“A Gift for You!”

Over the two months after my mother-in-law’s death and my commitment to fully understand her faith I found myself treading in deep waters. I read books from a Catholic perspective, listened to and read testimonies of men and women who had been lifelong evangelicals and had come into the Catholic Church. The story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn in Rome Sweet Home was particularly powerful. The best way to describe what was going on in me is to revisit my prayers and writings found in my journal from that time.

December 27, 2013–Feast of Saint John the Beloved
This morning my mind needs to refocus and take in your glory and the majesty of your grace in our lives. I look to you and trust you to show me the way you would have me to go. What’s your plan and purpose for me? I have no desire to cling to something, especially a role or a position that causes your kingdom to stall. Holy Spirit, I ask you for wisdom and illumination so that it will become clear to me what it is you are calling me to. Either these thoughts and readings are the direction you are leading me or they are a distraction to your original call for me. Spirit of God, make that abundantly clear to me. Either lead me unswervingly into the bosom of the Catholic Church or deeper and more committed to where I am with a greater appreciation for what you are doing on a larger scale. I recognize that this is a process and there are questions you want me to ask and allow you to answer. I do ask that in this process you enable me to look to you, to gaze on your face and live in your grace and do all to the glory of God.

Recognizing that moving away from what I had always known would cost me my vocation (pastoral ministry), my reputation (possibly), and my livelihood, later that same morning I wrote:
Father, I humbly come into your presence and ask you to reveal truth to me. I have desired you all my life. I don’t want anything to keep me from fully and faithfully loving or serving you. You know what is happening in my world and how my spirit is restless in this search. I don’t want to go where I shouldn’t, but I also don’t want to resist where you are leading me. I sense deep in my being that you are calling me “home” to the beauty and fullness of the Catholic Church. That feels strange and uncomfortable on one level to say, but on another level it feels like truth and the natural and logical next step. So Holy Spirit, you are the One who leads into all truth. I come to you and ask you to lead me. Point me to Jesus my Lord, my Savior, my God and my King! You know my heart and my wholehearted desire to obey you. I have always desired that. Make your will for me very evident.

About 20 minutes after I prayed that prayer I went downstairs to get the mail. What I found in the mailbox was either an answer to my prayer or just a coincidence. Allow me to explain. In those days of searching I used a membership I had to paperbackswap.com to help get books at no cost. One of the books I had requested arrived that morning, A Catechism for Adults. There was nothing unusual about that. However inside the white paper wrapping was not only the book I ordered but a card and another package wrapped in Christmas paper from a woman in Lexington, Kentucky, whom I did not know. The card had these words: “What’s in the package is a gift for you!”

Inside the package were two books I had of course not ordered: Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth: The Catholic Church and God’s Plan for You and The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic: How Engaging 1% of Catholics Could Change the World.

I wrote: Honestly, I can’t take this as anything less than the beginning of the answer to my prayer. Even as I write this I feel scared and a little warm. O God, show me the way!

Last week I wrote to the woman in Lexington and asked her about the package she sent me. Since it came by media mail it had been on the way several days before I asked God to give me a clear sign as to what He wanted in my life. She wrote back and said she was prompted to do so because someone else had sent her some gift-wrapped books. God only knows why she chose those specific books to send me. I thanked her for being an instrument that God used in that part of my journey.

Pentecost Sunday

Seven weeks ago at the Easter Vigil Charlotte and I were received into the Catholic Church. Since then I have been relating the story of how this third-generation Evangelical pastor and wife made that journey. My intention in this telling is not to be first and foremost an apologist, yet there will be some of that. Nor is it to proclaim that I have risen to the ascendancy of faith, yet that could be perceived by some of my readers. In fact, if you feel that way you will probably stop reading. The simple fact is that I am sharing here my own personal journey and my struggle and process of answering God’s call in my own life. If it is an encouragement or challenge to you, my prayers are with you.

Today is the birthday of the Church. Nearly 2000 years ago about 120 followers of Jesus gathered in the Upper Room having spent nine days in prayer as their Lord had instructed them. On the 10th day, a day of significance in their Jewish faith and culture, “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:2-4, NAB).

What followed was astonishment and amazement on the part of the onlookers. Peter got up and preached the first homily. “Now when they heard this, they (the listeners) were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, my brothers?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day” (Acts 2:37-39, 41, NAB).

The story of Pentecost never grows old. All my life I have longed to see that day replicated in my life, in my church, and in the world. At times in my life and ministry I have sought the holiness that comes through the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. At other times I have sought the power that comes from the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit. Too often, I confess, I have been guilty of seeking the gift for powerful and spectacular ministry and probably not enough the Giver.

At the Easter Vigil at our church, mentioned above, a group of 20 women and men received the Sacrament of Confirmation. In this sacrament we received the “seal of the Holy Spirit.” According to Scripture, a seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1296) says:

Christ himself declared that he was marked with his Father’s seal (John 6:27). Christians are also marked with a seal: “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13; 4, 30). This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial (Revelation 7:2-3; 9:4; Ezekiel 9:4-6).

One of today’s readings for Pentecost is found in the holy Gospel according to John (14:15-16, 23-26)–Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.”

The relationship that Jesus had with the Father was one of love and of obeying the Father fully. The life that Jesus lived in the Father was by the presence, power and purity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus invites you and me to have that same relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. He asks us not to focus so much on the purity or the power, but the love and obedience that He himself lived out. Can you imagine if each one of us who say we are Christians would love Jesus and keep his commandments? What would our immediate world look like tomorrow?