Charismatic Conference – August 7, 2022
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Just a little over three weeks ago, I returned from Rome after having been privileged to participate in the Vatican’s International Catholic / Pentecostal Dialogue. The Dialogue celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, having been established shortly after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Two years ago, I was appointed the Catholic Chair of the dialogue that consists of sixteen participants – eight Catholic members and eight Pentecostal members – from around the world.
The goal of the dialogue is to foster mutual respect and understanding between the Catholic Church and Pentecostal leaders and churches in light of the prayer of Jesus that all may be one. This year’s dialogue session found representatives from the United States, Brazil, Hong Kong, Australia, Nigeria, Italy, Columbia, Canada and Ghana spending five intense days reflecting upon the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel and the Christian Life.
What struck me more than anything else during my first experience leading the Dialogue was that while the differences between the Catholic Church and the Pentecostal movement are not insignificant in terms of our theological and ecclesiological understandings, our belief in the Eucharist and sacramental life, and our style of worship, at the heart of our faith is a shared appreciation for and openness to the Spirit of God, who, as Pope Francis noted in his words to Dialogue participants, has the power “to help our brothers and sisters experience in their hearts and lives the transforming power of God’s love, mercy and grace.”
It’s also fair to say, brothers and sisters, that Catholics and Pentecostals share a deep appreciation for the Charismatic Renewal that has touched our lives so deeply and that we celebrate this weekend.
Today’s gospel reading, quite providentially, also led me to reflect upon those days in Rome a few weeks ago for another reason. While it was a blessing for me at least to have English used as the official language of our work together, perhaps not surprisingly, our repertoire for hymns during prayer times was a bit limited, given the international nature of the gathering. But there was one hymn that we wound up singing almost every day – a hymn that takes its title from the scripture verse that immediately precedes today’s gospel passage from Saint Luke. … Do you know what it is? … “See first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be given unto you.”
“See first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be given unto you.” … What powerful words to hear today as we reflect upon life, faith and the need for us to trust the presence of God in our midst. For all of the images that we hear referenced in today’s gospel, listen especially to the words of Jesus that immediately follow his invitation to seek first the Kingdom of God. He goes on to challenge his followers in the midst of our very unsettled a world, “Do not be afraid. You have been given the kingdom. So sell what you have and give to the poor. Make for yourselves an inexhaustible treasure in heaven. … Where your treasure lies, there your heart will be.”
“Do not be afraid.” … No different from the world that faced Jesus’ disciples, these are difficult and, at times, overwhelming days for all of us, aren’t they? … Our country is filled with voices of hate, rooted in religious and cultural differences. … People are still discriminated against because of the color of their skin, the way they speak, their country of origin, their lifestyle, and what they don’t have. … Immigrant families – the foundation for this great land – are being used as pawns to support political ideologies on both sides of the issue. … At times, even the Church has tolerated abusive behavior of leaders who should know better and who cared little for the most vulnerable. … Wars are raging in Ukraine and other parts of the world. … And the poorest among us continue to suffer while the privileged pay little heed to their needs.
Yet, Jesus’ voice cries out: “Do not be afraid. … You’ve been blessed with faith. … You’ve been given the kingdom of God. … Do not be afraid.”
Not long ago, Pope Francis, addressed the struggles and fears that so often overwhelm us. He also spoke of the power that is ours through faith. “Faith,” he says, “is not a light which scatters the darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything. Rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path (of suffering) with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see light within it.”
This invitation for the followers of Jesus to move beyond fear and to trust in the saving grace of his life and love – yes – provides us with a sense of peace and consolation. But it also, in turn, prompts a deeper sense of responsibility and accountability for those who seek to embrace Jesus’ invitation to discipleship in an authentic manner. The concluding words of today’s gospel passage sum up the entire spirit of today’s message: “Much will be demanded of the one to whom much has been entrusted.”
Some of us will always go through life thinking that we’ve come up short in terms of blessings and gifts from God. Others of us, ultimately because of our openness to the grace of God, are able to grasp the heart of today’s gospel and appreciate that we’ve been given all that we need in life to be fulfilled. This fulfillment that we all seek and that Jesus promises hardly pertains to material wealth, position or power. No, it reflects the meaning, purpose and peace that flows from a life rooted in faith, love, forgiveness and God’s merciful presence – all that we need for salvation – all that we need to build the Kingdom of God.
Ultimately, today’s gospel passage redounds to our dependence upon God in all we do – in the many and varied circumstances of life that we experience – and in our efforts, no matter how feeble they may be, to live the gospel and walk with Jesus.
A few months ago, I took some time to speak with one of the oldest and wisest priests of our Diocese, Monsignor John Esseff, who, at 95 years young, continues to give retreats, offer spiritual direction and share his wisdom and faith with countless numbers of souls who turn to him for help. I spoke with him about some of the struggles that seem to be unending in the Church today. For all that he offered to me, I’m most grateful for a prayer that he shared called the “Surrender Novena.” You can find it on line.
Essentially, it’s a prayer that reminds us that when we’ve nowhere else to turn – when we finally admit that we can’t fix and control life – we need to turn to the one power in our lives that can give us hope. … You and I know that power to be God. … The pandemic that we’ve confronted for over two years has taught us that we’re powerless without God. … And all of the many struggles that we continually face in life, both personally and globally, should also have taught us of our desperate need for God.
The novena asks that we pray these simple words every day: “Jesus, I surrender myself to you – I trust in you! In your mercy, take care of everything – for I know that you will.” … It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? … I’ll trust you and you, in turn, O God, take care of everything. … I’d suggest that it may very likely take the best of us a lifetime to trust so thoroughly. But we’d do well to accept this invitation today!
For it’s trust that lies at the heart of today’s gospel message, isn’t it? … It’s trust that Jesus demands if we are ever to believe that we’ve been given enough to serve the poor, to extend God’s mercy and to build the Kingdom. … It’s trust that will enable us to boldly live our faith – to be the hands, the voice and the heart of God to a world that so desperately needs to experience God’s mercy and love. … It’s trust that assures us beyond a doubt to embrace Jesus’ promise: “Be not afraid!” … And it’s trust in Jesus that will ultimately carry you and me into the life and love of God and bring us to peace.