Fr. Franco's Letters

The Flame: March/April 2022

Dear Readers of the Flame,

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes: For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29) The context of this short verse is the mystery of the Gentiles welcoming the gospel of Christ while many of the Jews are rejecting Christ. The context is verse 28, which reads, In respect to the gospel, they (the Jews) are enemies on your account; but in respect to election, they are beloved because of the patriarchs. God has not written off the Jews. He does not stop calling them.

I share this principle in order to help us understand the gifts and call that we have as Catholic Christians who have experienced the charisms of the Holy Spirit. I believe the same principle applies. The gifts and call are irrevocable. This truth is both comforting and frightening.signs

What do I mean? It can be comforting to know that the charisms of the Holy Spirit can be active when I minister to others even if I missed my prayer time or had an argument with my spouse. If God has given us a gift, the Lord will use us even if we do not feel “spiritual” or sense God’s nearness. We must remember, we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If we have a gift of healing, we act in faith, laying aside our own personal feelings and weaknesses. We simply want to serve those who seek help in their needs.

The truth that “the gifts and call of God are irrevocable” can also be sobering and even frightening. People can effectively minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. They can exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit that genuinely touch lives. However, ministerial effectiveness does not validate their personal walk with the Lord. People can be in serious sin and still do good in the name of the Lord.

We see this in the Old Testament. Solomon was the successor to King David. As a young King, sensing his inadequacy, he prayed for an understanding heart (I Kings 3:9) and God granted him unrivaled wisdom. Solomon would go on to organize the Kingdom, expand its borders and lead it into prosperity. He built the Temple and organized its liturgical worship. Solomon enthralled hearers near and far with his wisdom. However, Solomon had many foreign wives (around 700 wives and 300 concubines!) These wives turned his heart toward their idols. Solomon was not completely with the Lord. His gift of wisdom was evident. However, his sin would bear bad fruit in the next generation. (I Kings 11:1-13)

Similar things have seen this in the history of the Church. At times, corrupt leaders have accurately passed on the faith and celebrated the sacraments. They did not benefit from these. Perhaps they scandalized more people than they helped save. However, their ministrations still made God’s grace present. Even in our own day, especially among some of those who pioneered televangelism, there have been those who preached with power and exercised true gifts of the Holy Spirit, but lived scandalous lives. They misused funds and sinned against the sixth and ninth commandments.

The Church recognizes this phenomenon and constantly calls each person to grow in holiness. And when the Church investigates a person’s life for canonization, the Church does not give undue attention to any signs and wonders the person may have performed during their earthly ministry. Those signs and wonders are not validations of holiness. They are gifts of the Spirit given to benefit the common good. The Church investigates whether a person has lived a heroically virtuous life.

St. Paul reaffirms this truth when he exhorts the Corinthian Church to earnestly seek spiritual gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:31 and 14:1) However, in between those two verses, St. Paul penned one of the most famous passages in the bible: 1 Corinthians 13. In this discourse on Christian love he reminds us:
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2-3)
He goes on to describe love as patient, kind, not jealous, rejoicing, not with wrongdoing, but with the truth.

Finally, Jesus himself warned us:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
The clear teaching of our Lord is somewhat frightening. Somehow, we can prophesy, do mighty deeds and drive out demons in the name of the Lord and miss the boat! Signs and wonders and calling out “Lord, Lord…” take a second place to the will of the Father. And what is the will of the Father? Our Lord’s words from the end of Matthew 7 are preceded by chapters 5 through 7, the Sermon on the Mount. These words call us to a purity of heart, a simplicity of lifestyle and a love that reaches out to one’s enemies.

This does not mean that we should stop our earnest seeking of spiritual gifts. However, we must more earnestly pursue holiness, virtue and charity. Spiritual gifts are effective tools for evangelizing and building up the body of Christ. Their time is now and they will not be needed in eternity. Purity of heart, virtue and charity actually pave the road to eternal life with God who is love. (I John 4:8)

Do you have a spiritual gift? Cultivate it for the glory of God and service of his people. However, make sure you are pursuing holiness of life and charity toward friend and foe. This is the aroma of Christ that attracts those open to Christ and nauseates those who oppose Him. (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). As we enter the season of Lent, let us pursue the Lord with purity of heart! As we die to our sins and fears we will rise with Him who has conquered sin, Satan and death!

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