Do Whatever He Tells You
By Richard Dunstan –
“Do whatever He tells you” was the theme of the fourth annual Our Lady of Pentecost Summer Institute, held Aug. 12-17 in Kelowna. Based on John 2:5, the theme reflects the instructions the Blessed Virgin Mary gave to the servants at the wedding at Cana before Jesus turned water into wine.
More than 50 charismatic Catholics turned out to the event—44 registered full-time and around a dozen attending part of the sessions at St. Charles Garnier parish. Sponsored by the Nelson Diocese Charismatic Renewal Service Committee, the institute is endorsed by Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services of B.C. and by all five B.C. bishops, and is aimed at charismatic leaders and potential leaders from across B.C., along with anyone else interested in deepening spiritual life.
Featured speaker were Father Bart van Roijen of Sparwood, Father Gerald Sekanga and Father Louie Jimenez of Kelowna, and Teresa van Kampen of Calgary.
Also on the schedule were daily Mass; praise and worship; panel discussions and other audience participation activities; evening prayer gatherings; and the sacrament of reconciliation.
We’re all called to be apostles of Jesus, says Father Cerlouie (Louie) Jimenez. But that’s a tough job, because it means living the way Jesus did, sacrifice and all.
Father Louie, opening speaker at Our Lady of Pentecost Summer Institute, took his lead from St. Paul’s comments on apostleship in 2 Corinthians, titling his talk Apostleship in St. Paul’s Criterion.
In 2 Cor 11:23-29, St. Paul defends his record as an apostle against his critics by pointing to his imprisonments, beatings, brushes with death, shipwrecks, and other hardships.
“For St. Paul it is very clear that the only criterion for an apostle was a life like Jesus Himself,” said Father Louie, who is assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception parish in Kelowna and chaplain for Live In and Rachel’s Vineyard. “These things are not metaphors. Paul would ask how often have you been in prison for your witness to Christ, how often has your life been in danger because you stand up for the truth of Jesus Christ?”
Apostleship actually has three meanings, Father Louie said. First, it means the Twelve, plus Paul and perhaps a few other such as Barnabas, who had a direct call through an encounter with the risen Christ and were sent out by Him with His Gospel. Second, it means many people in every age who have the task of going from place to place spreading the Gospel and founding Christian ministries.
And finally, it means all Christians. Through our baptism, all of us have the task of bearing witness to Jesus’ resurrection, especially to “the least, the last and the lost.”
Another thing we share with St. Paul is a need for personal transformation in Christ. St. Paul thought he was a good man before his conversion, but he was misguided, and after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he had to re-evaluate everything in his life. All of us need the same transformation.
On a related topic, Father Louie noted that apostleship is only part of Christian ministry. Apostles are listed first, but of course not alone, in St. Paul’s list of ministers in the Church in 1 Cor 12:27-31, along with prophets, teachers, administrators and others. Apostles work in partnership with those other ministers, with an emphasis on preaching. Baptism and ongoing programs belong to other ministers; St. Paul himself notes in 1 Cor 1: 14-17 that he was sent to preach, and baptized only a few people personally.
Then, he was off to preach in other locations while the Christian community he had left behind put his preaching into action. “He moved on,” Father Louie said. “He did not hang on. He did not make it his pet.”
He didn’t rest on his accomplishments, either. He had more work to do.
“We need to ask ourselves, am I like St. Paul?” Father Louie said. “Am I ready to do the work, and after the work is done, am I ready to start another work? That’s the challenge—sometimes we have the idea, ‘I have done my work, so goodbye.’ If we want the Church to grow, we must forget about ‘goodbye.’”
Father Louie expanded on the theme in his second talk, The Missionary Nature of the Church Towards the New Evangelization.
Quoting the Vatican II document Ad Gentes and statements by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York Father Louie said that the Church’s missionary activity must extend from Jesus’ first coming to His second coming, but has changed in nature in recent years.
First, there is a geographical change. His native Philippines were evangelized by missionary priests from Spain, but now Asian priests like himself are coming as missionaries to North America and Europe.
Second, there is a theological change. In today’s society, nominal believers as well as unbelievers need to be evangelized, because their faith is often distorted by the influence of secular society, producing a lack of awareness of God’s transcendence, a practical denial of God, and superficiality and selfishness.
He said the ask of the new evangelization is to revive the faith of believers and thus inspire unbelievers. To do this we must learn to know Jesus more and fall in love with Him and His Church. We should study scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and pray for courage to witness. If we do all this, people outside the Church will notice.
He said our evangelization must present a person—Jesus—rather than a belief system, and we must show by our joy that God is alive. We must also prepare for martyrdom, because evangelization is not a smooth or easy path, and yet we must not be afraid.
“Docile” does not mean “weak.”
The two words sound similar to a lot of people in our culture, but the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary proves they’re completely different, Teresa van Kampen told Our Lady of Pentecost Summer Institute in Kelowna in August. And we need to show the courage to follow Mary’s example.
“Docility requires courage and strength, not weakness,” Teresa told the audience. “Mary was heroic in her co-operation in the plan of salvation as she accompanied Jesus her son in His passion and death.”
Teresa is Alberta representative to the national Catholic charismatic service committee and former chair of the renewal in Calgary. She and her husband have 10 children and 18 grandchildren.
She told the audience there is very little detail about our Lady in the Bible, but what there is speaks volumes. Mary is presented in the accounts of the annunciation, the birth and childhood of Jesus, His crucifixion, Pentecost, and a few other places, and at every point she shows complete trust in God and commitment to His will.
“The Blessed Mother of Jesus lived in and for the love of God,” she said. “Her entire heart belonged to Him, and His will was all she wanted for her life. She was docile to the Holy Spirit to the last breath.”
She said Mary was intelligent and well aware of what she was doing—not at all weak, childish, or unthinking, but trusting in a God she knew was good. She would do what she was asked, regardless of the consequences, unlike most Christians today who waver when faced with difficulties in following God’s will.
“We start thinking of alternatives. Maybe plan B is called for,” Teresa said. Not so with our Lady.
Mary is often called the new Eve, and indeed she joins Jesus in overthrowing the harm caused by the first man and woman. She was conceive in the fullness of grace such as Eve had enjoyed before the Fall. But Eve, Teresa said, wanted occult knowledge—God’s knowledge of good and evil. Mary resisted that temptation and was content to walk in faith, not by sight.
“She had no desire for any of the vanities, flatteries or deceptions of the evil one,” Teresa said. “She did not want power or knowledge outside of God her saviour. She was content to be His handmaid and in her docility to Him she co-operated with Jesus for the salvation of the whole human race.”
On the cross, Teresa said, Jesus gave Mary to all of us, through John, and we should follow her example.
Teresa’s second talk was titled Do, Become, Be…Whatever He Tells You, a reference to Mary’s directions at the wedding in Cana (John 2:5) and also to the theme of the conference.
“Whatever” is a tall order: holiness. Some people think holiness is just for saints, or priests and nuns, she said, “but we are all called, without exception, to be holy.”
That, she said, is how we get to heaven. She said the world teaches us that the road to heaven is wide and the road to hell narrow, but Jesus says the opposite; still, He wants us to make it to heaven.
“The call to holiness is more than doing what people think is good,” she said. “The call to holiness is doing the will of God.”
But while holiness may be the road to heaven, it isn’t the road to an easy life. Some Christians, especially charismatics, think everything will go well for them if they follow God’s will. That, Teresa said, is false theology.
“Life is not like that,” she said. “Jesus said take up your cross and follow me. He didn’t say pick up your bag of goodies.”
She cited the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan of Vietnam as an example. He had just been named coadjutor archbishop of Saigon when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese army in 1975, and he spent the next 13 years in jail, nine of them in solitary confinement, and suffered torture. He smuggled out messages to his people on scraps of paper. After his release in 1988, he held positions in the Vatican and was named cardinal the year before his death in 2002. His cause for beatification has been opened.
In a talk after his release, he said “if you have no opportunity for sacrifice, this is an indication that you still do not love God,” and Teresa said we all need to hear that hard message.
“In our culture we’ve heard the soft message for so long that we’re wimpy,” she said. “The teenagers in our culture are dying, and the soft message is hanging them out to dry.”
Teresa said Catholics should study the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to get to know Jesus better, always following Church interpretation of the Bible. We should confess any involvement in New Age activities (“break those ties forever. Don’t go back. Jesus is enough.”)
We must also forgive our enemies and pray for them; we forgive with our will even if our emotions don’t agree. “If you don’t forgive, He won’t forgive you. Forgiveness shatters the forces of evil.” We must also break our attachment to sin, including not only obvious sin but such things as manipulating other people to get our way.
It’s OK to be afraid, says Father Gerald Sekanga—as long as we’re afraid of the right thing.
And for Christians, he said, the one and only thing to be afraid of is harming our relationship with God.
Father Gerald, assistant pastor at St. Charles Garnier parish in Kelowna, was a guest speaker at Our Lady of Pentecost Summer Institute, speaking on What Are You Afraid Of? and Preaching the Radical Word. Originally from Uganda, he has an education in law and philosophy, and works with youth and as a retreat leader.
Fears are more important than we think, Father Gerald said. “Our lives are ordered every day by what we are afraid of.” For example, seminarians are instilled with fear of the Church’s sexual abuse scandal, and told “stay away from the kids” as young priests. But in Uganda, priests had to drive pickup trucks rather than compact cars so that youngsters could ride along on their visit to missions, and tomorrow’s priests come largely from among those boys in the truck.
Fears like that are inappropriate, he said; even the prayer of the Mass asks God to “protect us from all anxiety” (the former text; “safe from all distress” in the new missal).
We must ask ourselves “have my fears overtaken who I am?”, he said. “Our fear as Christians should be the fear of the Lord. Without the fear of the Lord we close ourselves off from the treasures of God’s wisdom.”
Unfortunately, he said, the Church hasn’t always done the best job of instilling the right type of fear. Fifty or 60 years ago the stress on fear was excessive; today Catholics are so confident of God’s love that they think they don’t have to do anything in response to it.
“We’ve moved from one extreme to the other,” he said, and both lead to a secularization of values rather than proper fear of God. In the old approach, people thought “I’m going to hell anyway, so why bother?” Today, it’s “God loves me anyway, so why bother?”
Father Gerald cited the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and the 19th century Ugandan martyrs as examples of appropriate fear.
In Jeremiah chapter 20, the prophet complains to God about being sent with an unwelcome message to a hostile society; he had much to fear from the king and other officials, and was persecuted, imprisoned, and according to tradition eventually murdered. But he says that if he tries not to speak God’s word, “it becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
He was afraid of his enemies, Father Gerald said, but “the prophet Jeremiah’s biggest fear was that he would give up his relationship with the One who sent him.”
In Uganda in 1887, St. Charles Lwanga and a dozen other Catholic converts (as well as a group of Anglican converts) were burned alive by a king determined to rid Uganda of foreign influence. “They were afraid of the king, but more afraid of losing their relationship with God,” Father Gerald said. “They gave up their fear of the king and went to Jesus Christ.”
Father Gerald quoted Matthew 10:28, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.”
Courageous Christian ministry “may even kill the body,” Father Gerald said. “Don’t worry about the body.”
In his talk Preaching the Radical Word, Father Gerald said preaching depends on our knowledge of and commitment to God.
“As a preacher you have to listen to the voice of the One who calls you out into the wilderness. It’s not about ‘we.’ We have to get rid of the ego.”
“It is the heart that has encountered God that is capable of communicating God. If you have not encountered God, people will see through you.”
Preaching has three goals, Father Gerald said: personal conversion (turning from self to God); ecclesial renewal (we need to create community); and social transformation. “If one part is ignored or played down, the others suffer.”
He said we need to let Jesus turn our lives upside down, let Him change all our plans, and also let people see the hope and joy in us.
Father Gerald also called for study of the Bible and Catholic tradition, so that we can articulate it to others. He noted with frustration that Catholic young people are the second-most ignorant religious group (behind Jewish young people) about their own faith.
Both Abraham and the Blessed Virgin Mary encountered God’s love most intimately in their darkest and most demanding moments, says Father Bart van Roijen.
Both were called to sacrifice their only son, and both experienced the love, sorrow, and generosity of the Father in their obedience to that call, Father Bart told Our Lady of Pentecost Summer Institute in Kelowna.
Father Bart, pastor of St. Michael parish in Sparwood and Holy Family parish in Fernie, is chair of the Nelson diocesan council of priests and a member of the diocesan religious education committee. It was his second year as speaker at the summer institute. His topics were Abraham our Father in Faith; Mary our Mother, and Authority and Discipleship in Mark’s Gospel.
“The stories of Abraham and Mary run parallel to one another and lead us deeper into their union with God,” he told the audience. He said Mary’s experience on Calvary completes Abraham’s own journey to sacrifice his son, Isaac, at God’s command.
Abraham is 75 by the time his story is told in the book of Genesis, Father Bart said; the account contains only four lines about the earlier portion of his life. We are left wondering how he came to the point of trusting God so thoroughly—especially since he would have been considered cursed by God since he and his wife, Sarai (Sarah), had entered old age with no children.
“It’s interesting that Abraham had faith at all,” Father Bart said. “God had passed them over. They would die without having someone to carry forward their seed.”
He said many people in Abraham’s situation would simply have changed gods. But Abraham had faith that, though everything might not turn out, God would still be faithful.
By contrast, we know Mary was “full of grace” from the beginning. But there is still much we don’t know about her spiritual life. As with Abraham, much of her faith was formed in hiddenness.
There’s a lesson for us in that, Father Bart said. “So much of our faith journey takes place in obscurity. We may not even be aware of it ourselves….day by day, unseen by us, God is working something wonderful in us.”
In Abraham’s case, he and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands, when Abraham fathered a child with Hagar, Sarah’s maid. God had a place for that child, Ishmael, making him the father of the Arab people, Father Bart said—yet God also repeated his own promise immediately after, that Abraham would have a son with Sarah.
But once he has that son, Isaac, Abraham is called on to sacrifice him. That’s not a reversal by God, Father Bart said—it’s Abraham’s faith “taken to its outer extremes.” It’s based on love, as in Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:37, “he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” The sacrifice is based on love on both sides, he said, and when Abraham had shown his faith, God rescued Isaac.
Mary, too, had to journey with her Son to the place of sacrifice. Jesus, of course, does die, but then comes the resurrection.
“We see both in Abraham’s story and in Mary’s story, that on the mountain, God provides,” Father Bart said. “The long and arduous climb has been worth it. Mary is led to the foot of the cross, there to experience the love, the sorrow and the generosity of the Father and so enter most intimately into God’s sacrifice and life.
“We too are called to heed her call to do ‘whatever He tells you’ [the theme of this year’s institute], not for His sake but for ours, so that in joining ourselves more fully in the gift of the Father’s only-begotten Son, we may also share in the joy of the Holy Spirit that filled Mary’s heart on the day of the resurrection.”
In his earlier talk, on Mark’s gospel, Father Bart led the audience through the text as a fulfillment of Isaiah chapter 63, especially verse 19, “O that You would rend the heavens and come down.” In Mark, the heavens open in the very first episode, Jesus’ baptism by John, and the Holy Spirit descends on Him (1:10).
“By the end of Chapter 1, unlike any other evangelist, Mark has hammered home the power and authority of Jesus” through healings and exorcisms, Father Bart said, and the next few chapters are taken up with challenges to this authority and illustrations of faith or lack of faith on the part of outside observers.
But in Chapter 8, the midpoint of the gospel, the emphasis changes once Peter has answered Jesus’ question “who do you say that I am” by saying “You are the Christ.” From then on, Jesus is dealing with his own disciples, and in particular their misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship: taking up the cross. Opposition now comes from within Jesus’ own circle.
“You [Peter and the others] got the first part of the message. Good for you,” Father Bart said. “Stay tuned for the second part of the message. The most important part is still to come.”
The point is made in the story of the rich man in chapter 10, who wants to know what he must do to be saved. He has always kept the commandments, but Jesus tells him to give everything to the poor, and he goes away sad.
“He was a good person. He had done everything right,” Father Bart said. “Jesus loves us so much that He invites us to take the next step.”
“It is not just that we need to do some pruning and housekeeping. It’s that Jesus needs to do some pruning and housekeeping in us.”
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