Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Conversion of St. Paul

This Friday,January 25th. is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. If I were to say that I had a few favorite story's in the New Testament this would certainly be among them. I say it's special because I believe it is particularly relevant for this generation in the Church.

Clearly, St. Paul is a devout and religious man at this point in his life. In his own telling of his encounter with Christ, his conversion, as recorded in Acts Ch. 22, Paul describes himself as a devout Jew, zealous for God, and trying to crush these followers of Jesus. "And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' Paul was about to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

Blinded by the vision of the glorious Christ, Paul is brought to a devout follower named Ananias. In the Acts Ch. 9, account of this event, Ananias is told by the Lord, to go and pray over Paul. Here, there is this delightful, even humorous exchange between Ananias and the Lord. (Are you sure, Lord, one might imagine him saying), "I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.....". Assured by the Lord, Ananias goes to Paul. "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 

This is Paul's Pentecost experience. In his prayer for the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII, prayed that all the Church would experience a new Pentecost. "Renew your wonders in our day, as by a new Pentecost ...... Come Holy Spirit in your power and might to renew the face of the earth." As I mentioned in my introduction to this blog, there followed in the 60's and 70's through various movements, what has become known as the Grace of Renewal, a grace which I experienced in a most dramatic way in 1971 and which has defined my faith life to this day.

Certainly, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is one place where this grace is central to its experience. But it raises the question of how this experience of grace relates to the Church and the sacraments. Is not a person given the Holy Spirit when they are baptized? How are we to understand the Grace of Renewal in light of our baptism, and the other sacraments as well?

I found this connection described clearly by Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Catechisi Tradendae, Catechesis In Our Time. He is following up on Pope Paul VI's document on Evangelization. We see two stages at work, the first stage is evangelization where one receives a personal faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The second is catechesis where this personal faith matures and developes in the community of the Church. Here in paragraph #19, Pope John Paul II writes the following;
  • 19. The specific character of catechesis, as distinct from the initial conversion - bringing proclamation of the Gospel, has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    But in catechetical practice, this model order must allow for the fact that the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit; and opposition is quickly created by the prejudices of their non-Christian family background or of the positivist spirit of their education. In addition, there are other children who have not been baptized and whose parents agree only at a later date to religious education: for practical reasons, the catechumenal stage of these children will often be carried out largely in the course of the ordinary catechesis. Again, many pre-adolescents and adolescents who have been baptized and been given a systematic catechesis and the sacraments still remain hesitant for a long time about committing their whole lives to Jesus Christ - if, moreover, they do not attempt to avoid religious education in the name of their freedom. Finally, even adults are not safe from temptations to doubt or to abandon their faith, especially as a result of their unbelieving surroundings. 
  • This means that "catechesis" must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith. This concern will in part decide the tone, the language and the method of catechesis. 
This "...arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace..." Is what I would say defines the role of the Grace of Renewal in the Church today. Unceasingly, suggest this is an ongoing need in the Church. The enthusiasm of the renewal experiences of the 70's may seem to have passed. Perhaps, but if so it is only to prepare for what is coming next. "Show us Lord, your servants are waiting."          

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Three Epiphanys

We commonly think of the Epiphany as that one event in Christ's life where the Magi, led by a star, make their way to see him and offer him gifts fitting a new king. However, the Catholic liturgy considers the Epiphany to be threefold; the visit by the Magi, the baptism of Jesus by John, and the miracle of the wine at the wedding feast of Cana. The Greek word, epiphaneia, was used to signify the coming of a king or emperor. It was also used for the self-manifestation of a god or for his miraculous intervention; this later, likely the original use of the word. 
St. Paul used the word "epiphany" three times; first in reference to Jesus first coming; 
  • He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance (epiphaneias) of our Savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.         2 Tim. 1:9-10
The other two uses refer to Jesus second coming; (Titus 2:13) and (2 Thess. 2:8)
For this blog I thought it appropriate not only to behold these wondrous appearances but also to listen to the voices of those who were the first to see.

  • "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
Prayer: O Lord, where in my heart is such wonder and awe, such hunger to find you, that I might surrender my whole heart to your kingship? My eyes are no longer fixed heaven ward, but rather on the empty and passing things that surround me, like dark clouds covering my view of the stars. Let the brilliance of your true presence break through my darkness and lead me once again in search of you.

Jesus Baptism by John

  • "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Prayer: O Lord, is there a day, soon to come, when a new fire will burn in my heart. Has my baptism become but a single ember, barely glowing? Fan into flame once again, that fire of faith I was given. Baptize me anew in your Holy Spirit, and awaken in me the fire of your Love. Let me hear once again, in my heart, your voice speaking to me, "You are my child, my beloved; with you I am well pleased."

  • Mary said, "They have no wine." ... "Do whatever he tells you."
Prayer: Mary, these words you speak are now about me. The wine of my faith and the wine of my hope and the wine of my love have surely run out. I am but a clay pot, idle and empty. Where would I be now, if your motherly love for me was not speaking to me these words of wisdom. I will do what your Son now tells me. I will take the water of my humble prayers, the water of my study of his word, the water of my examination of mind and heart to fill my idleness and emptiness, while I await his transforming grace of renewal.   

Thursday, 10 January 2013

There Is No Fear In Love

The gospel passage for Wednesday, Jan. 9th. is taken from Mark's gospel Ch.6. It tells of that most extraordinary experience where Jesus' disciples encounter him walking on the sea. It tells us that they were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Then Jesus speaks: "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Jesus comes aboard their boat and it says, "...the wind ceased."

So much can be said of this event, but I was drawn to the First Reading for that day, taken from John's letter, 1Jo:4:11. where John tells us, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear". These two texts speak so well of our spiritual life. We choose to draw closer to Jesus in our lives and for a time a sense of peace and confidence fills us. Then comes a "storm", a time of trial. Like the disciples, we struggle with all that opposes us. We may well fear that we are once again alone, abandoned and in peril. Even the presence of Jesus in the midst of our trial is not recognised. How could it be true that my spiritual life is true and that Jesus is with me when I am suffering so?

John tells us that when we profess our faith in Jesus, we abide in him and he in us; that this gives us "boldness" to face these days of trial. The presence of a fearful doubting, tells us that we are still growing in our knowledge of God's love for us, "...which casts out fear". A bold and confident faith is yet a work in progress in us. St. Ignatius teaches us that these are tests that make our faith grow strong, so that no storm will shake us. And in good time, he will appear and we will hear his voice speak to us. "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Epiphany of our Champion

Because Christmas has become part of today's popular culture, the way we see the events that make up the Christmas revelation, may be diminished by thinking of them as myth, or simply sentimental stories. The opposite is the reality. Since the day man was expelled from Eden, and the Prince of Darkness enter to rule the earth, a plan was set in place to defeat the darkness, and restore man once again to God's grace. The image of the light, emanating from the star over Bethlehem, is the sign that the days of the rule of darkness are numbered.
Some may easily fail to see, in the helpless babe in Mary's arms, the champion of God, sent to do battle with the darkness, and defeat it, but the slaughter of the Holy Innocence, clearly demonstrates that darkness did recognise him and tried to destroy him.   
The liturgy for the feast of the Epiphany, opens with these words. "Behold, the Lord, the Mighty One, has come; and kingship is in his grasp, and power and dominion." Malachi 3:1 & 1 Chronicles 29:12. The prophets of old, knew well, and foretold of this impending battle with God's enemies.
By connecting the cradle of Bethlehem to the Cross of Calvary, we are able to grasp the importance of the Christmas stories. The true joy, that is the grace of Christmas, comes from knowing our Champion reigns, he is here with us in our daily battles with the darkness. Our God has triumphed and so shall we. 
The liturgy of the Epiphany ends with this solemn blessing;
  • May God, who has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, pour out in kindness his blessing upon you and make your hearts firm in faith, hope and charity. Amen
  • And since in all confidence you follow Christ, who today appeared in the world as a light shinning in darkness, may God make you, too, a light for your brothers and sisters. Amen.
  • And so when your pilgrimage is ended, may you come to him whom the Magi sought as they followed the star and whom they found with great joy, the Light from Light, who is Christ the Lord. Amen     

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