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?




Christ Is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Today is Sunday of the Fourth Week of Easter. Most of my life I never thought of this day in that way. Of course I celebrated Easter, but after that, life, even life in the church, went back to a normal pace. One of the criticisms I had of Catholics in the past was that they focused so much on Good Friday and Jesus on the Cross, but did not give Easter its proper attention. Imagine my surprise when I learned that there is an Octave of Easter, so that Easter and the next seven days are like Easter all over again. And then there are seven weeks of Easter tide all the way up to Pentecost Sunday. This morning as I turned to the Liturgy of the Hours for my devotional time the hymn was “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” by Charles Wesley. Yes, sometimes we are victims of our misconceptions.

I share this as I return to the last part of 2013 and the intensification of the challenge that God would place before me: are you really serious about Jesus’ prayer that we all be one, even as He and the Father are one?

It was October 2013. The Trinity Grace Church parish in Washington Heights had reached the 18-month stage of existence. The one-year anniversary was a high point, but following that there were the normal and persistent struggles that a church plant goes through. As a pastor I was seeking how to lead the parish forward. Over the summer I began to seriously consider adopting the cell church model for our congregation. I connected with a leading expert on cell churches to ask him to coach me on a monthly basis.

On Sunday, October 13, Charlotte’s mom suffered a heart attack and by the following Sunday, October 20, my mother-in-law passed away. The next morning Charlotte’s dad came out of his bedroom and sat down with three of his children and me. We could tell there was something heavy on his heart that he needed to express. He talked about faith and how he and his wife had sought to love and follow God and love Jesus. He expressed how important their Catholic faith was to them. The statement that challenged us both, especially Charlotte was when he said that her mother loved Jesus just as she did.

He expressed sadness and confusion over why faith seemed to be such a divisive issue in the family instead of something that drew us together. As he spoke I began to regret all the wasted opportunities to affirm them in their faith and find commonality with them. His was a gentle rebuke, but I was convicted that I had discounted the genuineness of their faith in the Catholic tradition. Yet I had stated often that I wouldn’t rule out that there were real Christians in the Catholic Church, not because of the church, but in spite of it.

Suddenly my preconceived notions were being held up to the light of the experience of someone who was asking me why I held that view. I had no idea at that time where this would lead, but I knew I owed it to my wife’s parents to take a serious look at their faith and give my father-in-law the courtesy I would to another Christian brother.