Author: Peter Herbeck

‘Walk by the Spirit’ in the Year Ahead

This letter originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ January 2020 newsletter.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Ralph has asked me to share a few thoughts about a resolution we can make that has the potential to yield abundant fruit in the year ahead!

This is the time of year that many people make new resolutions, most of which are attempts to break old, less-healthy habits, and to begin to build positive ones. Often the resolutions are focused on getting healthy, developing the right eating habits, exercising more consistently, living a more balanced life, and in some cases, attempting to align behavior and thought-life with higher values and goals.

I’d like to challenge all of us to make a life-changing resolution: to embrace St. Paul’s exhortation to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). To “walk by the Spirit” means to have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and in its simplest expression, fellowship with the Spirit means to talk to the Holy Spirit.

That all may seem obvious, but let me ask you a few questions. When was the last time you spoke to the Holy Spirit? Can you recognize His voice? Do you live with a vivid realization that God the Holy Spirit dwells in you, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19).

I’m not asking the question of whether you believe the dogmatic truth that the Holy Spirit dwells in you; I’m asking if you have a growing, maturing relationship with Him? A simple way to answer that question is to ask yourself whether you talk to the Holy Spirit on a regular, daily basis? I’m not asking the question to judge or criticize but to help us honestly take stock of whether or not we are walking in the full relationship with the Holy Spirit.

That’s important because it is the key to a healthy, vital Christian life. That relationship is what enables us to walk in virtue, to come into the promises of God, and to begin to experience the “full joy” and “full life” that Jesus promised. These graces and promises come to life in us through our relationship with the Holy Spirit.

This kind of relationship with the Holy Spirit, one that is personal and deeply rewarding, is possible because He is a person! Think about it: God the Holy Spirit dwells in you—the third person of the Trinity! For what purpose? To reveal the Father and the Son to you, personally.  St. Paul reminds us so beautifully that the “Spirit himself witnesses to our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16).

Stop to consider what’s being said here: God himself lives in you—within the deepest part of you, in your spirit. The Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, is at work in you! He comes to bear witness to your inner man, to bring convincing power to your spirit, to help you see, and to give you experiential knowledge and unshakable conviction that you are a child of God.

The Holy Spirit brings so much to us: He advocates for us, He counsels us, He literally makes us “born again,” a new creation. He is the power that makes us children of God, the one who leads us to all truth and who anoints us to carry on Jesus’ mission. Above all, He is the down payment, the first installment, the “guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph 1:14)—of “an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading” (1 Pt 1:4). He enables us to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4).

Let’s resolve to set our minds on the One who dwells within. Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21). It’s so easy to fall into the habit of thinking that God is “out their somewhere,” distant. And we try, through our prayers, to get Him interested, hoping that He will hear us, that He will draw near. Too often, we forget the fact that He couldn’t be closer to us, and that all we need to do is to turn to Him in the quiet of our hearts. That is where He is, always, every day, around the clock. He longs to meet you there, to talk with you.

To walk by the Spirit, we must talk to the Spirit. That’s how we grow. Even more, however—we must listen to the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t speak audibly—at least not very often–but He does make Himself known in ways we can understand: through subtle impressions; inspired thoughts; and encouragements, perhaps even the words or actions of others, all of which release new life and power within. To hear Him, we need to seek Him, to listen quietly for his “still, small voice” in the silence of our hearts. If we seek to engage Him, we will find Him; if we listen attentively, we will begin to hear and recognize his voice. The power He releases is often small, but real, and it produces the fruit of genuine transformation.

To talk with Him isn’t complicated; it’s simple. It may be difficult at first because we’re not used to it. Begin with small steps. Make a point to set aside a few minutes four or five times a day, just to speak with Him. Engage Him with simple words: “Holy Spirit, I love you.” “Please help me hear and understand You.” “Thank You for the way You love me.” “Help me understand what You think and what You feel about me, my life, and my family.”  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Let the words flow from your heart, not in formal, lengthy prayers, but with childlike simplicity. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

If we resolve to go deeper in the Spirit—to engage Him from the heart on a daily basis, developing a more consistent and simple habit of prayer, He will change us. This is the place of healing and transformation, the place of freedom and life, the place where we begin to touch the full joy Jesus promised.

This is the only kind of resolution that ultimately will bring the personal transformation we long for, a transformation that is strong enough to bring healing to a deeply divided, confused, and lost world.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful ones, and enkindle the fire of your love!

Archbishop Chaput Cautions Faithful Regarding Fr. James Martin’s Claims

(CNS photo/Paul Haring.)

Dear Readers,

We want to encourage you to visit CatholicPhilly.com to read a statement issued by Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap, yesterday regarding some of the claims of Fr. James Martin, SJ.

We believe Chaput is the first major archbishop in the US to publicly address these concerns regarding Fr. James Martin. His statement is a step in the right direction; it definitely is much better than silence.

In particular, we wish to draw your attention to the clarity Archbishop Chaput offers in the following statements:

  1. Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church.
  2. Authentic conversion and discipleship necessarily include living a life of chastity.
  3. Justice and mercy require that LGBTQ men and women hear the truth about human sexuality spoken clearly and confidently.

You can read the entirety of Archbishop Chaput’s statement at CatholicPhilly.com. Let’s hope this move encourages and emboldens other solid bishops to also “be not afraid” to speak the truth on such matters.

In Christ,

Peter Herbeck

What the Spirit is Saying to the Church Today

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This letter originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ August 2019 newsletter.

Dear Friends,

We’re living through challenging times. Even in the midst of this season of “severe mercy” that has come upon the Church, we have much to celebrate. It is the Lord who is purifying and expressing His covenant love and faithfulness to us: “Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten” (Rv 3:19). Jesus is purifying His Church, exposing sin, and applying a redemptive discipline, not simply to punish or to reveal our shame, but to produce a response of zealous repentance. He wants change, radical change of heart, especially, but not exclusively, in her leaders.

I recently was praying through the seven letters to the churches in the book of Revelation. There is much to learn in them about the Lord, how deeply concerned He is about the health of His Church, the direct way He identifies the spiritual sicknesses in her, and the specific nature of His diagnosis and remedies. And He is clear about what kind of response He expects from His Church, and the consequences that will follow if they resist His leadership and refuse to repent.

I really believe we’re living through a similar kind of serious pastoral intervention by the Lord. As a result, the letters can provide helpful insight as we seek to understand our own situation before the Lord. One thing is clear, the Church today is crippled by some of the same maladies that Jesus addresses in the letters.

To the Church in Sardis, He says: “I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead” (Rv 3:1). Wow! What a direct diagnosis! What a wonderful physician! The body is dying. It looks good on the outside, riding high on its reputation, but inside it is dead and dying. His remedy is: “Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of God” (Rv 3:2). Nothing escapes the penetrating gaze of Jesus the Lord. How many churches look good on the outside and have a good reputation, but are not producing mature fruit? Is it a community that is living out the Great Commandment, growing in radical love of God and neighbor? Are they passionately engaged in the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19)? Jesus’ instruction to them is clear: “Remember then what you have received and heard; keep that, and repent” (Rv 3:3). The consequence of not responding are clear. “If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Rv 3:3).

To the Church in Thyatira he says: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance” (Rv 2:19). This was a church that was alive in many ways, yet Jesus identifies a serious problem among them. Their leaders are tolerating the false prophetess Jezebel, who is “teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Rv 2:20). The leaders, and to some degree the church as a whole, was tolerant of false teaching and immoral, idolatrous behavior in the community. The community was being defiled by serious sin that was profoundly offensive to God, and if not repented of, would lead to eternal death. How many parishes in our countries could be given the exact same diagnosis? How many bishops of dioceses, pastors of parishes, and rectors of seminaries have tolerated false teaching by those who beguile the sheep? How many leaders, even lay leaders, never say a word out of the fear of men?

It is instructive to note that Jesus said that He “gave her (Jezebel) time to repent, but she refused to repent of her immorality” (Rv 2:21). When she refused, He made the consequences clear: “Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings, and I will strike her children dead” (Rv 2:22). Again, wow! That is Jesus shepherding His Church. Listen closely to His diagnosis, His remedies, and His warnings. This is the voice of Love. It is not harsh, mean, judgmental, intolerant, or hateful; it is truth, coming from a heart of perfect Love.

There are extremely important lessons here that Jesus is teaching us. We all have areas of service and responsibility that Jesus has given to us—our marriages and families, our businesses, parishes, dioceses, institutions of learning, etc. They all belong to Him. We belong to Him. He has entrusted them to us and expects us to follow His leadership in exercising our responsibility over them.

How many priests and bishops, and how many of us, have been given “time to repent” but haven’t? How many of us have decided to “go along to get along” or have failed to act because of inordinate self-love, a fear of not being liked, or to avoid conflict? Jesus came to the false prophetess in mercy, but when she ignored Him, He applied an appropriate remedy: a severe mercy. The purpose of His loving judgment is to remove all that hinders love.

To follow in Jesus’ footsteps takes courage, especially today. But we should all take heart. Jesus is zealous to not only root out sin, but to forgive us and provide us with the strength we need to love as He loves in every situation.

Jesus’ ultimate concern is to do what it takes to bring each one of us home to the Father, and to share with us the riches of His own glory. To those who conquer, He promises great rewards!

It is a great blessing for us to be living in these difficult days. It provides us opportunities to bear witness to the One we love, to receive His grace to join the army of loyal friends and faithful witnesses who “conquered him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, because they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Rv 12:11) May these words someday be said of each one of us. Come, Holy Spirit!

‘Keeping Our Heads in All Situations’

 

The following letter from Peter Herbeck originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ February 2019 newsletter, which you can view here.

Dear Friends,

I’ve been thinking and praying for all of you—all of us—who are living through these unprecedented times for the Church. These are chaotic and destabilizing times, filled with sorrow, anger, confusion, and fear for many people. It is without a doubt a time of great testing for all of us.

One of the constant questions I get from people is, “How do I respond to this? What should I do?” A great deal of helpful practical advice has been given on how to help the leaders of the Church, bishops, and priests to cooperate with this time of purification. But more needs to be said about how we can, as St. Paul puts it, “keep our heads in all situations” (2 Tm 4:5), especially in times of hardship and great testing. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles is a great help in times like these.

Keeping the big picture in mind is key to helping us live above the circumstances and to see in the trials great opportunity to grow in maturity as a disciple. St. Peter exhorts us to “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (2 Pt 4:12). All of us are being proved, tested by the crisis in the Church. This “fiery ordeal” is a self-inflicted wound, the result of serious failures and scandalous behavior of leadership.

The scandalous behavior is a shock to the system, but it shouldn’t ultimately be a surprise or too strange for us to understand. Jesus told us that we would have great tribulations in this world and that we would see and experience scandal, the kind witnessed even among the twelve apostles. Among Jesus’ closest friends, those He knew best, the ones He trusted the most: one betrayed Him and another denied even knowing Him, at the moment Jesus needed them most. Sin, failure, and betrayal among leaders is scandalous, but it shouldn’t ultimately take us by surprise.

As disciples, we know, or should know, human weakness. We also know that we’re living in an “evil age,” in a fallen world that is “in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19). The world is a battle field; the Church is at war, every single day, against powerful principalities and powers deployed against us. What we are seeing writ large is the same struggle we all face, the daily temptations and seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Jesus is showing mercy in this severe discipline and judgment that has come upon the Church. He is at work, shining light into the darkness, removing the chains and breaking the strongholds that are binding the Church. He’s revealing the consequences of sin, the depth to which even clergymen, religious leaders, can fall. We’re seeing the face of sin, and this, friends, is a great and severe mercy.

This is a moment for all of us to take stock, to examine our lives in the light of Jesus. He is disciplining His Church, and in that He is testing each one of us. Where are we in relationship to His call in our lives? Are we giving Him everything? Are we putting Him first? Are we fulfilling the assignment He has given to each one of us? Are we passionately, completely dedicated to bringing the kingdom and the will of the Father into every area He has given us responsibility for? Are we living in the wisdom of the eternal perspective, knowing with confidence and certainty that we, each one us, will soon be standing before the judgment seat of Christ, giving an account for what we have done with what He has given to us?

St. Paul gives us a beautiful perspective to live by, especially in these days:

“So we are always of good courage . . . whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:6, 9-10).

Despite the many trials, persecutions, punishments, disappointments, and failures in the Church, St. Paul has his eye on the climax of his life, the ultimate moment that he knows with certainty lies before him: his appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. This certainty fills Paul with what he himself describes as “the fear of the Lord,” which gives him clarity and wisdom on how to live in the moment, not matter what circumstances he is facing. The only thing that matters is to live in a way that pleases the Lord. It simplifies his life in the midst of constant complexity. It gives him wisdom, the ability to know how to live well, to live an authentically fulfilling life, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to do the will of the Father. Nothing else matters. Period.

This is where Jesus is leading the Church. He wants to awaken the fear of the Lord in all of us so that we can have wisdom. He has brought us to a point of decision: are we going to live in the fear of men, which necessarily leads to foolishness and slavery, or are we going to fear God and live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God?

Let’s not let this trial pass without harvesting everything Jesus has for us personally and corporately. I believe in my bones that the Renewal Ministries’ family was made for this moment! He is here, ready to strengthen us, to empower us to give a wholehearted and radical “yes” to Him and to do all we can to lead those He brings to us out of bondage, foolishness, and fear, into the wisdom of God.

Lord, we love You! Help us to make the most of the time and to use the resources You have given us to serve Your purpose in this hour!

Friends, we will all be dead soon. Life is short, it’s a passing shadow, let’s help each other make the most of the time for the glory of the Lord and for the salvation of souls.

In Christ,

Peter

A Time of Decision: Ireland’s Vote and the Prophecies of Pope John Paul II

The Following article originally appeared in the Renewal Ministries’ August 2018 newsletter.


“If you would like to visit a place where the symptoms of the sickness of our time are found near their furthest limits, come to Ireland. Here you will see a civilization in freefall, seeking with every breath to deny the existence of a higher authority, a people that has now sentenced itself not to look upon the cross of Christ, lest it be haunted by his rage and sorrow.” 1

These words, from Irish commentator John Waters, are in response to the people of Ireland’s choice to deny the unborn the right to life. Ireland is the first nation in history to enshrine the law through a majority vote of its people; it wasn’t imposed upon them by cultural elites or the courts.

The vote, as Waters indicates, is a manifestation of a deeper reality. This is Ireland’s desire “to deny the existence of a higher authority.” It is the “sickness of our time.” In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “God is disappearing from the human horizon.”2

For now, Ireland has made its decision to say no to Christ. Like many, I was shocked and sickened as I watched the crowds dance with glee, asserting their new-found freedom. What they were celebrating, whether they grasped it fully or not, was the euphoria of fallen human nature and its constant desire to “suppress the truth” about God. St. Paul tells us that it is through the “ungodliness and wickedness of men” that human beings refuse to honor God as God and to give Him thanks (Rom 1:18, 20).

A friend recently reminded me of how, during St. John Paul II’s historic visit to Ireland in 1979, he framed in stark prophetic terms the spiritual battle that country was facing. St. John Paul II made it clear that Ireland was at a point of decision about whether or not to follow Christ. He knew he was sent by Christ to warn Ireland and to help them see and understand that they were facing a great temptation, and that, if they fell to this temptation, it would have grave consequences for the whole Church.

“Lay people today are called to a strong Christian commitment: to permeate society with the leaven of the Gospel, for Ireland is at a point of decision in her history . . . Ireland must choose. You the present generation of Irish people must decide; your choice must be clear and your decision firm. Let the voice of your forefathers, who suffered so much to maintain their faith in Christ and thus preserve Ireland’s soul, resound today in your ears through the voice of the pope when he repeats the words of Christ:

‘What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his life?’ (Mt 16:26)

What would it profit Ireland to go the easy way of the world and suffer the loss of her own soul?

Your country seems in a sense to be living again the temptations of Christ: Ireland is being asked to prefer the ‘kingdoms of this world and their splendor’ to the Kingdom of God (Mt 4:8). Satan, the Tempter, the Adversary of Christ, will use all his might and all his deceptions to win Ireland for the way of the world. What a victory he would gain, what a blow he would inflict on the Body of Christ in the world, if he could seduce Irish men and women away from Christ. Now is the time of testing for Ireland. This generation is once more a generation of decision.
Dear sons and daughters of Ireland, pray, pray not to be led into temptation . . . pray that Ireland may not fail in the test. Pray as Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Lead us not into temptation’ . . . May Ireland never weaken in her witness, before Europe and before the whole world, to the dignity and sacredness of all human life, from conception until death.”3

Ireland has failed the test. We pray that she may repent and turn back, but for now she has fallen to the temptation of the Adversary of Christ. The majority have decided to turn a deaf ear to the warning Christ brought to them through the prophet St. John Paul II.

Of course, we know that Ireland is not alone in its acquiescence to the spirit of the age. The whole world is being drawn into this same temptation, to prefer the “kingdoms of this world and their splendor” to Christ.

The important thing for us in the Church is to heed the warnings of the prophets the Lord has sent to us. If we don’t, we too will join the throngs of the baptized who have been seduced into embracing a false freedom that calls darkness light.

What are we to do in the face of the unrelenting forces of evil that seem to have gained the upper hand in so many of the countries that once marched under the banner of Christ? Again, St. John Paul II:

“What is going to happen to the Church? . . . We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ . . . With your and my prayer it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed. How many times has the renewal of the Church sprung from blood! This time too, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong and prepared, and trust in Christ and His Mother, and be very, very assiduous in praying the Rosary.”4

There is much work for us to do, but first and foremost we must pray. What is unfolding in the world is above our paygrade. As St. John Paul II said on numerous occasions, this trial lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a profound spiritual battle. Our plans, strategies, and organizational techniques are necessary but insufficient. We don’t just need better organization, we need courage to “give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ.”

Prayer is what will prepare us to face the trials that have already begun and that will not only continue but will intensify. Jesus will give us all we need to be faithful and fruitful in this time of trial. He will turn the devil’s strategies against us to our good and to His glory, if we stay united to Him.

While Ireland was casting its vote, my wife Debbie and I were in Krakow, Poland. We took a half a day to visit the St. John Paul II Center and the Divine Mercy Shrine. At one point during the tour, we came upon the white cassock that St. John Paul II wore the day he was shot in Vatican Square. The cassock, encased in glass, is stained in his blood. As I knelt down to pray, I was overwhelmed by the power of his life, his beautiful and profound witness to Christ. As I wept and prayed, my heart was filled with the words he spoke to all of us from the first day of his pontificate:

“Be not afraid!”


Notes:
1 John Waters, “Ireland: An Obituary,” First Things, May 28, 201, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/05/ireland-an-obituary.

2 Benedict XVI, Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Remissino of the Excommunication of the Four Bishops Consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, encyclical letter, Vatican website, March 10, 2009, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090310_remissione-scomunica.html.

3 Pope John Paul II, “Absolute Inviolability of Human Life”, homily, Vatican website, October 1, 1979, https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/homilies/1979/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19791001_irlanda-limerick.html.

4 Pope John Paul II, interview with Catholics at Fulda, Germany, in November 1980, published in the German Magazine Stimmes des Glaubens in October 1981, cited in The Pope and the President, by Paul Kengor (Willimgton, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2017), 209.