Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Holy Spirit and Fire

There's a quote resonating in my spirit this evening from the Venerable Bede. Reflecting on Acts 2:4 he says:

"Now the Holy Spirit appeared in fire and in tongues because all those whom he fills he makes simultaneously to burn and to speak- to burn because of him and to speak about him."

I grew up Pentecostal. I am becoming Catholic. The two have different views on the reception and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Those views seem to be getting closer to reconciliation with one another, but there are still differences.

Pentecostals tend to put the emphasis on experience. They want to feel something. They want something to happen.

Catholics, on the other hand, tend to put the emphasis on the sacrament. They don't expect anything to happen. As long as their is form and phraseology, they are content to have received the Holy Spirit.

Both are right, and both are wrong.

The sacramental nature of the rite (be it baptism, or confirmation) is intended to tie us into a deeper mystery and a broader communion than we can understand. It is intentionally beyond us for it causes us to depend by faith on God, and subsequently, on His Church, in spite of her many glaring weaknesses. But to think that the sacramental rite in and of itself is sufficient is to miss what God intends. For God intends this to be a starting point, not a stopping point. This is the commencement, not the culmination.

There is much to be experienced of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit cannot be contained in rituals, or even in individuals. He most certainly cannot be contained in one's understanding, or even in the collective understanding of the ages. He is beyond us. For the very essence of God to invade humanity in any sense logically implies profound experience. To receive the fullness of God in finite human vessels belies explanation. It can only be experienced. However, this experience is certainly intended to be more than merely emotional. It is intended that it will mature as any relationship does beyond the emotional to the wondrous state of simply "knowing".

The emphasis of the Fathers on this subject encompasses both ideas, but goes further. There is this idea seen here in Bede of fire. Fire that burns. Fire that consumes. Fire that purifies. Fire that energizes. All of these ideas are implicit in the sign of fire. To receive the Holy Spirit is to receive this fire.

St. Paul exhorts us to be careful not to douse the fire of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). We are also told to stir up the gift that is in us (2 Tim. 1:6). This speaks of effort. Such effort like that of the priests of old whose responsibility it was to keep the flame perpetually burning in the tabernacle. So we are instructed to keep the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within. Failure to do so results in lukewarmness at best and apostasy at worst. The Holy Spirit can be easily grieved. The pillar of fire will easily remove from our soul if we are lazy about its upkeep.

On this eve of All Saints I am minded that the saints were such people. They were "holy ones", in other words, they were on fire with the Holy Spirit. To each one was the manifestation of the Spirit given for the good of all. But together they were ignited by one and the same Spirit. As I ponder this night the lives of the saints and petition them for their intercessions that I might run this race victoriously, I see the key to victory here: It is in this sacred fire of the Holy Spirit. In this hallowed evening I pray that I will receive this fire afresh and not be so foolish as to let it dim in the least, but fan it brighter and hotter day by day. Amen!

Friday, October 27, 2006


I've been reading through Jeremiah. It is so intense. Jeremiah was so burdened over the sins of his people. He pleaded with God for mercy while preaching judgment on the people. He spent most of his ministry being ridiculed, persecuted, or simply ignored. Finally, he finished his life in captivity, a seeming failure.

What do we learn from Jeremiah? Many things, of course. But the thing that comes foremost to my mind is that God is serious about sin. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we're as serious.

I find that many people, even Christians, take sin very lightly in the main. Years ago Menninger asked, "Whatever happened to sin?". The same question could be asked today. What is sin anymore?

Is breaking the Ten Commandments sin? Then is it sin to erect other gods such as money, fame, hobbies, sports, possessions, or relationships? Is it sin to take God's name in vain by profanity, vulgarity, or even the slang derivatives of His name like "gosh" and "geeze"? Is it sin to treat the Lord's Day as any other by working, playing, or just simply doing our own thing and absenting ourselves from public worship? Is it sin to stick our aged parents in a nursing home and then forget about them? Is it sin to hate and to curse others, even on the freeway? Is it sin to lust, to be pornographers, fornicators (live-ins, co-habiters), adulterers, or sodomists? Is it sin to steal, even small amounts, even by wasting our employers' time, or cheating on our time cards? Is it sin to lie, slander, or gossip? Do we relish the news and the tabloids, drinking in lies and slander? Are we really innocent if we do so? Is it sin when we try to "keep up with the Jones'", coveting more and more and more while our poorer neighbors around the world suffer in poverty and sickness? Is there any such thing as sin anymore?

To read Jeremiah (or the rest of the Bible for that matter) one will know that the answer to these and many other questions like them is a resounding "YES, it is SIN!" Jeremiah wrote: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes; they speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, "It shall be well with you", and to every one who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, "No evil shall come upon you,"'" (Jer. 23:16,17).

It seems this is exactly the world we live in today. People are taught that God is so loving and so merciful that He will overlook your sin. So it's no big deal. "All will be well with you. God would never send you to hell." It is true that God is loving and merciful. It is not true He will overlook sin. Instead, it is true to say He will forgive sin. There's a great difference.

To overlook sin is to make sin nothing. We may do as we please and still have God's love and favor. One look at a crucifix ought to dispel such a notion. Sin was so bad that it required nothing less than the death of God's own Son to pay for it. It was God's love and mercy that provided such a sacrifice. However, we trample all over it when we adopt such glib attitudes toward sin. Instead, God calls for contrition and repentance.

Contrition is to be genuinely sorry for our sins; sorry enough to do something about it. Repentance is to turn around. It is to turn away from sin and toward God. When we do this, then God shows His mercy, forgiving our sins, and providing the Grace necessary to overcome it in the future.

I have been terribly guilty of taking God's love and mercy for granted. I have sinned repeatedly as if it were no big deal. Have you?

I am deeply sorry for my sins; sorry enough to take practical measures to change. I am choosing the road of repentance. I will turn and forsake my sin and walk in the way of the cross towards my Lord. Will you?

Sin is serious. God is serious about sin. He is serious enough to judge those who die in their sins and condemn them eternally. He did it to the fallen angels. He will do it to persistent, stubborn human beings. However, when we become serious about sin; that is, serious about changing it, then God will offer His mercy and Grace.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Pointing To Jesus

Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. John 1:35-37

Without going in depth with a Scriptural exegesis of this passage, the thing that catches my attention is that when John spoke, the disciples followed Jesus. Notice they did not follow John. In fact, John recedes in the picture as the narrative now picks up with the disciples and Jesus. As John said later, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

What was it about John that drew people to Jesus? How is it that John commanded such a following, and yet so easily stepped out of the picture to allow Jesus to have the main stage? Perhaps it is simply because it was God's will. Maybe it was the natural course of events given John's impending imprisonment and death. Or maybe it was just because Jesus outshone John as He was (and is) the Son of God. These are all tenable points. But the thing I'm seeing is that there was something in John that deflected attention from himself and put it where it belongs- on Jesus.

Such a trait is not inherent, nor does it come easily by effort. There is something in the godliness of John that leads people to Jesus. Does such a thing exist in us?

I want to live and to speak in such a way that when people see my life or hear my words, they too will follow Jesus. How can I be so? I will offer a thought in this direction. It is found in the preceding verses. John was consumed with the vision of Jesus as the Lamb of God.

John knew who Jesus was. He knew this by divine revelation, not natural familiarity. So too when we come to God and ask for such a vision of Christ, we may also be consumed with it. As we draw closer to our Lord and behold Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, there will be a contagious effect on others around us. They too will want to come to know this Lamb of God. They yearn for the forgiveness of sins. So they will gravitate to the only one capable of giving it to them. They long for love- more specifically, the love of God. They will find it only in Him who gave Himself for us that we might be reconciled to God. In short, when we are full of Jesus then that is all they will see.

I confess that I am far from the ideal. I still want any moment in the spotlight I might have. I am ashamed to say that I am still more in love with me than I am with Jesus. However, in this confession is also my contrition. For I long that it would be so no more, but that I would lose myself in Him such that He alone will be seen.

"Behold, the Lamb of God!" Let us go and follow Him!

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Surrendered Life

I am beginning to think that the essence of a truly devoted life is surrender. It sounds so simple. Just obey God, no matter what else you may think or feel. It sounds simple, but it's very difficult.

Israel was God's chosen people. They were delivered from the slavery of Egypt and given the promise of a great inheritance. They were directed in how to worship God and live holy lives. But they constantly rebelled. They could never be content with what God had for them. Repeatedly, they fell into idolatry and gross sin. I read with sadness this reflection on them from Psalm 95:

Oh, that today you would hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert. There your ancestors tested Me; they tried Me though they had seen My works. Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: "This people's heart goes astray, they do not know My ways." Therefore I swore in my anger: "They shall never enter My rest."
(Ps. 95:7-11)

Stubbornness and rebellion lead to separation from God and judgment. Surrender leads to humility, faith, and the knowledge of God. These in turn lead to blessing and eternal life.

Again, this sounds simple, but it is very difficult. When I am wronged I want revenge. When I am tempted, I want to give in. When in doubt, I want to find my own way. When faced with a problem, I want to rely on my own resources. The list goes on, but you get the point. While I know the way of surrender is best, I, like the Israelites of old, am too often choosing my own way, which is the way of hard-hearted, stiff-necked rebellion.

The psalmist gives the solution to the problem in the beginning of the Psalm. Praise the Lord daily, even moment by moment. "Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD," (Ps. 95:1). Remember how great God really is. He can be trusted. "The LORD is the great God, the great king over all gods," (v. 3). Worship Him on bended knee- surrender! "Let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us," (v. 6).

One more thing I will add. Many of us are already doing these things, yet we still find it so difficult to submit. In fact, we don't do it. Why? May I suggest it is an issue of the heart. We often bow with our bodies, but not with our hearts. Only when our heart truly bows does it become the worship that pleases God. Then we will find the Grace necessary to surrender. Then we will find the peace that we crave, the joy that we desire, and the love that we need.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


I realized that the settings for this blog were set so that only registered bloggers could comment. I have changed that so that anyone can comment.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Saving Others

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. 1 Tim. 4:16

In what way can it be said that we are capable of saving others? Many Christians would find the idea heretical. Only God can save! Yet, here we read St. Paul instructing Timothy on a means of saving others, as well as himself.

In this passage Paul is completing the thought that Timothy must always be on the guard to lead his life in keeping with the Gospel that he preaches. One cannot speak great words if he is not prepared to back them up with great actions. The Gospel, wonderful as it is, becomes a hollow gong if it cannot be seen in action in the lives of those who preach it. The Gospel is essentially about love, therefore it is essentially about others, not self.

However, it has been my observation that a great many Christians, including myself, have been led to think of the Gospel primarily in terms of self; that is, our salvation. We pray, fast, give, read our Bibles, and witness primarily with an eye towards increasing our own godliness and drawing nearer to God. I'm not saying that's bad. But I am saying that's not enough.

Love is not selfish. If the focus of our lives is on ourselves and our own interests then it is missing the goal. The goal is to become Christ-like in that we are looking out for others rather than ourselves. It is a self-emptying life, not a self-fulfilling one.

With all this in mind let us return to the passage. Paul tells Timothy to do two things: pay attention to himself, and pay attention to the teaching. In doing the first, Timothy is being instructed to ensure that he does indeed live a holy life worthy of imitation. In this way he will give credibility to the Gospel he preaches and others will be compelled to follow suit. In doing the second, Timothy is to ensure that his teaching is the same as the teaching, i.e. the teaching of the Gospel.

If Timothy remains faithful to do these things he will succeed at two other things: his own salvation, and the salvation of others. It is obvious in what sense he will save himself. Of course, it is more appropriate to see it as God saving him. But in what sense is he able to save others?

It may be proposed that he will save others in the fact that in hearing his Gospel they will repent and believe in Jesus and thus be saved. I agree. However, I think there's more to it than that. I think there is the very real notion here of Grace and merit.

Grace is what we receive from God. Merit is what is earned as a result of Grace. Merit is therefore Grace enacted. Grace, if not appropriated, is voided. Only when someone responds to that Grace in the obedience of faith is it profitable. In this way, one gains merit. The more one appropriates Grace, the more merit. Thus we indeed go from grace to grace and truly are saved by Grace. But it's the merit I want to look at.

The Catholic Church has long taught that the Saints had gained enough merit, not only for themselves, but also for others. This merit is applied through the communion of saints on behalf of those souls being purified in purgatory. Thus it is that the majority of us, when we die, will endure a time of purifying and God, in His mercy and love, will apply to us, not only our own merits but those of Christ and the saints. In this way we truly are joined together in one body.

So, if merit can be applied in such a way, could it not be applied even now? In fact, isn't this exactly what we find throughout salvation history? It is the lives of the Saints that overflow with Grace, not only after death, but even in this life. This Grace is manifest in prayers, in miracles, and in the forgiveness of sins. It is also manifest in service, sacrifice, and suffering. Many are converted to Christ through it. Their lives are touched and they are saved. So we see that we are able to save, not only ourselves, but others who hear us.

I realize this has gotten a bit wordy. Forgive me, please! But think- how can we save others? We can do so by paying attention to our own lives and to the teaching. By drawing near to God in holiness we will not only have the blessing of the nearness of His Presence, but we will also have the benifit of an overflowing Grace that is able to reach out and touch others, thus saving them. By giving constant attention to the teaching of the Church we will be able to give people right instruction in the way to come to God. So, in doing these things we will be able to save both ourselves and those who hear us.

One more point I want to make. The purpose of our holiness is not for ourselves. It is for others. We strive after holiness, not to be self-righteous, but to save others. Holiness is not an option. Sure it won't matter to us if we slack off and take a little longer to attain a certain level of holiness. But it will matter to others. It may be that some will be lost because we were careless about holiness. We can't afford such a thing.

So, my friends, pay careful attention to yourself and to the teaching. Persevere in these things. For in so doing you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Heroic Holiness

Saint Ambrose, commenting on Psalm 118 remarked that "as there are many kinds of persecutions, so there are many kinds of martrydom." He goes on to speak of the "martyrdoms" that we encounter daily as we die to our sinful passions and allow God's Grace to give us the victory over them. I look on this as heroic holiness.

What is a hero? It is someone who chooses to lay aside his own comfort or well being for the greater good. Typically we think of this as someone who risks his life to save another. But it is also true of many other circumstances. Those who stand for virtue and justice in the face of overwhelming opposition are also heroes. It would be easy to lay down the fight and go find some comfortable place to relax and get away from it all. But these heroes stay, knowing that they fight for something worthwhile.

To bring it closer to home I return to my reference to St. Ambrose. Every day we are tempted in many ways. When we courageously stand aganst the temptation in order to establish God's holiness inside of us we are heroes. The world will not acclaim us, but God will ensure we are rewarded.

Some may ask, is this not selfish? Isn't this the opposite of heroism for the only benficiary is oneself. Not so! When we become people of virtue that has dramatic impact on the society around us. In fact, as we progress in holiness, we will often be brought into battles which have far reaching consequences, for good or for evil, to many around us.

The Church has known this from her inception. She has a distinct title for such heroes. They are called Saints. We need more Saints in our day. I beieve there are many in the making all around us. But they are in the making because right now they are going through various trials to ensure that they truly are heroes. God is allowing them to be tested so that they will become stronger and able to accomplish those things He has planned for their lives.

Might you be one of these heroes- these Saints? Perhaps you find yourself wrestling, but failing. Lay hold of God's matchless Grace for strength to help in time of need. This is the reason it has been given- to enable us to overcome our sins and be heroes. We cannot do this on our own. We can only do it through Christ.

Today begins another series of tests. The battle never slumbers. In the midst of it all, think about the fact that this is the stuff through which you could become a hero. If you falter, seek God for His forgiveness. Then get up and try again. If you succeed, congratulations! You are well on your way to a life of heroic holiness!

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Way of the Cross

Our Lord willingly chose the way of the cross. In the Garden He wrestled within Himself to fully embrace what He knew to be the Father's will. After He was arrested, He willingly endured the torture and ridicule. He chose every step of the way to carry His cross to Calvary. As He was nailed to the cross He allowed it to be so and chose again to remain in the position of one who willingly gives His life for His friends. As He endured unspeakable agony on the cross, He chose every minute to remain there. He could have called legions of angels to His side. Surely, they were ready and waiting for His call. But He didn't avail Himself of such power or privilege. He willingly drank the dregs of the cup of suffering offered to Him by His Father. He was faithful to the end. He endured for the love of God and the love of humanity.

We are called to walk in the way of the cross. In our baptism we are confronted with two roads: the way of the world and the way of the cross. We choose to renounce Satan, sin, and the things of this world. We reject them. We turn our back on them. We embrace faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him to a brand new life- a life lived in the way of the cross. We chose this way when we said "yes" to Him in faith.

Although we have chosen such a road, we are not always faithful as our Lord was, in walking on it. When we come to a time of suffering or ridicule, we often choose to lay aside the cross- or worse- try and hide it. We pretend as if we are someone else. We try to flee from the cross. When we are tempted, we lay it down and enjoy the passing pleasures of sin for a season. Then we think we can come back and pick it up again when it is convenient. When others offend us, we lay down our cross so that we may retaliate.

My brothers and sisters, pilgrims on the way of the cross, pray for me a sinner. For often I stumble. But more often I willingly lay down my cross. I have not been faithful. For that I flee to the loving and merciful arms of Him who bore a cross for our sins. In true penance I pour out my heart to Him and ask for His Grace to take up a cross and try again. I am confident that He who began a good work in me will finish it. I trust in His Grace and Strength alone for I have none of my own. Pray for me then, and I will pray for you that together we may bear our cross and reach the promised goal of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Patrick's Confession

I am Patrick, a sinner, and this is my confession.

Like my namesake, St. Patrick, I was raised in a Christian home. I have been very blessed throughout my life with a great family and great friends. The Lord has been so faithful to me. Rarely have I endured tragedy. I have so much for which I can be thankful. But I have lived most of my life up to this point as a sinner.

You see, the worst sins are not the ones that are so blatant. Rather the worst sins are those which can be couched secretly in the heart. They are known to God alone and so they are committed specifically against God. Our Lord rebuked hypocrisy the sharpest when He ministered here on earth. I have been a hypocrite many times over. As such, I deserve the worst of our Lord's rebukes.

I jealously guard my reputation. I do not allow others to see me for what I am. But inside I am truly full of dead men's bones. I am filthy and wretched. As St. Paul, wrote, "I know that in my flesh nothing good dwells."

I have recently come to the Catholic Church. Previously I had been involved in other Christian denominations. As I come to the Church I am beginning to see for the first time what I really am. God have mercy on me, a poor, wretched sinner! Coming to the Church strips me of so much knowledge and status that I had in previous places. I must begin again. I am the novice. I am the learner.

I am learning that the Faith is all about Jesus. It isn't that other Christians don't teach that. They do! But I have been so slow to learn it since I have been so full of myself and my own ways and have not seen the very elementary principles of Christ.

It is all about Jesus, and it is all about love. Becoming Catholic began as more of an intellectual exercise. It is now becoming much more an exercise of the heart. I am coming to grips with the Gospel. I am dealing with God's love for me, a filthy, wretched sinner. I am discovering, albeit very slowly, my love for God. I do not doubt my earlier conversion, but in many ways I feel as if I am only beginning to be converted.

In this blog I will share my thoughts with those of you who want to take the time to read them. They will not be profound. For some, you may be coming here from my previous blog: Catholic Seeker. For those who haven't seen that, you can find some other details of my journey to the Catholic Church there. It can be accessed through the link on this page.

I am Patrick, a sinner. But through the Grace of my God, I have been adopted as a son, and I am being molded into a servant so that I may some day truly be a saint.