First, I want to Thank God for each of you. The great gift that you are. The irreplaceable part of God’s Creation and Providence that you. The unique Temple of the Lord where He dwells and desires to become ever-more present.
Thank God for the many many gifts in our lives. Our life. Our family. Our friends. Our health. This day. Snow. Sun. Breathing. Mexican Food. Babies. Newspaper. Slip n’ Slides. Chucky Cheese. Bert and Ernie. Quantum Physics. Beethoven. Lunch ladies. Chocolate labs. Hot showers. Solar eclipses. Panda Bears. Skyscrapers. Kayaks. Rick Astley. Rick Moranis. Rick Steeves. Rick Flair. Soft pretzels. Live music. Lemonade. Salvation.
God you are so good. So deserving of all our praise. We have received all from you...our very existence. We exist as a Gift. We thank you for making us a Gift. We pray that you send us your Spirit...your very Self...so that we may realize our Purpose as a Gift---by giving ourselves totally back to You and Your world in Love.
So. I had a good retreat this weekend. Really a powerful experience for me and so many here at the house. I really appreciate any and all of your prayers over the weekend. Know that I offered many for you as well.
I’d like to walk through some of my experience this weekend, as it was a real affirmation and deepening of many things going on in my heart over the past couple years especially...some of which we have been sharing over the past couple months.
Despite the many blessings of this retreat, I did my best to miss it! I went on this same retreat last year and had a very good...very needed...very challenging...and very powerful experience. I knew that I SHOULD sign up again this year....but it fell right at the end of our exam period. On top of that, it was a weekend that we were allowed out of the seminary to travel! So despite feeling called to sign-up, I put it off as along as possible trying to convince myself that I really just needed to get out of Rome and do nothing.
Last Friday, I was walking by the bulletin board and checked to see who all had signed up for the retreat. Seeing the name of a friend named Dan--someone I prayed with on the retreat last year--I thought to myself, “Well, whatever. If Dan is going, I might as well go.”
The First Friday of every month (most recent being last Friday), members of my class gather together to pray for our class and share any graces or prayer intentions they would like to offer. It is admittedly a small group that consistently comes. Running into Dan later on in the day, something in me wanted to invite him to come to this prayer group...but I didn’t say anything not wanting him to pressure him into it.
Sure enough, Dan showed up that night to pray. When it came time to share a grace, Dan spoke up saying, “Well...my grace is kind of strange...but whatever. I want to share it.”
He too explained that he had been waffling about signing up for the retreat--feeling he should go, but really wanting to just escape Rome and blow off some steam. As he was falling asleep to take a nap earlier in the week, something “strange” happened--a Bible verse popped into his mind. Dan said this was a new experience for him...hard to explain. But the verse Acts 1:5 just popped into his head. Realizing that stranger things had happened to him just before falling asleep, he just fell asleep not thinking much of it.
A couple days past and it was Friday morning. He remembered the verse that had popped into his mind, and found himself wondering what Acts 1:5 actually said. So he grabbed a Bible. As he was thumbing through the pages, his memory started to haze a bit, as he was not sure if it was Acts 1:5 or 5:1. Admittedly, he frequently mixed numbers around in his mind. By the time he found Acts, he was pretty sure it was Acts 5:1.
Here is what it said,
“A man named Ananias, however, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property.”
This was the beginning of the story of a husband and wife who were part of the earliest Christian community led by St. Peter. This community felt it was necessary that the hold all there possessions and wealth “in common.” However, Ananias and his wife withheld some of the money they made from selling their land from the community. When St. Peter confronted them about this, they both died! Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh
Realizing this, Dan thought that SURELY (hahahha) it MUST be Acts 1:5.
So he flipped back a couple chapters to find this--
“for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.”
Seeing that the theme of the retreat was “Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” Dan quickly made the connection. And consequently signed up for the retreat later that morning.
Hearing this, I could not help but laugh. Dan, who had just bore his soul to the group, looked back at me confused at my response. I laughed some more and said, “It’s just funny...because I have been avoiding the retreat as well, but just this afternoon signed up for the retreat because I saw you had signed up.” Then we could both not help but to laugh.
What a strange and wonderful blessing for us both. Immediately any sense of bemoaning lost travel/relaxation time vanished and was replaced by a real excitement about what the weekend would hold for us both.
The retreat started Friday afternoon. Showing up for the opening conference, I scanned the room for Dan. Nowhere to be found. Asking around a bit, I found out that Dan’s Grandmother had suddenly taken a turn for the worse and he had to leave in just a couple hours to fly back home.
Wow. I was not expecting that. Quickly I sought to analyze the situation: OK. So God goes to the trouble of giving that verse to Dan in his pre-nap haze, so that he will sign up for a retreat, and so that I will sign up too. But then Dan doesn’t even get to go on the retreat! What? I guess I really need to be here! hahahaha
It only got better from that moment on.
Words don’t do justice to half of what this weekend brought into our lives, but I will give some general comments.
Various leaders and friends of a group called St. Paul’s Outreach came to guide the retreat. They were all lay men--not priests or religious. St. Paul’s Outreach trains and sends out missionaries to serve at College Campuses around the United States.
I would sum up the theme of the weekend like this. Jesus’ promised to send us the greatest gift after his ascent into heaven. It came in a powerful way at Pentecost and remains the lifeblood of the Christian life toady--the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the Love of God. It is the very Gift of God Himself to mankind. This gift was given to us..who are created as GIFTS. The gift of the Holy Spirt, thus is given to help us to fulfill our purpose as GIFTS--to give ourselves in Love back to God and his world.
If we embrace this Gift of the Holy Spirit, live in docility to it, and respond to its promptings...the result will be UNITY...COMMUNION. And this Union and COMMUNION brought about in our lives with each other will be THE WITNESS to the Gospel...God’s Love for Us....Salvation...in the world today. We need look no further than Christ’s Priestly Prayer in John 17 to see this spelled out in Scripture:
“so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”
This was Jesus’ dying wish! That we, his followers, be ONE as He is ONE with his Father! Pretty intense ONEness I would imagine! I would venture to guess that this is far beyond any ONEness we have ever experienced. But WHY? Why become one? So that Christians may live together in a land of lollipops and bear-skinned rugs, safely tucked away from the evils of the world? NO! Jesus Christ desired that his followers...namely Christians...become ONE SO THAT the WORLD MAY BELIEVE!!!!
This message was the focus of the entire weekend. We must boldly open ourselves to God’s Plans for us. We must fearlessly open ourselves to any and every Gift that God desires to give us SO THAT the World May Believe. NONE of this is about US! It is ALL FOR THE OTHER! All things for GOD and HIS PEOPLE! This is the radical message of the Gospel. Simply stated...that it is ONLY in Giving that we TRULY receive.
This is what it means to live a life of faith. To truly Trust in God’s Goodness, Providence, and His Promise to care for us. That God will, indeed, Provide for us in this life through his Creation. This frees us to live totally for THE OTHER (God and His People). To lay down our lives for one another. For we are told that there is NO GREATER LOVE than this--than for one to lay down there life for one’s brother (John 15:13). And in doing so, really believe that our Brother Jesus Christ has, indeed, already laid down his life for us....and that He will bring other members of his body into our lives that will Lay down THEIR lives for us...which will meet and infinitely exceed any need or good desire we have ever had! This is the Christian Hope! This is Christian Faith! To totally abandon ourselves to God...who is a communion of Persons---Father, Son, and Spirit....BY abandoning ourselves to our neighbor and thus entering into a real communion of persons---made in the “IMAGE AND LIKENESS” of God Himself...the Holy Trinity (Gen 1:17). Yes, indeed, Love of God and Love of Neighbor are INSEPARABLE. One is not real without the other. Each is oriented to the other. Each are two sides of the same coin.
And in rediscovering these truths over the weekend, I realized that Acts 5:1 and Acts 1:5 are really two sides of the same coin. Jesus Christ is not just a nice idea. He does not just provide us with interesting stories and perspectives with which to live our lives and see reality. He is THE reality. THE ONLY REALITY. SELF-GIVING in LOVE is the ONLY THING THAT IS REAL. Everything else is just vanity. In the end, nothing will remain but this love. Faith and hope will stick around too but the GREATEST of these is Love (1 Cor 13:13).
And this Love is the Holy Spirit. This Love is the ONLY REALITY. We must only open our eyes and see things how the REALLY are--GIFTS!!!! Life WITHOUT Christ and His Spirit and His Father is nothing but Death. Nothing but nothingness. Ananias and his wife knew this all too well! Holding back from reality...from the reality of God’s Love offered to us in His Holy Spirit...the Gift of Himself.....brings nothing but Death!
And how do we accept this Gift of God’s Love FULLY? How do we OPEN OURSELVES...OPEN our EYES to the Gift of Reality? By, in Faith/Trust, Hope, and Love GIVING OURSELVES completely to God and neighbor.
AMEN? AMEN? This is THE QUESTION we must ask ourselves--AMEN? Are we on board with Giving ourselves FULLY over to God and neighbor?
Interestingly enough, towards the end of the retreat, I found myself sitting still after an intense time in prayer with everyone on the retreat. Relishing in the blessings we were receiving from the Lord, all of a sudden a Scripture verse popped into my mind--Matthew 5:42-47. As for Dan, this was my first experience like this. Afraid that there were not that many verses in the fifth chapter of Matthew, I warily opened my Bible. But what I found only drove home even more deeply everything God had been revealing over the weekend.
“Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.
42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?
48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
How radical and great the Gospel is!!! To Love God by Loving our Enemies???!#$%^& Who would have ever thought that was how it worked? That THAT is reality! Incredible.
Praise God for all of this!!!!
.......As always I have gone on too long. I hope that these reflections may help to open your eyes a bit more to the REALITY of life...as they have for me. May we settle for nothing less that what is REAL today and every day.
Come Holy Spirit, inflame within us the fire of your love, so that the world may believe that they are loved, worthwhile, precious, willed, saved, and offered every good thing!
[Here are links to two more texts that came into my life over the weekend the only furthered this whole reflection....this whole diving into reality more deeply
Sermon by Blessed Isaac of Stella----scroll down until you see the section entitled "Second Reading"]
SHOTS OF THE WEEK:
It snowed in Rome on Friday for the first time in 25 years. Also, it snowed in Montgomery, AL for the first time in about 15 years. Here are some shots that my Dad sent me of the Winter Wonder Land in Montgomery. These 3-4 inches beckoned Montgomery to close its schools, all government offices, its Air-force base, and all roads!!! hahahahaha. Only in central Alabama.
Next, is an image made by some Dominican nuns that live, pray, and work in Marbury, AL. In addition to praying for us everyday, they send us cards from time to time at Seminary. This was on one of the cards. I love it. Our Lady of Alabama---could anything be more beautiful? [Here is a Link to their Web Site]
Finally, Continuing in the Alabama theme. I present to the public for the first time...the majestic tribute of my Father Donald Ingalls to the unblemished season and BCS National Championship of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide at the Rose Bowl just over a month ago.....the one and the only....new memeber of our family.....BAMA ROSE.
I know. You are probably still gasping for breath. The literary implications latent in the name alone are enough to induce a coma. hahahahaha
LINKS OF THE WEEK
These guys ran the retreat this weekend. Check them out.
If you are interested in Reading more about “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” and/or living a life fully in Christ and his Spirt, here are some good resources recommended to us.
Sober Intoxication of the Spirit by Fr. Cantalamessa, OFMcap
Life in the Lordship of Christ by Fr. Cantalamessa, OFMcap
Fr. Cantalmessa has been appointed as the Preacher to the Papal Household for over 15 years now. An incredibly dynamic preacher and evangelist, he is a TV star in Italy as well as an internationally renowned speaker, author, professor, and spiritual guide. Here is his website: CLICK
Building Christian Communities, Strategy for Renewing the Church by Stephen B. Clark
Recently, Opray Winfrey did a Special about a group of Nuns in Alma, Michigan. Amazing. A unique look at "Laying down one's life." Here are some links to the broadcast. Seriously, this is worth watching.
NEXT SUNDAY’S GOSPEL:
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
Have a Great Week!
Let’s keep praying for one another!
Also, I am going to Post again tomorrow or Tuesday about something special I would like to do during Lent.