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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Christianity is a New People of God, A Visible Community

Romans 12:5: . . . so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Ephesians 4:3-5: . . . eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism . . .

John 10:16: “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”

Romans 12:4-5: For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

John 17:21: “. . . that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also be in us, so, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”

The Christian faith was never intended to be a strictly personal and individualistic affair. Christ establishes a new People of God, a new Israel— the Church. This community of the faithful is a visible organization with certain marks or traits from God. Sometimes the Bible compares the Church to a house, a body, a city built on a hill, a flock, etc. These are all visible images. The unity of this one body compares favorably against all the various argumentative sects and Protestant organizations. The Catholic Church puts them to shame.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Infallibility

John 14:26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

John 14:16-17: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.”

God cannot lie. If the Holy Spirit is the true teacher of the apostles and the guardian of the truth in the Catholic Church, as the Bible indicates, then we can be confident in the matters of faith and morals the Church offers us. The Church must be infallible if we are to be assured in not losing our way. Those who contend that the Catholic Church fell into error and adulterated the Gospel should be made aware that they insult both our Lord and the Holy Spirit. Fidelity to Christ and the Church, “the pillar and ground of truth” is urged by St. Paul, especially since even early on he could write: “For some have already strayed after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15). This is often the case for those deafened and blinded to the Catholic Church’s message.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

The Pope & Bishops, Official Interpreters of Scripture

Luke 10:16: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death (gates of hell) shall not prevail against it.”

Malachi 2:7: For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction (law) from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.

The Holy Spirit has functioned as the very soul of the Catholic Church, insuring the efficacy of the sacraments and the truthfulness of official interpretations of the Word of God and his will for us. Certain Protestants claim an immediate mastery of all Scripture as long as they approach it prayerfully and with care. However, the Holy Spirit is not like a light switch that we can turn immediately off and on. While not utterly invalidating the personal meanings we might find in bible reading, we leave the authoritative renderings to the Magisterium (the Pope and bishops in union with him). It is interesting that the fundamentalist Protestant claim makes more of a demand upon the Holy Spirit and infallibility than does the Pope, himself. He only offers a declaration after extended investigation and consultation, and even then, after much prayer. Unless it is a matter essential to the faith, he usually does not invoke this authority. Infallible papal declarations are quite rare. The Pope does not make something true; rather, he draws our attention to what we have always believed.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

The Bible is Not Self-Interpretive

2 Peter 1:20: First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.

2 Peter 3:16: . . . speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. (regarding Paul’s letters)

Acts 8:30-31: So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come and sit with him.

These three passages make it evident that the Bible cannot explain itself. It is the inspired book of the Church and the Church is its authorized interpreter. The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible and it is that same Spirit which safeguards the teaching of the Church regarding the truths of faith and morals. Private interpretation is not absolutely dependable and must be supported by the interpretation given by the Church. Peter argued such about the Old Testament as well as Paul’s letters. Philip explains the Christian understanding of the messiah in Isaiah as referring to our Lord. As representatives of the Church, ministers of the Gospel appointed by Christ, they were authorized to fulfill this role.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Holy Spirit & Infallibility of the Church

John 14:26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

The same Holy Spirit that would inspire the writing of the Scriptures came first to the Church and has never abandoned her. Jesus sends this Spirit, not merely upon isolated individuals, but in a nurturing and protective way upon the Church, notably the Apostles and their successors, the bishops. The Spirit of God has preserved our assurance of the truth and our unity in faith. Protestant churches have no ecclesial safeguard and are liable to constant and unforgiving fragmentation.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Isolated Verses Misused Against the Church

A frequent tactic used by critics of Catholicism is to use verses orphaned from their proper context to impugn or undermine the teaching authority of the Church. They both misunderstand and misapply these passages so as to give their personal interpretation credence against the Magisterium. It is symptomatic of the Protestant individualism that often privatizes faith over the corporate understanding of a Church established and sustained by our Lord.

I write you these things about those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:26-27).

The initial difficulty in attacks of this sort is the very origin of the Bible, particularly the New Testament. The Catholic Church gathered and reproduced the canon of the Bible for the believers. As the Mother of the Bible, the Church and her bishops saw no challenge between biblical truth and her authority. The fundamentalist tends to be short-sighted in his historical assessments. This leads to another problem, in that the text he would use as a weapon against Catholicism becomes his own trap. The effort backfires.

His own role as a teacher of faith contradicts a literal reading of these verses. John speaks here with the authority of an apostle, a role which shall find its succession in the bishops. The warning here is not against the Magisterium of the Church, but against those who would lead God’s people astray. There is no Gospel that saves other than that of Jesus Christ. No community possesses any secret knowledge that surpasses that of the public proclamation of the true Church. Keeping faith in Christ Jesus, the believer is baptized and anointed (confirmation), receiving the Spirit of wisdom, the Holy Spirit. We have a responsibility to know the true faith and to spread it. This is the mission of the Church. The Christian has no need to seek another religious truth and we are to remain in solidarity with the chosen community of faith and in union with God. True wisdom and faith comes as a gift from God.

Further, the Holy Spirit leads the humble person to God. Against the Gnostic heretics, John is defending the Catholic truth that Jesus is the anointed Holy One, the Christ. Jesus Christ is indeed the revelation of the Father. In a certain sense, the “sola scriptura” critic of Catholicism is akin to these ancient Gnostics. While they believe that Jesus is both Christ and Savior; like the Gnostics, they minimize the importance of the material in regards to the spiritual. Thus, the Mystical Body and pre-eminence of the Church is denied, the sacramental signs are ridiculed, and the significance of the body in our personhood is often maligned for its wickedness.

Another interesting element about the verses given is their context. At the end of chapter two, something is said about our justification that is sure to make the anti-Catholic reviewer uncomfortable:

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right is born of him. (1 John 2:29).

A real sign of our being “born again” is our just behavior; dare I say our good works?
The anti-Catholic critic will sometimes resort to trying to scare Catholics. He argues that time is running out and that Catholics, no matter how well-meaning, are in the wrong camp and facing the prospect of damnation.

So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12).

The detractor of Catholicism would do well to read a few verses earlier,

Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10).

Dissimilar from most other institutions, the inherent unity of Church members in Christ means that an attack against one is an assault on all. Similarly, if one targets the Catholic Church, then every Catholic believer is between the cross-hairs. The Church is a family. It is not really possible to hate the Church but to love individual Catholics. Hate the family, and you hate all of us. We are the Church.

While certain critical voices would employ such verses in their apologetics, the citation from Romans points to how one’s faith is actualized by the life of charity and following the commandments. We will each have to give an accounting for what we did in the body, either good or evil. While there is a particular judgment for each of us, there will also be a general judgment at the end of the world. Individual souls as members of God’s holy people or those for whom the Church has interceded will be accorded the reward of the just. The communion of saints is a celebration of the unity of the Church among those glorified by grace and thus worthy of heaven. Having repented, they place their faith in Jesus. They are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and given the wedding garment of heaven as their vestiture. Those who reject the gift of salvation remain lost in their sins. They are separated from God and breached from their brothers and sisters by their own selfishness and iniquity.

But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. (John 16:13).

These words are not written for various individuals apart from the believing community; these words regarding the Holy Spirit are directed to the Church as a whole. This promise of Christ is fulfilled when the Holy Spirit descended upon the infant Church at Pentecost. Imaged as tongues of flame over the heads of the apostles, the leadership of the Church would always be enlightened and protected in the truth. Individual members can and should invoke the Holy Spirit for wisdom. But, the gift of infallibility and steadfastness in the truth is conferred upon the Church, particularly the Magisterium, and not to every individual believer. The assurance of Christ’s teachings require that members of the faith take seriously the guidance of their lawful shepherds and that they seek to conform their hearts and minds to that of Christ realized in the teaching Church. Our Lord speaks to us through his Church.

As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed! (Galatians 1:9).

Apart from Christ’s true Church, ministers and the people who follow them fall ever further from the truth. Fundamentalists might love this verse, but it also places them under divine judgment. Originally it applied to those missionaries who insisted that pagans had to become Jews before becoming Christians. Thus, circumcision and other Jewish rituals would be placed on par with the saving Cross of Christ. Paul denounces this activity and insists that his is the correct Gospel proclamation. Catholics place faith in Jesus and consider baptism as the manner in which we join the new People of God and are touched by Christ’s saving activity. The verse can in no way be applied against the Catholic Church. Ours is a faith in continuity with history: to the early Fathers, to the apostles and to Christ.

Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; … (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Paul recalls the living TRADITION which he himself received and transmitted to the Corinthians. Paul stresses their faith in Christ and in his saving actions against the views of those who would deny the bodily resurrection of the Lord. Catholics believe in this very same Gospel and retain the ancient traditions repudiated by many non-Catholics.

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus….” (Acts 16:30-31).

Here the anti-Catholic critic is purposely deceptive. As the verse reads, it appears that salvation is an entirely personal matter. Nothing could be further from the case. The complete verse reads as follows,

“And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” (verse 31)

We read further:

So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God. (Acts 16:32-34).

Can we presume that even the babies of the household were baptized? Most probably it is so. The household or family becomes the setting for the “little church.” The gift of faith brings people to Christ, not simply as isolated individuals, but corporately– as a family in faith.

Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:12-13).

Pope John Paul II stressed this crucial element of the Good News in his encyclical on the Gospel of Life. Christ is the author of life and makes possible our share in eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 3:16).

Again, this is a central teaching of the Catholic faith. Those who would use it to stress belief or faith profession over the merits of the Christian life would do well to read verses 20-21:

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

We believe as Catholics that God will show his face to those who search for him with humility and with sincere hearts.

When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart… (Jeremiah 29:13).

God is the source of our being. He gives our lives meaning. As St. Augustine would say, “Our hearts are restless O Lord, until they rest in you.”

Sinless Mother Mary

One of my favorite feasts and dogmas is that of the Immaculate Conception, a teaching of the Church which has had a long and sometimes controversial history. There are even some contemporary critics of this dogma of faith who would argue that it overly separates Mary from the rest of us. Certainly, it is true that sinfulness is a reality ever present in our lives. We find it so difficult to be good. It is ironic that a few of the feminist theologians who image Mary as a strong and liberated woman, would then criticize this teaching and argue that Mary has been used as a device of oppression on the part of a male dominated hierarchy. It seems to me that quite the opposite may be true. The witness of Mary as the queen of the saints would emphasize that the greatest person to ever walk the earth next to the Lord, is this woman Mary. Genesis 3:9-15, 20 recalls the first Eve who with her husband turns away from God in disobedience. Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4 might remind us that if Eve is the mother of all the living, Mary in her faithfulness is the mother of all who are reborn in her Son. She stands as a model of holiness for men and women alike. Her preservation from sin does not create an impassible chasm between her and us. Sin by definition adds nothing to us or to her. If anything, it is a lack of something which should be there — the grace and presence of Christ. Just as she carried the Lord, now we must avoid sin so as to be filled with his presence and life. Sin is that which divides and alienates. To wish this upon Mary would mean wanting separation from her and the Lord.

Like us, she is totally a creature. The saving grace which washes over us in baptism reaches from the Cross backward to the moment Mary is conceived in the womb. The Messiah whom himself is sinless would enter our world through the sinless portal of Mary.

Rarely do preachers mention how the mystery of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the beauty and holiness of marital love. Nevertheless, this is true when we look at the actual history of God’s intervention. Although Mary would conceive Christ through the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26-38); Mary’s conception as sinless elevates the significance of marital and sexual love as shared between Joachim and Ann. Couples raising families in this age would do well to recall that their children in baptism become as Mary, and even though they struggle to remain holy; they may be perfected as saints. As Mary is, we may become.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

The Spirit and the Church’s Mission

The annual commemoration of Pentecost is to the Church what Christmas is to Jesus, the celebration of a birthday. Our Lord had compared the Church to a grain of mustard-seed, among the smallest of seeds. But, it grows into a great tree in which the birds of the air build their nests. Imbued with the hidden and fertile presence of God, what seems dead, little more than bothersome dust, blossoms into the mystical vine and branches of God’s holy people. Christ is the vine– we are the branches. What God initiates by the power of his Spirit, he joins to himself in permanent and life-giving intimacy. Watered by the blood of the martyrs, the Spirit of God continues to minister to the Church, preserving us in the truth of the Gospel and giving efficacy to the sacraments.

Christ sets down the foundations for his Church during his preaching and in his drawing to himself a number of apostles and disciples. On Pentecost, some three thousand people were baptized, and later, two thousand more. Such was the power of the Spirit to instill faith. Christ chose twelve apostles to preside over the rest and one to be the head of all. The descent of the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to preach the Gospel throughout the world, in accordance with Christ’s command, and gave legitimacy to the many Christian communities they established.

Acts 2:1-11 tells us that the believers in Christ had an experience of the power of the Spirit. It seemed to overwhelm them. They spoke ecstatically in a multitude of languages. This gift of tongues was very much coveted. Scholars dispute whether or not these languages were always intelligible. However, it may be that Luke, in stressing that each person heard his own tongue, was trying to emphasize that the Holy Spirit and the Good News were offered to all, regardless of race or place of origin.

1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13 offers the early battle cry of the Church; “Jesus is Lord.” In the life of the follower, to call Jesus “Lord,” meant to give Christ one’s complete loyalty in life and to worship him from the innermost depths of the heart. This sacred phrase of faith with its intense meaning could not possibly be said with sincerity without God’s grace. This gift of faith is the most fundamental. Apart from the gift of saving faith, the lesser gifts would be meaningless. Having said this, we are all given different gifts. Paul stresses that we are to use what we have for the sake of the whole, the Body of Christ. All that we have– all that we are– is not simply for our own sake or pleasure, but for all in the service of God. Selflessness rather than selfishness is the proper way or disposition for glorifying God. When we think of gifts, they need not be spectacular, like prophecy and faith healing. A person might be a good carpenter, an electrician, a painter, a secretary, or whatever. All these talents and more are also gifts from God that we need to perfect and use wisely.

John 20:19-23 intimates that the apostles continued to meet in the upper room where they had celebrated the Last Supper. However, can you imagine the fearfulness that has now replaced the intimacy and peace they knew there with Jesus? The authorities have killed Christ. Maybe they are next? They lock the doors. What do they do now? Suddenly, as out of air, Jesus appears to them and restores to them his peace. Jesus comes to commission the Church. He has defeated death. There is nothing of which to be afraid. God is on our side. Jesus, himself, is the message of hope– he is the living embodiment of the Gospel. After the bitterness of men had done all it could to him, convicting him as a criminal and a liar; after they had tortured and executed him as the least of men– the verdict of men is overturned by the almighty Father. The Father’s love for his Son and the Son’s love for the Father proved stronger than death. This LOVE, that is itself God the Holy Spirit is now shared with us that we might also participate in eternal life.

Jesus breathed on his disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. The calling of the Spirit is linked to the power of creation when God formed men and women from the dust of the ground and breathed life into them. The Holy Spirit awakens the world from the slumber of death back to life. Sometimes we experience something similar to it when we are released from the death-grasp of sin back into a life of divine grace– through prayer, the liturgy, and especially the sacrament of reconciliation. Seen in light of the keys of the kingdom given to Peter, the Church is given something of Christ’s authority and power. This mandate from Christ is not simply for the Church’s glory, but to give God glory in saving souls and forgiving sins.

God conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the same Spirit conceives the Church. The Spirit in the Church offers us truth and consolation. Do we take ample advantage of the gifts of the Spirit? Do we embrace as our own the teachings of the Magisterium, trusting that God’s Spirit preserves the Church in the truth? Do we listen attentively to the inner voice of Christ in prayer and Scripture study? Do we discern the powerful action and presence of the Spirit in Catholic worship? Do we find confidence in God, believing that his Spirit will guide and watch over us? We are sorely tempted to trust in our own meager powers, despite the anxiety and fear. We should surrender everything to the Lord who loves us so much that he has counted the hairs on our heads and would keep us in the palm of his hand.

As Christians, we claim that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Faith is one of the prime gifts of the Spirit. By its very nature as our treasure, saving faith is a gift that we are compelled to share with others. A faith unshared withers and dies. If something great has happened in your life– someone has proposed marriage, or you have won a car, or a new baby is born– you want to shout it out from the rooftops; such is your happiness and joy. Similarly, if our faith is our most precious and undeserved gift, ought we not to share this wonder with others? Indeed, we should share it with conviction and enthusiasm. Although faith is a gift of the Spirit, we are instruments of Jesus in the world. In our talk and service we should not be timid about extending God’s offer of love to others.

You might think that you are unworthy or incapable of really fervently sharing God’s Good News. This may to some extent be accurate. The Holy Spirit works in us as rational men and women, not as things that can simply be impressed upon. We need to make as many avenues for the prompting of the Spirit as possible in study and prayer. Otherwise, we will have a hard time sharing what we do not fully possess. Worse yet, we might loose our grasp of the truth or be seduced by the arguments of others. God wants us to be the best of tools in his service of evangelization. Keep in mind, however, that the burden of conversion is held between the individual and God. Only God can change a wicked man into a saintly man. By our care for the poor, the sick, our families, and our neighbors– we preach the mission commissioned by Jesus. This mission is a constitutive element of the Church’s identity. It still goes on.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

Do Not Let Sinful Men Drive You Away

It happens that sometimes people leave the Catholic Church because of issues of divergent faith. I still find this sad but can respect the integrity of such people who do not want to live a lie like so many dissenters who remain to tear down the Church from within.

However, I frequently caution my congregation not to allow the weakness and/or foolishness of the preacher to drive them away. I am not about making converts to me but to Jesus Christ. If we believe in the promises of Christ and the sacraments of the Church, then we should remain steadfast.

We can cooperate with God’s grace by studying the Catechism and the Bible. We should not leave the Church because of sinful men. This includes both among the shepherds and the sheep. I am often reminded of Peter’s response to Jesus when so many mumbled and walked away (over the issue of the Eucharist). Our Lord asked if his apostles would abandon him, too. Peter answered for the Church of the ages, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Catching the Spirit

The Spirit of God descends upon Moses, and then as if contagious, upon the elders gathered in the tent, and even upon two who were not assembled with them (see Numbers 11:25-29). When some want to stop the two from prophesying, Moses cries that he would have them be a nation of prophets. This is precisely what Jesus seeks to make a reality. We are anointed in baptism as prophets of the Good News. The essential mission of the Church, in all her members, is to be a prophetic voice of Christ’s kingdom.

This prophetic role is utterly dependent upon the action of God. It is his word, and not our own, that moves the Christian disciple. Prophesy or the proclamation of the Gospel in our words and actions, is an expression of divine favor or grace. God gives his servants that which is necessary for the acquisition of our ultimate end, union with him. Toward this end, he infuses habits and/or virtues that assist us in our earthly pilgrimage. The Holy Spirit lives in us as in a temple, illumining our steps. We understand the significance of the Spirit’s presence as a participation in the divine nature. God extends something of himself. The one who is ALL HOLY sanctifies us. The one who is UTTERLY IMMACULATE washes us clean and grants us purity. The one who is ALMIGHTY makes the weakest of us into a soldier for Christ, a champion of faith. The genuine prophet surrenders himself into the loving hands of God. It is for this reason that Jesus seems to glorify poverty and the central role of charity. The widow’s mite is the secret to sanctity and to true prophecy. Everything we have is a gift. All must be surrendered, either to others in their need or by the strong hand of death and judgment. Jesus would have us opt for the former.

Nothing is ours. Like a burner on the stove, while the electricity courses through it, the ring radiates a red glow of heat. However, turn off the electricity, it quickly grows cold and dark again. Without the divine energy of the Spirit, we also grow cold and dark. Grace is like the electricity or a burning fire. It changes us and sets us aflame, but we are not consumed. We may put on Christ, but mortal men and women we remain. Sometimes we can be surprised by whom God chooses to move by his dynamic Spirit.

In terms of our relationship to the Holy Spirit, we all play the feminine role. Not taking the analogy too far, as a daughter to God’s Spirit and as a bride to Christ, we are refashioned as members of Christ’s Church. The prophet rejoices in the wedding gown given by the Spirit as Isaiah did in days of old: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice. Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). The gifts of the Holy Spirit adorn the soul. We are made pleasing to God and given fortification. We do not need Samson’s hair for strength, but the virtues that accompany the Spirit. God is our armor. Further, the actions– even mundane ones– of just men and women, bring merit, so long as sin is avoided. Christ’s whole life was a saving work. If Christ thoroughly lives in us then everything we do, not just extraordinary virtuous acts, become saving moments. Eating, drinking, sleeping, even taking care of the necessities of nature are viewed in the context of our Lord and know favor. They are part of the wondrous panorama of our lives. All is grace.

Christian prophets are adoptive children of God. Their names appear in the book of life and they are offered a share in eternal life. They proclaim the truth, not merely that others might be saved, but that they themselves might merit salvation.

The grace of God can bestow understanding just as the Spirit acted upon the elders and Moses. As Catholics such an illumination takes into consideration the public manner of revelation and lawful authority. The Holy Spirit inspires Scripture, making it truly the Word of God. As a guarantee of the authentic and accurate interpretation of revelation, this same Spirit guides our chief teachers of faith, the bishops in union with the Pope. It is in this context that the Spirit of God instructs us and makes us missionaries of the Gospel.

Except for Confirmations and the feast of Pentecost, we often neglect to speak about the Holy Spirit. It is an image hard for our minds to grasp. Certainly we are well accustomed to the theme of God as Father from the witness of our families. The figure of Christ on the Cross gives meat to our appreciation of the Son of God. But we struggle in appreciating the role of the Holy Spirit. People can relate easily to a notion of God as their heavenly Father and to Jesus as our elder Brother in faith who surrenders his life for us. But, look at the images of the Spirit. We use fire for light and warmth, but it is regarded as a thing. The dove, while beautiful and free in flight, is still just an animal. Wind might be felt against one’s face, but few of us would talk to it. The Holy Spirit is signified by non-personal elements, and yet, he is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity and a fundamental catalyst and source of our life, faith, and sanctification. It is true that since the Trinity is a single God, devotion and worship rendered to any one applies to all three. But this does not resolve the struggle in our psychology to embrace the Spirit. It is no wonder that the charismatic movement in the Church exhibits so many elements that speak of mystery: the tongues, prophecy, interpretation, faith healing, etc. However, ecstatic external expressions of being moved by the Spirit need not be present.

The men of ancient Israel felt a need to surrender themselves to the divine movement. Their chanting, dancing, and prophesying uncovered that need. Such actions were in harmony with the times and culture, paralleling the manifestations among the pagans. The one difference was not the external actions but the substance behind them: the true God had shown his face and will to Israel. The truth has prevailed in Israel and the Church while the so-called prophetic messages to others around them have disappeared. If it were not from God, it could not last. Within the family of God, the distinction between a good and a false prophet is noted in Psalm 19:7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” Such delineation is still valid today. Any voice that claims a divine mandate and yet violates the commandments is that of a false prophet.

We must be discerning so that we will not seek to silence the voice of God’s prophets and that we will not be led astray by false messengers. What are the false prophets saying today? We know all too well. “We love each other, how could something so wonderful be sinful? If we don’t live with each other, how can we know if we are sexually compatible or not? The Church is living in the dark ages; we have to use the pill! We can’t have this baby now; we have school and our careers to consider. Is it not better to get rid of it then to adopt it out to strangers? I am sure that if grandma were in her right mind she would tell us to pull the plug. Jim and Jack are sweet guys, why should they be punished for how God made them– especially since they use condoms? Everyone steals office supplies from work, it is expected. That was a great movie, even though they did take God’s name in vain a dozen times. These sexy dresses (what there is of them) will sure get Tom’s motor running. It doesn’t matter if you go to a Protestant or Catholic church– it’s the same thing– what matters is going. I’m not a bad person for sometimes missing Mass; it isn’t like I murdered someone. I only read Playboy for the articles. I wish the city would stop those beggars from annoying hardworking people like me. It would probably be best if their kind were sterilized. This is good stuff; take it, everyone’s doing it.”

Do you recognize any of these voiced statements? It is in the sea of lies that the true prophet raises his voice as a living sign of contradiction. He tells us to follow the commandments and the moral laws of the Church. He tells us to defend the dignity of all human life and the values that most respect human personhood and the family. He also tells us not to compromise the honor that is due to God alone. The true prophet encounters resistance, mockery, and sometimes even martyrdom. The New Testament acknowledges this eventuality: “The shouts of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You live in wanton luxury on the earth; you fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You condemned, even killed, the just man; he does not resist you” (James 5:4-6).

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