else in the New Testament. Does this perhaps make you wonder… if you are alert to such things – do you wonder why something would be mentioned in Scripture – like the name Matthias – and then never mentioned again? What was on the mind of the writer? Why would God give us inspired Scripture with an unused nugget like this?

Well – I don’t have an ‘answer’ for you – but I’d like to share thoughts for a reflection on this morning’s reading. We know from Scripture about the betrayal of Christ by Judas… and as a sidenote – can I ask you how Judas died? Did you know there are two popular traditions? The most known or common tradition is that Judas hung himself. However in Luke’s writing in ACTS – he says that Judas bought a parcel of land with the wages of iniquity, and he fell headlong and burst open… Could this be just a different way of expressing a story about the demise of Judas? Perhaps so… But then – I said I had a few thoughts about the Matthias election – so let me not get too sidetracked….

In the Catholic Study Bible footnotes – it says that the need to replace Judas was probably dictated by the symbolism of the number twelve, recalling the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke also presents the image that the Christian Church is a reconstituted Israel. I put a slightly revised twist on this and say that the successors to Christ may have felt it important (at that time) to continue with the exact structure of leadership in the Church as Christ himself inaugurated.

Now another thought to share with you about this isolated incident in Scripture is about how Peter stepped forward – the recognized leader and how he called upon a large gathering of the faithful in Jerusalem. Leadership – authority – involvement of the faithful in the continuing work of the Church – I spoke of this in my weekend homily about authority. Another matter to possibly draw from this is that Peter established criteria for who could be considered… “Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus was with us…. Someone who became a witness to the resurrection. Now we can see that leadership defines criteria for who can participate in electing other members…. You know we have many people today who want to do things differently in the Church – the old fashioned Church needs to be changed – they think. But how did the Church operate in its earliest hours? ACTS has the answers…

Finally – perhaps this is (again) obvious to you… what did Peter and the group do before making a decision? Of course – they prayed. We might say well sure we know that. But I ask you: has that awareness moved into the everyday aspects of your life?

Several years ago – I told parishioners that when I was in the seminary studying to become a deacon – I was studying sometimes 20 or more hours a week… and I studied especially hard before exams… At that time, I told a friend – now a deacon from Wyoming – I told him that I could study for hours but I had trouble remembering some of the paragraphs and constructs of Thomas Aquinas… I had trouble remembering each of the names of the Books of the Bibles… My deacon friend Dan said, “Well Tom, do you pray before you study?” It was like “Tom – do you get what this becoming a deacon is all about?” “Do you understand that all of this is in God’s hands? He will help you if you just pray…

And now – I try to remember to pray about each and every action and activity… I’m not anywhere near perfect at it – my wife helps – and we pray together about decisions and people and circumstances we’ve come upon…

In today’s ACTS story – it says they cast lots – and the lot fell to Matthias – and he was counted as one of the (now) twelve. You might say – well how would God’s will be made manifest in drawing lots? And I ask you… How many ways is it possible for God to intervene in our lives? An infinite number, I’d say… and all we need do is pray before any action… perhaps even turning out the light at night… and before rising from our bed in the morning… The perfect submission to God’s will is found in prayer… 24/7 as they say. Please pray for this deacon facing so many new challenges… Blessings. Thank you.

© 2006-2008 Deacon Tom Online