Pentecost: Lighting the World on Fire with the New Evangelization

There is a scene in the 1991 film, Backdraft, when Robert De Niro’s character asks Donald Sutherland’s character (an imprisoned pyromaniac), “what do you want to do to the whole world Ronald”, and he replies “burn it all.”

If you have never see the movie, I encourage you to see because it’s a great film, however the reason why I quote this film is because as Catholic Christians living in the world, we should want to do the same thing to the world, but in a Evangelistic way. We should be seeking to light the world on fire with the light of the Holy Spirit.

As Catholics, we should be spiritual fire-starters for Jesus Christ and His Church. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled” (Lk 12:49). Obviously, I am not talking about starting literal fires, but I am speaking about playing with the fire of Pentecost and the fire that we receive in the Sacrament of Confirmation. As Catholics, it is our fundamental duty to evangelize the world by playing with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

At the direction of a good friend of mine, a few years ago, I read George Weigel’s book – Evangelical Catholicism. His understanding of the Catholic Church and the deep reform (not doctrinal reform) that is needed for the Church in the 21st century is prophetic, and remember we are only at the beginning of it. If you have never read it, I would highly encourage you to do so.

In Chapter 1, there is a section called – Pentecost, Again. He begins this section by stating that through the pontificates of Pope St. John XXIII (and the Second Vatican Council) and Pope St. John Paul II, a new Pentecost is on the horizon in the Catholic Church. The marching orders that will lead this new Pentecost is the New Evangelization.

In his encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, Pope St. John Paul II says this –

God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.

Now this is no easy task, especially in a Church that seems to be somewhat conflicted with herself today, but if the mission can be met, it means that we who take on this great call will have to play with fire.

To encourage you to “play with fire”, here are some dynamic and powerful quotes from Evangelical Catholicism and the section on the new Pentecost –

Quoting Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger –

“the Holy Spirit is fire; whoever does not want to be burned should not come near him.” This fire…”is an “inimitable” part of the “relationship between Christ, Holy Spirit, and Church.””

Fire of the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ –

“The fire of the Holy Spirit purifies, inspires, and fuses men and women together into a new human community, the Church. Through each of its members, and in them as a whole, the Church is the Body of Christ on earth.”

Fire of the Holy Spirit, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger  –

“Faith is a tongue of fire that burns us and melts us so that ever more it is true: I am no longer I…When we yield to the burning fire of the Holy Spirit, being Christian becomes comfortable only as first glance…Only when we do not fear the tongue of fire and the storm it brings with it does the Church become the icon of the Holy Spirit. And only then does she open the world to the light of God.”

Evangelical Catholicism is Not Easy –

“The cultural Catholicism of the past was “comfortable” because it fit neatly within the ambient public culture, causing little chafing between one’s life “in the Church” and one’s life “in the world.”…Evangelical Catholicism does not seek to “get along”; it seeks to convert.”

Evangelical Catholicism in the Church –

“…Lukewarm Catholicism has no future: submitting to the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit is not longer optional…Evangelical requires a generosity about time from the laity, who must make time amid the rush of postmodern life for a deeper encounter with Christ than that permitted by an hour’s worth of weekly worship…more attention to sacramental preparation and sacramental discipline…”

Evangelical Catholicism, Community, and Holiness –

“Evangelical Catholicism builds up the community of the faithful not for the sake of the community but for the sake of a common reception of the mysteries of the faith, which in turn become the fonts of grace…The tongues of from which the Church is formed thus become the fire of mission by which the world is set ablaze…Evangelical Catholicism calls the entire Church to holiness for the sake of mission.”

I don’t know about you, but these words from George Weigel get me fired up…pun intended! As Catholics, it is time, now more than ever before, for us to light the world on fire with the love of Jesus Christ and the Church. Find strength in the Sacraments, especially the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist – they unite us with Jesus Christ and each other, the Body of Christ.

In the book, The Spirit of Catholicism (another great text!) Karl Adam says, “Twelve simple, uneducated fishermen revolutionized the world, and that with no other instrument than their new faith and their readiness to die for that faith.”

If the Twelve Apostles could do this, imagine what we can do with 2,000 years of Scripture and Tradition behind us. My fellow Catholics – Go! Evangelize! And the set the world on fire

Understanding Apologetics: How to Defend Your Faith

This is an article that had been on my heart and mind to write for some time since we are often asked if we will offer “apologetic classes” at the parish. It first appeared in the March 5, 2017 edition of Saint Mary Magdalene’s Parish Bulletin, Vidi Dominum (Latin for – “I have seen the Lord.” The words of St. Mary Magdalene to the Apostles [John 20:18]). With permission, I am able to provide this article to you here.

In a world filled with buzzwords, there is one on the lips of many Catholics I run into. That buzzword is apologetics. Recently, a lot of parishioners have been requesting that more apologetics classes be offered here at St. Mary Magdalene. Before I address that, we should first ask whether we really understand what this word means – what apologetics is, and what it isn’t.

What is Apologetics?

The word apologetics comes from the Greek root word, apologia, which means to defend. In Ancient Greece, it was referred to as the formal way one would defend a belief, explanation, or argument for one’s philosophy or religion. Although we might associate this term with the word, apologize, it does mean to say that we are sorry for what we believe, or that we are sorry for offending someone because of our beliefs.

The term apologia cannot only be found in the New Testament (Acts 22:1 and 1 Peter 3:15), but also in other documents in ancient history, such as The Apology of Socrates by the Greek philosopher Plato. In this text, he makes a defense for Socrates when accused of wrongdoing. Furthermore, we also see this word in the Early Church writings of St. Irenaeus (Against the Heresies), St. Justin Martyr (The First Apology), and, most notably, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp, St. Ignatius of Antioch, and Tertullian, among others. In more modern times, we have G.K. Chesterton, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Frank Sheed, Peter Kreeft, Jimmy Akin, and Arizona’s own, Trent Horn.

Although the aforementioned Early Church Fathers defended their newfound Catholic faith and beliefs to a pagan culture of non-believers, Catholics today are in a similar position. We are constantly being required to explain and defend our Catholic faith to many non-believers, even to those who were raised Catholic but were never truly taught their Catholic faith correctly. Many people have left the Catholic Church as a result of having been poorly catechized. Even I was not catechized correctly as a young child and adolescent. I first had to learn the truth before having the courage to defend it.

Preaching of Saint Peter by Masolino da Panicale (The Brancacci Chapel in Florence, Italy).

For us today, and for our older brothers and sisters in the past, the battle cry of defending our Catholic faith should be centered on St. Peter’s words – “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). In his book, Reasons to Believe – How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Faith, Scott Hahn says the following in reference to St. Peter’s words:

 “We should…always “be prepared” to explain the reasons why we believe what we believe. That statement assumes our beliefs are defensible on rational grounds, and that we’re willing to spend a lifetime preparing to defend what we profess in the articles of faith…as Christians, we have the sweet obligation of coming to know them and coming to their defense as often as we please. There is no shortage of opportunity of study, contemplation, and evangelization. Wherever we go, we are in God’s presence and in His world. And in most places we go we can take a good book along for stolen moments of study. It’s the work of a lifetime.”

 Always be prepared

So we might be asking ourselves at this point: How can we make sure that we are always prepared?

First, we must be people of prayer. The greatest apologists in the history of the Church were those striving to be saints. Their work as apologists was secondary. The best way to become a saint is to strive for holiness and to converse with God through prayer. A consistent daily and lively prayer life is fundamental for anyone who wants to learn and defend the Catholic faith. A good place to start with prayer is attending Sunday Mass and spending time with Jesus in Adoration. If you can make daily Mass, that will benefit you even more.

Second, we must come to have a good understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches on the fundamental articles of faith. Although the Catholic faith is vast and contains a wealth of knowledge, starting with the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, amplified with strong works of biblical and theological learning is fundamental. You can read and learn on your own, but many people find it overwhelming to pick up the Bible or the Catechism. I have heard it here at the parish many times.

Do We Offer Apologetics Classes?

In a recent Flocknote survey that I sent out, I received numerous requests to offer “apologetics classes.” Although I understand what people are asking, the simple response to the question above is, “We already do!” Through the Porta Fidei Adult Faith Formation Program, we have already provided Bible studies such as Genesis to Jesus, The Gospel of Matthew, Book of Revelation; the Catholicism Series, sessions on the Mass and the Eucharist, Consecration to Jesus through Mary, Prayer, and many others.

Third, we must realize what apologetics is and isn’t. Apologetics is simply, as I stated above, the ability to defend one’s faith, but more than that, apologetics should remove false notions of Catholicism. We should be able to explain to people, through reason, what Catholicism is, and what it is not. Many people have been given a false perception of the Church through no fault of their own.

Apologetics seeks to bring people to Jesus Christ through conversion. It is not about bringing someone to Christ by force. Apologetics is not about winning or trying to recruit people to the faith. People must be open to hearing the truth of Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church in order for conversion to take place, and the Holy Spirit will take care of that.

Lastly, Apologetics is not just answering questions or giving quick answers to questions asked by our friends and coworkers. Many people I encounter just want some rote answer to a question (although memorization does have its place too). However, that often does nothing but give a cold response when so much more could be achieved. Our sessions will help you understand Catholicism as a whole, not just give you answers to questions your neighbor might ask you.

Giving a quick answer is not what St. Peter meant in his letter. St. Peter, along with Jesus, wants us to be well-trained Christians with minds and hearts formed in love, humility, and generosity. Scott Hahn says in the aforementioned book,

“We’re not looking for the quick comeback…we’re looking for answers that will satisfy – first ourselves and then others. Apologetics is a theological art that must rest on a firm foundation of theological science. If our defense does not flow from deep preparation, deep Christian formation, it will be unconvincing at best, but merely offensive at worst.”  

Saint Paul delivering the Areopagus Sermon in Athens by Raphael, 1515.

 To defend our faith is about engaging the culture in which we live, actually that’s the mission of the Catholic Church – to engage the culture, to be counter-cultural, and to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Each person we encounter in our daily lives is different. We must learn to develop relationships with each of them. One of the best sort of apologetic “arguments” is giving your personal testimony to those who question our beliefs. Cardinal Avery Dulles once said,

“The apologetics of personal testimony is particularly suited to the genius of Catholicism. In the act of the Catholic faith, reliance on testimony goes out indivisibly to Christ and to the Church through which he continues his mission in the world. Such testimony invites us not only to individual conversion but to communion with the whole body of believers.”

 Suggestions for Further Reading

Below are five books that I suggest for further reading. It’s my hope that if you have not attended one of our Porta Fidei Adult Faith Formation sessions in the past, that you will seek out what we will offer in the months and years ahead, in order that you will have the proper formation, and as St. Peter states, “Always be prepared to make a defense.”

  1. Reasons to Believe – How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Faith, Scott Hahn.
  2. Theology for Beginners and Theology and Sanity, Frank Sheed.
  3. Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Karl Keating
  4. The Fundamentals of the Faith, Peter Kreeft
  5. Handbooks of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, Jr.

Sources:

“”Be A Catholic Apologist – Without Apology”. Ignatius Insight, n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

Hahn, Scott. Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Faith. New York: Doubleday, 2007. Print.

“Starting Out as an Apologist.” Catholic Answers, n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

Sunday Homilies and Saturday Morning Speaker Series on iTunes and Google Play Music

As I have done in the past, I want to share with all of you some exciting news coming out of the parish that I work for in Gilbert, Arizona. Our parishioners as well as all of you can now download our Sunday homilies and Saturday Morning Speaker Series through iTunes and Google Play Music. We have been offering this service since July, when I first wrote about it. Every month our download numbers increase, and although it’s not about numbers, I felt the desire to share this information again, especially since I gained many new followers in the month of October.

For the longest time, we have offered the homilies on our website for our parishioners (and visitors to the website), but now using iTunes and Google Play, a person can download the homilies (and the Saturday Morning Speaker Series) to their device and listen to them anytime and anywhere. I hope that many of you will take the time to listen to the great preaching many of us here on a weekly and daily basis. I hope that you will also share it with your family and friends.

Francis.Benedict - SMM Homilies meme

For those of you that don’t have a device and just want to listen to the homilies via the website, click here.

For those of you that prefer iTunes, and more than likely own Apple products, click here.

For those of you that prefer Google Play, and more than likely own an Android, click here.

Listening to St. Mary Magdalene’s Sunday Homilies…and Some Advice from Mother Angelica

As I have done in the past, I want to share with all of you some exciting news coming out of the parish that I work for in Gilbert, Arizona. Our parishioners as well as all of you can now download our Sunday homilies through iTunes and Google Play Music. It’s something we have talked about doing for a couple of years, but in the last month or so, we figured out how to properly do it and are happy to offer the homilies to not only the Catholic world, but to anyone that wants to listen to them.

For the longest time, we have offered the homilies on our website for our parishioners (and visitors to the website), but now using iTunes and Google Play, a person can download the homilies to their device and listen to them anytime and anywhere. I hope that many of you will take the time to listen to the great preaching many of us here on a weekly and daily basis. I hope that you will also share it with your family and friends.

Francis.Benedict - SMM Homilies meme

For those of you that don’t have a device and just want to listen to the homilies via the website, click here.

For those of you that prefer iTunes, and more than likely own Apple products, click here.

For those of you that prefer Google Play, and more than likely own an Android, click here.

To end this very short post today, here is some motherly advice on ‘Listening to Sermons’ from none than Mother Angelica –

“I never saw such a bored group of people as the looks of you all listening to a sermon. If I was the speaker, I would be so discouraged. Some of you are asleep, some of you are bored. It’s distressing because you are not listening. Some of you should try some public speaking, and we’ll respond the way you do at Mass. What an un-Christian attitude. You can’t tell me you’re listening when your eyes are closed and your face is taut. Don’t shut off the Word, because you’re going to miss a lot of graces in your life. Don’t say, ‘I’ve heard all of this before.’ Listen to what the Spirit wants to say to you right now. How uncharitable you are, to sit there like a sphinx while the poor priest is talking.

Now, maybe you don’t like his interpretation. Fine. You don’t have to like it. There are a lot of speakers that I don’t like. But there have been times where the worst speaker will say something that hits me like a rock. So please don’t sit there with a Christian Science grin. Wake up and listen. Really listen! There is no sermon that you cannot get something out of. I don’t care who gives it. It’s not what they are saying. It’s the Word! You need to ask only one question when that homily begins: ‘What is Jesus going to say to me today?’” (Taken from: Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality).

675th Blog Post 

My Fellow Catholics – Are You Hungry For More?

Wednesday night, June 15 at 9:00pm Eastern Time, 6:00pm here in Arizona, I will be on the Fiat Ministry Network for an interview with Al Smith on his show, Hungry for More.

The Fiat Ministry Network is a Catholic Internet Broadcasting TV Network which encourages us to to say “Yes” to Jesus Christ, just as the Blessed Virgin Mary said “Yes” when the Angel Gabriel came to her at the Annunciation announcing the coming of the Messiah.

Hungry-for-More-Episode-14-Tom-Perna-320x180

It’s my hope that many of you will be able to watch the show via the Internet. To watch the interview LIVE, just click on the Fiat Ministry Network above or bookmark it today.

And, please pray for me. 

Are You Hungry For More?

Wednesday night, October 7 (Our Lady of the Rosary) at 9:00pm Eastern Time, 6:00pm here in Arizona, I will be on the Fiat Ministry Network for an interview with Al Smith on his show, Hungry for More.

The Fiat Ministry Network is a Catholic Internet Broadcasting TV Network which encourages us to to say “Yes” to Jesus Christ, just as the Blessed Virgin Mary said “Yes” when the Angel Gabriel came to her at the Annunciation announcing the coming of the Messiah.

Hungry-for-More-Episode-14-Tom-Perna-320x180

It’s my hope that many of you will be able to watch the show via the Internet. To watch the interview LIVE, just click on the Fiat Ministry Network above or bookmark it today.

And, please pray for me. 

Into the Breach – Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s Letter to the Catholic Men in the Diocese of Phoenix

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…” is a line spoken by Henry V at the beginning of Act III from William Shakespeare’s aforementioned play. This was the first thing that entered my mind yesterday afternoon after seeing the title of the newly published Apostolic Exhortation, Into the Breach, written by the Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. Just as King Henry V rallies his men to battle, so too has Bishop Olmsted sought to rally the Catholic Men of the Diocese of Phoenix with this letter.

Knowing that it was about to be released, I was excited to read it quickly, not realizing that I was going to read in within hours of its initial release for the simple reason – I could not put it down! As a Catholic man, this letter says to me that there is so much more that I should be doing in my daily life. It makes me realize that some of the decisions I chose in my youth were not the best for me. It helps me realize that I am not alone, that other men, “bands of brothers,” are fighting just as I am fighting. Finally, it makes me realize that even in dark times, the light of Christ’s hope shines for all to see.

This Apostolic Exhortation is truly a rallying call to not only the Catholic men of the Diocese of Phoenix, but to all Catholic men in every diocese in the Universal Church. The two words that came to mind when I read this letter are – Boldness and Fortitude. Bishop Olmsted speaks to his “spiritual sons” in the way that we need to hear it. Using analogies such as an athlete, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the British Spy Agent, James Bond, the Ordinary of Phoenix articulates what true and real masculinity should look like today.

Using the words of Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Francis, and other Popes and Saints, Bishop Olmsted examines all aspects of the masculine nature. In a time when the culture is trying to destroy masculinity and femininity like never before, this letter stands as a direct order to the men of this diocese, and all dioceses, to stand up, to speak up, to be boldly Catholic, and to do battle against Satan and all his allies. The opening paragraph of the letter states,

“I begin this letter with a clarion call and clear charge to you, my sons and brothers in Christ: Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.”

This opening paragraph mirrors what I have been telling my now RCIA Catechumens and Candidates since the beginning of August. The Church has always been at war with spiritual forces, and at times, physical forces, but for us today in the early years of the 21st century, we are engaging in a specific battle that is part of the overall war. To place it in context of the Second World War, we are in the Battle of the Bulge. Just as the Battle of the Bulge was a German offensive, the battle we fight today finds its offense in the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s. As the Allies fought the offensive; so we must do the same today.

With this all being said, let me entice your spiritual appetite a little more to personally pick up and read this Apostolic Exhortation by quoting some points that stand out for me, although there are many more that I could share –

“A true Catholic man stakes his life on this proposition – that all is made new in Jesus Christ.”

“Be confident! Be bold! Forward, into the breach!

“We truly encounter Christ at Mass when we receive the very gift of Himself in the Eucharist. For this reason, I call upon my brother priests to awaken the sense of transcendence in the hearts of men through reverent and beautiful liturgy, helping men to rediscover Jesus in the Eucharist each and every Sunday…Teaching men to understand the fullness and power of the Mass must be a top priority.”

“Men, we must never believe that holiness and courage are things of the past! You and I are called to a holiness that shows Christ to the world as our forefathers have done countless times throughout history, following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

“Do you, my sons, have true brothers in Christ in your life?”

“Next, let us seek to understand more deeply man’s calling to spousal love. Every man is made to live as a husband and a father in some way: “God assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man.” Each man is called to commit and give of himself completely.”

To read the Apostolic Exhortation, Into the Breach, click on the link and you will be brought to the main page where you find English and Spanish translations. I would also encourage you to watch the trailer as well. It looks like there is going to a video/film aspect of this letter. When I find out more about it, I will write about it on my blog.

Pray that this letter is well received here in the Diocese of Phoenix and that Catholic men will have the courage to subtract the things in their lives leading them away from Jesus, and add those things that will bring them closer to Him. Pray for Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and all the Bishops of the Catholic Church. Amen.

St. Jerome…Pray for Us.