Friday, October 25, 2013

Is the microphone or the piano more important for Mass?

DISCLAIMER: As you know I am an exceptionally whiny person. For me the glass is always half empty, and I suspect it has a small leak. These are the reflections of one remarkably incompetent diocesan priest who doesn’t know anything about what it is like to be a priest in a religious order, or even what goes on in the parish down the road. They do not reflect any other members of the clergy, all of whom are happy, healthy and productive. The stories that I will be telling are entirely fictional and the characters, and I do mean characters, are entirely made up. None of these accounts have anything to do with you or anyone you know. All the imaginary names in these made up stories have been changed to protect the innocent... or least me. And if I hold my breath for a really long time, quarters come out of my ears.

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

I am on the parish liturgy committee here at St. Thespia’s and was recently asked on a survey, “Which do you find most indispensable for worship: a microphone, a guitar or a piano?” What would you have answered.

Lee Turjiste

Dear Lee,

What do I think essential for worship?  Bread, wine and a humble heart. I wish you hadn’t asked this question. I fear that it may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For some time now, I have been resisting the urge just to tell liturgical horror stories, and what it is really like to be a diocesan priest. Cooler heads and wiser minds have counseled me that this would be a bad idea. Has this ever stopped me? 

One of the reasons that I am advised not to bring up the topic is that it might discourage vocations. This is preposterous. It might discourage those who want to get a job as a diocesan priest. The calling to the priesthood, as any calling, is a fire in your bones. It is like falling in love. If a person has a vocation to the priesthood, you can no more discourage him than you could have discouraged Jeremiah from  prophesying,

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. ...The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in.... (Jeremiah 20: 7 and following)

Perhaps this will serve to discourage those who are looking for a career in religion, and that would be all for the good. So here goes...

WHAT HAPPENED?!? How did we end up in this mess. (Do a web search for “Liturgical Abuse: Puppets (WCCTA 2008) - YouTube” or “Novena Solene Entrada da BĂ­blia”). If you are asking, “What mess?” I am not simply clucking my tongue at liturgical abuse. I am dismayed by something quite different. I am tired of the constant innovation that passes for Catholicism and its ancient liturgy.   

If one more liturgist asks me “What is the theme of today’s Mass”, I will probably have to be carted away in a straight jacket. 

I remember an encounter a few years ago. As people were scurrying about getting everything ready for a grand two-choir, four-star liturgy, one of God’s helpers asked me if he should put the microphone up on the stage. I was about to explain that it was an altar, not a stage, but I looked at him and realized that he had never been to a Mass that did not require electricity and so I said, “Yes, put it up on the stage.” 

That’s what I am complaining about. We have swapped the altar for a stage. And we priests are critiqued by the audience, which is most certainly not God and His Angels and Saints assembled! I was just commiserating with another priest here about a funeral mass he had offered not long ago. There are three types of people you meet at funerals these days. The first and most common group, when you say, “The Lord be with you.” responds “Okay.” The second group responds, “and also with you.” This mean they haven’t actually been in a church for at least three years. The third and smallest group responds, “and with your spirit.” 

I am actually a bit startled when I hear more than one or two people who know the correct response at a wedding or funeral. At this particular funeral the crowd was among the “Okay” first group. They had, however,  a detailed list of things that the priest was to say in the sermon at the funeral of their dear Aunt Kunigunda. One of the most important details was that Aunt Kunigunda had always baked fruit cakes for all the children in the family. The priest offering the funeral Mass did his best to fondly reminisce about someone he had never actually seen breathing, and he dutifully said that dear Aunt Kunigunda had baked cakes for the children. 

The grieving crowd was livid. They sent letters of protest to the diocese here in frostbite Falls and sent copies to the pope for good measure. They pointed out that the careless celebrant had said “cakes”, not “fruit cakes”! The Horror!!! a ruined funeral. He should just have read the script that they wrote. They had paid good money for the performance and the lead actor had not even bothered to read his lines!  The ridiculous post script is that the liturgy office took the whole thing seriously, looked into the complaint and asked the offending clergyman to write a letter of apology.

I recently had a funeral that involved show people. Due to a “eulogy gone wrong” I found myself sitting in the local police station the following week. I was not accused of anything, but the uncle of the deceased was about to be arrested. I was there to explain that no matter what the arresting officer had heard, the event in question was not a stage performance, but a Mass.  An estranged family member of a very devout family had died under tragic circumstance. The family of the deceased, the uncle in particular, had arranged Christian burial for the renegade who had done his best to make their lives miserable. 

A simple funeral was planned for close friends and family, no eulogies, very simple music. Here the plot thickens. It seems that the deceased had run off with the circus at some point in his youth, and a lot of circus people showed up at the funeral, large people with odd colored hair. They promptly took over the funeral. 

Some acquaintance of the beloved dead wheeled the piano out of the sacristy and started to play what can only be described as Protestant hymns in the style of a lounge singer. The family of the deceased didn’t want to make a scene and so they went along with it. We all tried to get along. Just before the distribution of communion, a rather strange fellow, one of the clowns I think, approached me at the altar and whispered, “I got something to say.” 

I responded, “Not now.”   

At which point he went straight to the pulpit and launched into a denunciation of the family of the deceased. The uncle who, in his goodness had arranged the funeral, came up to escort the clown off the altar, assisted by a few other family members. The would be orator started to pelt everyone within reach with hymnals. As was he was finally dragged off the altar the enraged thespian shouted, "You killed him, It’s your fault you bleepin’... bleeped...bleepers..." 

The  clown left, contacted the authorities and demanded to press charges for assault. He said that he had been dragged off the stage in the middle of his speech. That’s how I ended up in the police station. When I explained to the authorities that it was an altar not a stage and that he had been told to sit down, the impending arrest was scrapped. 

Quite a story, but my point is not that the liturgy was interrupted by a clown. It is that the clown couldn’t tell the difference between a stage and an altar. I suspect that there are many liturgists who are in the same boat. And many rank and file Catholics. And many of the clergy. 

A few years back, one of my predecessors at another parish removed the altar on Holy Saturday and replaced it with long folding tables on which a turkey dinner had been spread out. He said a sort of Mass wearing street clothes in the midst of the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and then invited the congregation up to have communion and dinner. He is no longer in the business of religion. 

Why shouldn’t the faithful treat the altar like a stage? We, the clergy have done very little to give a different impression. We let some liturgists go to extremes of performance art. In my seminary days, we were introduced to the “Mass as Extravaganza”. We called such Masses “elephant Masses,” because one fully expected the celebrant to be brought in at the end of the procession on an elephant like the groom in a Hindu wedding.

(More to come. I have not yet begun to whine.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Should I baptize my heathen neighbor's child?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

My next door neighbor is a heathen. He refuses to have his children baptized. I have an in-ground pool and we have neighborhood pool parties. I was thinking of secretly baptizing all the neighbor children while no one was looking. After all, one can’t go to heaven without baptism. What do you think of this plan?

Duncan Rivers

Dear Duncan,

This is a horrible idea! Who do you think you are? Ned Flanders? Never baptize anyone if there is not a reasonable hope that they will be able to practice the faith, and certainly never baptize a child without the collaboration of its parents or legal guardians. The only possible exception I can imagine is the real and certain danger of imminent death. It makes me even crazier than I already am that people have so little understanding of sacraments. First of all, we don’t know that only the baptized go to heaven. I refer to paragraph 1257 of the Catechism

The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit." God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

What the Catechism is saying is that we leave these things to the mercy and justice of God. As you may know, I am not real big on locutions. I think they should be taken as pious meditations once they have been vetted by the Church, but there is something that St. Faustina has said about the issue. She asked the Lord during one of her visions, “What about all the souls that haven’t had the chance to hear the Gospel.”  If I understand the quote properly, Jesus said in essence  “Don’t worry. At the hour of death I am my own apostle.” 

St. Dismas, the good thief, was received into eternal life without baptism and Jesus went to preach to the souls in prison after His crucifixion. (1Peter 3:18 and following) here we have two Biblical examples of salvation without baptism in water. These were near-death and post-death instances of what we have always called baptism of desire. I want to be baptized, even though I am unable to be. 

There is also baptism by blood. If a person dies a martyr’s death, even though he is unbaptized, we believe him to be with the Lord in glory. This passage from the catechism tells us that we can be sure of baptism’s efficacy to those who have heard the Gospel preached and are responding to it. We know no other sure means of entering into eternal life, but we trust in God’s love, justice and mercy that he make the offer of heaven to all people in the way most appropriate. That is why the catechism add the line, “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.”

Baptism and all the other sacraments are not voodoo rituals that initiate us into a club. They are not magic. They are in fact solemn responsibilities. Sacraments are “outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace.”  To give grace! Well, shouldn’t we want grace? Isn’t grace always a good thing? Maybe not. Grace neglected and grace denied become not a gift but condemnation!!! 

Remember the story of the talents in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel? A man gave his three slaves ten, five, and one talent respectively. A talent was a huge amount of money, and the slaves were expected to invest the money. The first two double their master’s money. The third, fearing failure, buried the money and returned it to the master when the accounts were settled. The master was furious. He called him a wicked and lazy servant and said.  “You should have invested my money with the bankers, and then I would have received what was my own with interest... Throw this worthless servant into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!” Youch! God does not give us grace as a plaything, or a nice bauble to trot out when we’re feeling religious.

“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” John 1: This is a frequent but inaccurate translation of a very obscure verse. The text literally says “Kharin anti kharitos” which literally means “grace against grace,” or “grace instead of grace”. Huh? The word “anti” in Greek means pretty much what it means in English. Grace opposed to grace? This makes no sense, at least as most of us understand grace. 

Grace is not just a gift, it is the gift of responsibility. It is an invitation to collaborate with Christ in His work of redemption. In the parable above cited, the one talent is taken from the lazy slave and given to the industrious slave. That doesn’t seem fair! Shouldn’t the industrious slave have given something to help out the lazy slave? You’re missing the point. Not only was the money the property of the master, the slaves who invested it were the master’s property. The money they earned wasn’t theirs to keep. It was a responsibility that they were to care for according to the master’s will. 

In the same way, grace isn’t ours to keep. God gives us a gift that we might give it to the world. It is not for our own amusement or enrichment. If, like the industrious servant, we do well the Lord gives us not more money but more work. Grace instead of grace. Responsibility in place of responsibility. 

To confer a sacrament on someone who has neither the ability nor the desire to serve the Lord with the grace given imposes a serious responsibility on that person. The sacraments don’t protect us from the boogeyman. They bring us headlong into spiritual warfare with the boogeyman. A sacrament isn’t just a nice thing. It’s a calling. Don’t baptize someone who will never live the life of grace. You will be questioned by the Master when the accounts are settled and He will ask you, “where is that person you insisted in having baptized?” 

People who have no intention to live the Christian life themselves and have no intention of encouraging their children to do so, nag me to baptize a child. I always wonder why. Is it because Grandma and Grandpa would be angry? Understand that you are swearing yourself to a lifelong responsibility when you are baptized, or when you sponsor someone who is to be baptized. Do not swear an oath which you will not honor and do not impose such a grave responsibility on another human being. 

Either these things are real or they just superstitions. For my part I have staked my life on their reality.

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, October 11, 2013

What do you think of the new Pope?

Dear Rev. Know it all

So, what do you think of the new Pope?

Shirley U. Geste

Dear Ms. Geste,

I am often asked this question, and my answer is not nearly as intriguing as the question itself. Are you asking what I think, or are you hoping that I will agree with what you think? 

First, an answer. He seems like a nice guy. I was impressed by the look on his face when he came out on the balcony in his white cassock and zuchetto. His “deer in the headlights look” said, “What have I gotten myself into?” This was good. It was honest. Also, I like what he has said so far. He hasn’t said anything a regular parish priest wouldn’t say. He hasn’t said anything I wouldn’t say and haven’t said. He thinks you should be respectful and kind to everyone, no matter their issues or attractions. Parish priests are in the business of welcoming sinners, because they are sinners. 

A friend of mine who rose to some prominence in the Church had to travel to Rome for a meeting with the Blessed John Paul and (then) Cardinal Ratzinger. He said that the two nicest guys he met in Rome were John Paul and Joseph Ratzinger. They were so interested in what he had to say that they invited him back for breakfast. They wanted to hear more about his ideas. I got the impression they were the kind of guys you’d go bowling with on a Friday night. I have this impression of Pope Francis. If we were pastors in the same diocese, I might try to sit near him in the back of the hall if I arrived late at meetings. And in his kindness and compassion, he would probably even laugh at my jokes.  I like his driving a Focus, it’s what I drive. Good on gas. I like that he cooked for himself and did his own laundry. I do that, and so do most priests I know.

But I worry, too. I worry about his living at St. Martha’s instead of the papal apartments. I worry about his having breakfast in the cafeteria. These are not necessarily humble things to do. They are simple things, but not necessarily humble. The papal apartments are probably about as comfortable as a fish bowl. I doubt there is a Lazyboy recliner in them as far as the eye can see. Above all, I suspect the papal apartments are lonely. Lord knows what ghosts linger there. 

In the cafeteria at St. Martha’s you probably get to pick what you want for breakfast instead having a doting staff tell you what you want. There is a perfectly good reason for worrying about the new pope’s choice of breakfast venue. It’s hard to fire someone with whom you have breakfast. 

Perhaps I am confused about this but, one of Pope Francis’ appointments seems to have been someone who did a good job as a manager at the Casa St. Marta. The Holy Father  appointed him to assist in the cleanup of the Vatican Bank. However, there are credible stories that years ago, the fellow in question had a reputation for hanging around in some very unfortunate places and had in fact been beaten up by some very interesting people. 

When he made this appointment, Pope Francis had no idea that the priest in question had such an interesting past. When asked about the matter the new pope assured us that the fellow was a good man, and that was long ago and who was he to judge?   

This is my worry. Having breakfast with someone may not be the best way to vet him for high positions in one’s reformist regime. Maybe Pope Francis should get use to eating his grapefruit and granola in the cold and lonely splendor of the papal apartments.

So, what do I think about the new pope? I like the guy. I agree with him and I am delighted by the response of the world to him... mostly. What I think of your question is the more interesting matter. History and Heaven will judge the new pope, and that will take a century or so. I suspect Heaven’s judgment will be quite favorable. 

The Lord is kind and merciful. He is full of compassion and laughter, and by the time history’s decision is made, you and I will not be much interested in history. So what you and I think of the pope isn’t really very important. He is the pope, and I am a Catholic who trusts Heaven’s wisdom, despite the human foibles of those who do the choosing. “I believe in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church.”

I don’t believe in the press and the lights of our modern culture. I cannot help but wonder why they so love the man. I have heard so many people say  they like the way the new pope looks. The old one didn’t look as friendly. The other guy was German as I am -- at least in my ethnic background. There is a type of German whose smile makes it look like they are trying bravely to endure a medical procedure. They look  pained, not happy, when they smile. It can be scary. 

However, the way a person looks is far more important to our deep-as-a-puddle culture than the way he actually is. Hollywood stars of a certain age have had so much work done that they look paralyzed from the neck up. Their faces are frozen in a kind of permanent grin. They are caked with so much makeup that they leave little work for the embalmers as they prepare for the not too distant funeral, but we say, “they look so good for their age”.  To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the devil wants us to look and feel good. Heaven wants us to be good.

The compassion of Pope Francis is a good and healing thing, even when it appears that he is winking at certain behaviors, even though he is not. The pope emeritus was also a man of tremendous compassion. I have heard a story that I think true about the pope emeritus that may surprise you. There is a certain theologian for whom the new pope seems to have a great respect. He has often been at loggerheads with reactionaries like myself. It is rumored that years ago when Pope Benedict was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he was visiting a famous German school of theology at the same time as the aforementioned theologian. Ratzinger, a.k.a. God’s Rottweiler, summoned the fellow, who thought, “Here it comes. He is going to lower the boom in person!” Quite the contrary. Cardinal Ratzinger let the theologian know that someone was about to be appointed bishop of his diocese who greatly disagreed with the theologian. Ratzinger suggested that the he join a religious order to protect his priestly faculties, which the theologian aforementioned promptly did. 

If the story is true, Ratzinger protected someone with whom he disagreed out of respect for the man’s intellectual honesty and his priesthood. I heard the story from a well placed source, not from the press. It was not something the press would bother to report because the press is uninterested. Ratzinger isn’t much of a looker. The press fails to comment on Pope Francis’ powerful denunciation of abortion, his clear stand on the ordination of women and women’s sacred role as mothers and his very traditional piety, Rosary, Eucharistic adoration and all! The appointment of someone from breakfast at St. Marta’s was dropped by the press like a rotting cantaloupe.  They are in love with a man who doesn’t exist.

The current occupant of the throne of St. Peter is far more complex than the air-heads of the media can comprehend. All that hair spray has addled their wits, I’m afraid. The pope is doing his best to renew dialogue with all people of good will. I worry that the vultures of the press will swoop down to pick the carcass clean as soon as they have a slow news day. 

Personally, I would worry if Chris Rock, Jane Fonda and Sir Elton John had nice things to say about me, but I think the new pope is a better man than I and he may just succeed in reaching the members of the Mediacracy

God bless him for trying. Underneath all that hair spray and the layers of makeup, the Holy Father has reminded us, and them, that they do have souls.

Yours as ever,
The Rev. Know it all

Friday, October 4, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for Real? part 18 and last

Letter to Kerry Zmatick, (Could it be? Yes! The end!!!)

There are a few more phenomena to discuss before I quit fulminating. 

Healing. I have seen real healings, but for a Catholic this is nothing new. We have always believed in healing. We just don’t understand it. Have you ever noticed that Jesus didn’t heal everyone in the Holy Land? He just healed a few. If Jesus could alleviate suffering, why didn’t he alleviate everyone’s suffering? My guess is that his healing ministry is meant to be a foretaste of heaven and not just a cheap medical plan. Not only did Jesus heal only a few, but all those he healed eventually got sick again and ultimately died. Even Lazarus whom he raised from the dead eventually died again. 

What can the point of healing possibly be if it is only a stop gap measure?  In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the “Lord, bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” (Acts 14:3) Miracles and healing are exactly that: “signs and wonders that bear witness to grace.” They are not given for the sake of convenience, but for the sake of the Gospel. 

I once had a friend who had been stricken with polio in the great polio epidemic of the early 50's. He was severely paralyzed from the waist down. His family took him to the healing shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre in Canada. He was waiting in his wheelchair to be taken forward for prayer when a severely crippled young woman was brought forward before him and as she passed him, their eyes met. There was a great commotion up in front and the girl whom my friend had just seen was completely and instantly healed. She strode back past him walking on two good legs and their eyes met again. In that moment he realized he would not be healed and that was alright. God’s grace would be sufficient in his life. And so it was. 

There isn’t time to tell you about all the people I have seen healed, and all the people I have seen not healed. The message is the same. It is that grace that is sufficient even though health in this world is of limited duration. 

The hunger most people have for healing is understandable. The suffering and pain that is the common lot of human beings is not to be taken lightly. People long for healing, especially the parents of sick children. It is hard to accept that, as the Lord said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) 
I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to depend on grace. Healing is given to increase our dependence on grace, not to lessen it. Most people want healing because they want not only an end to their suffering but the freedom that health confers. I remember a neon sign on a west side Pentecostal church that billed itself as a healing church. The sign brightly proclaimed, “Why should you suffer when others are being healed?” Nothing about Christ, just an end to suffering.   

That is not the point of healing. Healing is a sign and a wonder meant to draw us into a deeper trust in the Lord. How often have I been asked to offer healing Masses? I cringe at the request. Every Mass is a healing Mass. “Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” It is a beautiful thing to see a few believers gathered around a sick person praying for healing. It is a sad spectacle to see people lined up around the block waiting to get into the church because the faith healer is scheduled to do his thing at 7PM. 

Just this morning I saw something that moved me deeply. I go to the gym every morning and chug around in circles like some moribund hamster. As I passed the whirlpool for the umpteenth time, I saw and old Korean man holding his wife’s hands as they sat in the pool. Their eyes were closed and he was quietly praying. I knew what was going on. He was praying for his dear wife’s aches and pains. He understood that God’s grace was better than the warm water. He was commending her to the Lord. It was beautiful to watch his tender affection for his wife. That is what healing is about. 

There is a corollary to healing; it is called “being slain in the Spirit.” It is a wonderfully goofy manifestation which is only vaguely alluded to in the Bible, but we Pentecostals and Charismatics just love it. And, like all of this, it is real and it is easily abused. In the Gospel we read that those who came to arrest Jesus fell to the ground, just as St. Paul fell to the ground on the Damascus road. Saul fell to the ground in the Books of the Kings when he met the prophets. It often happens that when a person is being prayed for a very disorienting peace comes over them and they collapse. 

This has happened to me many a time and I must say it is one of the most peaceful feelings I have ever had. One just totally relaxes. You don’t lose consciousness. You’re standing, but you realize there is no really good reason to be standing and over you go. You usually just lay there for a while wearing a silly grin on your face. It’s has no great purpose as far as I can tell, and it is completely unimportant. It is a very gentle experience of resting in the Lord’s presence. 

Needless to say, it is all the rage at faith healing services, Charismatic Masses and spirit filled conferences. If you didn’t fall over, there must be something wrong with you. Or, if the faith healer/conference speaker is really good, they fall over by the busload when prayed for. That’s how you can tell that the conference speaker is the real thing. You fall over. If there is not sufficient falling over, it’s obvious that the Holy Spirit hasn’t really shown up. What you get then are people who keep coming up for prayer until they fall over. Or even worse you have the pushers and the catchers. A pusher is a faith healer who as he prays over a person gives them a shove on the forehead when he’s done. The catcher is someone who stands behind the “pray-ee” to keep them from cracking their heads open when they go over. I have often cringed at the thwack of a cranium hitting the cold marble of a church floor. 

I remember a very distressed woman asking my advice after a meeting. She was worried that God hadn’t blessed her because she hadn’t fallen over. When I used to pray for people at these services, I would have them kneel at the altar rail or sit so that they couldn’t do much damage as they fell. This falling out business is a fine thing, if it’s real. If it’s contrived it’s just silly. Healing is real, but when it becomes a cottage industry, it’s time to move on to more important things, like repentance.

Three more gifts and I’m done. They are related, the word of knowledge, discernment of spirits and prophecy. St. Paul sums it all up when he says “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols...” (1Cor. 12:2) That’s the amazing thing about the Lord. If we are ready to listen, He speaks. If an individual or a congregation sincerely wants to hear the Lord, they will hear him. No one ever hears him perfectly. Remember that St. Paul says, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part.” (1Cor.13:9) Still, if we get Him wrong, but our desire to obey is genuine, I have found that He makes up the slack. 
Most of the prophecies that I have heard are pretty much hokum. I cannot count the number of times I have heard that the Lord is returning next Tuesday, or some such nonsense. I have heard endless soliloquies that claim to be prophecy. They are usually just filler in a boring prayer meeting. A real prophecy, as St. Paul tells us, cuts to the heart. The only real prophecies I have heard have been very personal and very much to the point. No soliloquies. 

Once I walked into a prayer meeting, and a real prophet looked at me and said, “Father is going to be sent to work with the poorest of the poor.” I had been asked that very day to move to a very poor parish in very bad part of town. I was “praying” about it and planning to say, “No thanks.” The Lord threw His two cents in by means of someone who had a real prophetic gift, even though I was not very interested in the Lord’s opinion at that moment. I was so jolted that I told my superiors that I would accept the assignment and was at that parish for twenty of the happiest years of my life.  

Prophecies are not sweet nothings whispered in our soul’s ear by the Holy Spirit. They are marching orders. They are usually not about the future, they about the sovereignty of God in our lives. I believe that God has people in every congregation who can read souls, who can tell when a spirit is from the Lord or from the enemy, and that He has given people who can help us to know His will for us. If any clergy are making the mistake of reading these rants, know that if the Lord has given you prophets in your life, you are a very blessed person. I will always be grateful to the Lord for the honest prophets He has sent me. When they speak, they do so with authority. They have never been afraid to say what they think I don’t want to hear, and the few times I have been wise enough to listen, they have been blessings form the Lord.

One more thing. There is a phrase that one finds in Scripture and that Pentecostal/Charismatics love to bandy about: “In the Spirit.” I have pondered its meaning for years, and I think I understand it a little, now that I am old. The Greek New Testament word that is usually translated “Spirit” is “pneuma”. It means breath or wind, as in “to have the wind knocked out of you.” We get words like pneumonia and pneumatic drill from it. When you go into a church and stick your hand in the holy water fountain and say “In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, you are really saying “In the name of the ... Holy Breath.”  The third person of the Holy Trinity is the called Holy Breath. In confirmation one is anointed with oil for the strengthening with the Holy Breath, and so on. The Holy Breath. 

Think about it. We have theology and dogma and ritual and buildings and committees and church suppers and fund drives and second collections and ministry programs and religious education programs and and and. Do we have Holy Breath? Are we breathing? Is the church breathing? When Christians gather for worship or a meeting of any kind, whether a committee or a prayer meeting, can one smell the sweet aroma of Holy Breath?
The Holy Spirit doesn’t bother to show up at most church meetings I attend. There is no Holy Breath. There is great deal of bloviating. To be “In the Spirit” is to be surrounded by the Breath of God. It is real. It is palpable and it is essential. If the Church doesn’t breathe with the Breath of God, it is just going through a pointless exercise. Without the Breath of God, the Church is an “it” and not a “she.” If a thing is not begun, conducted and ended by means of Holy Breath, it may be a fine event enjoyed by all, but it will change no lives and soon be forgotten. If you are not filled with the Breath of God, all your piety is an external exercise. You cannot reach Heaven and Heaven does not reach you, expect by the Breathing of God. 

So I ask you, have you ever been filled with Holy Breath? If you haven’t, ask the Breath of God to fill you. What have you got to lose?  

Lord, breathe on us once again, as you did that first Easter Sunday night. Fill our sails with Holy Breath once again as you did on Pentecost so long ago!

So that’s it. I’m done. Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal is very real and desperately needed. It’s just that there isn’t much of it out there.