Fr. Franco's Letters

The Flame: July/August 2022

Dear Readers of the Flame,

The theme for this year’s conference comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In all likelihood, it was his earliest writing that would end up being part of the New Testament. And since St. Paul’s letters were the earliest writings of the New Testament, this first letter to the Thessalonians would most likely be earliest part of the New Testament.
Our theme comes from 5:16-18, which reads: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Verse 19 is worth adding. I believe this is why it is possible to do what verses 16-18 commands: Do not quench the Spirit.
It was almost 48 years ago that I attended my first prayer meeting. It was December of 1974 and I was home on break from Ohio State. George, co-worker/acquaintance from the restaurant where I worked picked me up one evening and took me to a home in Rocky River, Ohio.

The George I knew in high school partied a lot. However, the George I was working with on Christmas break was filled with joy and loved to talk about the Lord. I had made some steps toward God in my final year of high school and the beginning of my time at Ohio State. However, George had something I didn’t. I was intrigued.

George did not tell me much about the prayer meeting beforehand. I supposed he didn’t need to. I couldn’t run away. He was my wheels.

The meeting began with some singing and I was familiar with the songs. Joining in was no problem. However, as people began to raise their hands, praise the Lord between songs and pray in tongues, I began to feel uncomfortable. However, it was an uncomfortableness that came from God. Now I would call it conviction. Deep down I knew that if God was real, why shouldn’t we praise Him? Why shouldn’t He be our all?

Their rejoicing, their prayer, their giving thanks in all circumstances made sense to me. I knew that they were not quenching the Spirit but, impelled by the Spirit, proclaimed the praises of God. I was attracted to what they had. I also was a bit afraid of jumping in with both feet. I knew that if I did, everything would be different for me: friends, goals, habits.

It would be a number of months later, on a Life in the Spirit weekend retreat at the St. Joseph Christian Life Center, that I did take the plunge. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and was prayed with to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. My initial response was simply to sit and give praise and thanks to God. I did not have a large charismatic vocabulary. With childlike faith, hope and love I simply said over and over, Thank you Jesus! Praise you Jesus! Alleluia! Glory to You, Lord! Without being self-conscious, I simply continued to verbally praise the Lord. The Holy Spirit had pulled me into a current of praise and thanks to the Lord.

Like many of us, as I grew older life became more complex. Responding to God’s call, I entered the seminary after my second year of college. After two more years of college and four years of major seminary, I was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Cleveland. In my 40 years of priesthood (tempus fugit-time flies!), I have often gone back to my early experiences in the charismatic renewal. They are touchstones that still nourish my life of faith and remind me that I need to continue to: Rejoice in the Lord. Pray without ceasing. And in all circumstances give thanks. For this is truly the will of God for us in Christ Jesus. And I certainly need to remember not to quench the Holy Spirit.

How our world needs our rejoicing! Though our times are relatively prosperous (I realize that many of us will be tightening our belts a bit more this year), there is a lack of joy. Perhaps these times are reminding us of that old adage, Money cannot buy happiness. We need the Lord, our true joy. Rejoicing in Him fills the God shaped hole in our hearts that cannot be filled with pleasure or things.

In a world that is often divided, we need to be praying. As we pray in the Second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation:
Even more, by your Spirit you move human hearts that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries may join hands, and peoples seek to meet together. By the working of your power it comes about, O Lord, that hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect.
The work of unity is a work of the Holy Spirit. Our prayers lay the groundwork for this kind of unity. Our prayers also prepare our hearts to endure the misunderstanding that comes by living in the Spirit. They help us to witness to a love that is stronger that anger. The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to love others even when our love is not returned.

Finally, our world needs our giving thanks. Many people see the world as divided up between those who have and those who have not. Our gift of thanks to God for what we have and especially for whose we are, should witness to others as to what is truly important. We realize that we were delivered from our futile way of life by the precious blood of Jesus Christ so that all our faith and hope might be in God. (see I Peter 1:18-21) How grateful we ought to be!

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks…These are not exhortations by which one tries to escape the tensions and tragedies of our times. These directives help us to meet our hurting world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us relearn these simple practices and be strengthened by the Spirit to give clear witness to our world’s Lord, Jesus Christ.

In Christ,
Fr. Bob Franco
Bishop’s Delegate to Catholic Renewal Ministries