Saturday, June 3, 2017

When I was a young man I began to look around for a Church that was more vibrant, more active. Though I was very happy with the Christianity I had been shown in the Baptist church, there was something missing. (click the link to read more)

When I was a young man I began to look around for a Church that was more vibrant, more active.  Though I was very happy with the Christianity I had been shown in the Baptist church, there was something missing.  I didn’t understand the Methodist Church and its symbols.  I didn’t even know the Catholic Church in town was an actual ‘church.’   For that matter I didn’t know anything about theology, Christology, or that there had been 2000 years of writings outside of the Sacred Scriptures that I had never been exposed to.   What I did know is that there was a girl that I fancied who went to one of the churches where they shouted Amen and did some strange things.  I ended up settling there in a Holiness/Pentecostal environment for a few years.

My first experience there was one that I will never forget.   As the service began the preacher was loud and animated.   People began to shout Amen often and emphatically.  Hands would have in the air.   Sentences were often punctuated with “That’s right” or “Preach it, brother.”   It was exciting but also confusing at times.   Then something strange happened.   The woman behind me began to scream.  The blood-curdling scream of someone in pain, as if an assault was occurring the pew behind me.    I turned around the first time it happened.   She had a glassy look to her face as if she were in some other place and not even aware that we existed.   I didn’t know what to do.  This was not something I had ever seen or even heard of.

The next time it happened I turned stood up and turned around and asked her if she was O.K.   One of the Church elders put his hand on my shoulder and said “She’s fine boy.  She is just falling out in the spirit.”   It shook me to the core.   It wasn’t something I was comfortable with at all.  I accepted it though.   When I asked about it later someone pointed to Pentecost and speaking tongues.   They explained to me that “in order to be saved” we all had to do it at some point.   I fell in line.  I began to shout Amen.   I watched as others spoke tongues.   I even gave testimony to God in my life and eventually joined that little Church in the mountains and had my name added to their membership roster. For years I stood up in the congregation waving my hands, shouting out praises, and to be honest, enjoyed myself quite a bit.

Then one day I felt a tugging of my heart.   I had begun to study Scripture in earnest.  What I was finding in there didn’t line up with what was going on in the Church.  When I asked questions I was told to avoid those questions and just listen to the Elders.  I had joined a Bible study at the Church and some of the things being taught there not only didn’t jive with what I had been reading on my own, but they were in many ways prejudiced and racist.  A few weeks later I told God when you tell me to raise my hands I will, when you tell me to shout I will, when you tell me to speak tongues I will… but until then I won’t do it.  I realized all along I hadn’t been doing it because God had told me to, I was doing it because someone else had said that’s what I had to do to be “saved.”

In the first reading today we see the primary example of ‘speaking in tongues.”  It’s not something disorganized and disruptive.   It’s not people shouting over each other to see who can pray the longest or the loudest.   It’s also not something every person must do.   Instead, it’s a beautiful display of God’s desire to know each and every one of us, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds.   Every person present there heard in their own native tongue.   God was no longer hidden behind the language of the Hebrews or the learned, but instead was speaking to each person exactly as they best could understand him.   As a man who has been trying for years to become fluent in a second language, I understand not only the practicality of this but the necessity.    I understand many things in Spanish, even some things in Latin.   The truth be told though, when it’s in English it’s much more likely that I will gain a full insight into what I am reading.  I don’t miss the nuances of the language or the ‘slang.’   Rather, I get the entirety of the message.

God loved us so much that He gave a gift to those men and women at Pentecost that they could speak directly to all the cultures present.   Those cultures represented the entire world.  At Vatican II the Church wanted to emphasize this.  For many hundreds of years, the Mass had been in Latin, the language of the Church.   Providently, now it would be in the vernacular, the language of the local culture.  That meant that people would be able to better understand what was going on.   It’s much easier to participate in a Mass when you know what is being said, how it’s being said, and why.  There is still something Holy about a Latin Mass.  It’s somber, beautiful and uplifting.   In English, though I don’t miss the subtleties.  I don’t miss the phrasings or the verbiage.   I know what’s going on.

That’s what all the readings today point to.   The gift of the Holy Spirit.  God loved us so much that He sent His own Spirit to reside in us.  He made us humans into Temples for His Presence.  Do I still believe it’s possible to speak in tongues?  Very much so.   Do I still raise my hands when God tells me to? You better believe it.  Though I do know one Priest who asked me not to because it distracted him and he couldn’t think.  I appreciate that honesty.  Sometimes in Adoration, though I get lost in the moment, swept away in the current of God’s love and mercy, that I can’t help myself and those hands float up into the air to praise God on their own accord.  I am very charismatic and pentecostal in my beliefs to this day.   There is room for that in the Catholic Church, the original Pentecostals.  

What I realize though is that none of our gifts are just for our benefits.  Each of us is given a set of particular skills and specific ways of doing things that only we are capable of doing in our way.  Sure every one of us can take on a role if needed that is outside of our comfort zone… but no two of us will ever think the exact same way, or perform things in a precise manner that another would.   Some of us are good with numbers, others with our hands, some with our brains and still others with our bodies.  There is room for all.  God will speak to each of us in the language we understand best.   By that, I don’t just mean the vernacular, but the language of our hearts.  Love.   He is love itself, and on the very base level of who we are created to be, we respond to Love fully and completely.

One of the most important things about the readings today is found in the Gospel.  For years as a Pentecostal Protestant, I would have told you that my sins were between me and God.  Why would I need to go to a man to forgive them?  Yet, in the reading from John’s gospel, Jesus very words say something different.   He breathes on the disciples long before the moment of Pentecost, the first ordination of men to perform the role of Jesus the Priest in the world.  At this moment Jesus breathed directly on His disciples and said: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained.”   That’s what Confession is all about.   It’s going to that same line of Priests thousands of years later and saying, “I trust in Jesus words when He said that you could forgive my sins and I reach out to Him in mercy through His Holy Church and ask for that forgiveness.”   It’s a channel of grace, instituted in a Sacrament that is so much more than a symbol.  It’s an encounter with Christ and the Holy Spirit, and encounter with the infinite that our human minds cannot understand, so God gives it to us in simple terms that we can fathom.   He gives it to us through each other, in the only language, our hearts can understand... Love and mercy itself.

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. - Psalm 19:14

A reading for the Feast of Pentecost: June 4th, 2017