We are living in times when many are doubling down on their sin. As the darkness grows, many fiercely defend their sinful practices. This is especially evident in the matter of abortion. The science could not be clearer that there is a unique, beautifully formed, distinct human life in the womb of a pregnant mother, with a heartbeat, brain activity, alternating sleep and wake cycles, and the ability to feel pain. Despite this, many demand that all limits on abortion be removed. They “shout” and celebrate abortion, rejoicing in the dismemberment of babies in the womb and all the while considering themselves morally superior to those who support life.
How does it happen that so many obstinately persist in sin and promote wickedness until they are ultimately lost? As with all progressive diseases, sin is a sickness that moves through stages, further debilitating and hardening the sinner in his ways.
St. Alphonsus Liguori laid out five stages through which sin (if not resisted and repented of in its initial attacks) takes an increasing toll on the human person, making repentance less likely and more difficult.
While the names of the stages are mine, I am summarizing the insights of St. Alphonsus, who details these stages in his lengthy essay, “Considerations on the Eternal Maxims” (also called “Preparation for Death”) in Chapter 22, “On Evil Habits.” I have added some of my own additional insights as well.
Stage 1: Impairment – The first effect of habitual sin is that it blinds the understanding. Scripture says, Their own malice blinded them(Wisdom 2:21). Yes, every sin produces blindness, and the more that sins are multiplied, the greater the blindness they produce.
A further effect of this blindness is a foolish and dangerous wandering about. Scripture provides several references for this:
The wicked walk round about (Ps 12:8).
They stagger as with strong drink, they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment (Is 28:7).
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the pit that he has made (Ps 7:14-15).
Thus, habitual sin leads to impaired vision and an impaired walk. Not seeing, the wicked stumble about and fall into a pit of their own making.
Dr. Peter Williamson is joining Renewal Ministries on its Footsteps of St. Paul pilgrimage in May 2020. He teaches the “Letters of St. Paul” at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and he will share expert insight into the places we visit and their deep significance for the spread of the Gospel. He is an expert in St. Paul, a dynamic disciple of Jesus, and a great preacher! You can get more details about the pilgrimage here. Ralph Martin, Peter and Debbie Herbeck, and a bishop or priest (who will be named soon) also will be part of the pilgrimage.
By Dr. Peter Williamson
Five reasons why following the footsteps of St. Paul is worthwhile:
1. Except for Jesus, there is no person that the New Testament tells us as much about as St. Paul.
2. On numerous occasions, the Bible tells readers to imitate St. Paul! (See 1 Cor 4:16, 11:1; Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 2:7-12). Paul is especially a model for pastoral leaders.
3. Paul’s mission provides the biblical paradigm for evangelization then and now.
4. The normative biblical vision of what the Church is meant to be is revealed in Acts and the letters of Paul.
5. Visiting these places, and praying and reflecting on them with good brothers and sisters, is a great way for us to assimilate these truths and St. Paul’s spirit!
A brief summary of Paul’s missionary activity in Greece:
Paul’s first missionary journey took place entirely in what is the eastern half of modern-day Turkey. But on his second journey, after he first attempted to go south to Asia Minor (probably Ephesus) and then tried to go north to Bithynia—both times being stopped by the Holy Spirit!—he journeyed west to the coastal town of Troas (Acts 16:6-10). There he had a dream in which a man from Macedonia (northern Greece) said, “Come and help us.” Paul and his companions, Silas, Luke, and Timothy, decided that God was guiding them to go evangelize in Macedonia. So they sailed across the Aegean Sea to Neapolis, and the first Christian mission to Europe began! During that mission, Paul evangelized Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea in Macedonia, and then Athens and Corinth in the south of Greece (Achaia), where Paul remained for one-and-a-half years. It was from Corinth that Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians and perhaps also to the Galatians. Our pilgrimage will visit all those important stops on Paul’s second missionary journey. (You can read all this in Act 16:6 to 18:18.)
On his third mission trip, the Holy Spirit finally allowed Paul to reside in Ephesus in Asia Minor, where he preached the Gospel for nearly three years. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and Romans from Ephesus. Then Paul revisited the cities he had evangelized in Greece, starting again in the north (Macedonia, where he wrote 2 Corinthians), returned to Corinth, and then turned back to Macedonia, before heading to Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-6).
I hope you are able to join us on this pilgrimage! You can register and find more details here. If you have questions, you also can contact Kathleen Kittle, at 734-662-1730, ext. 132.
Dr. Peter S. Williamson occupies the Adam Cardinal Maida Chair in Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. He received his M.A. in Theology from Sacred Heart in 1995 and his S.T.D. in Biblical Theology from the Gregorian University in 2001. Dr. Williamson, a convert to the Catholic Church in 1972, is a married layman who has been involved for over 40 years in evangelization and pastoral ministry in the United States and abroad. He is the author of Revelation (2015) and Ephesians (2009) in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture and co-editor of the series along with Dr. Mary Healy and Kevin Perrotta. He is also author of Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture: A Study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (Loyola Press, 2002) and co-editor with Ralph Martin of John Paul II and the New Evangelization (revised edition, St. Anthony Messenger, 2006).
“Patti, I have a great feeling that you will be in my country one day.” These words were scrawled on a postcard from Rio sent to me by a Brazilian Jesuit in 1971. They proved to be prophetic! Since 1994, I have been to Brazil more than twenty-five times. I am in love with Brazil and her people, and I can understand their word “Saudades.” It means: “I’m missing and loving you!”
Why do I love Brazil? I love the way Brazilians have embraced and lived the baptism in the Spirit with enthusiasm and joy. There are twelve million Brazilians who are baptized in the Holy Spirit. I remember hearing Archbishop Alberto Taveira tell thousands of university students, “You are called to be apostles of the baptism in the Spirit.” There it is! Baptism in the Spirit: front and center! Eight hundred vibrant communities have borne tremendous spiritual fruit and priestly vocations. Then there are the 14,000 prayer groups under the leadership of the Charismatic Renewal of Brazil (RCC).
The baptism in the Spirit has overflowed in works of prayer and formation; intercession; evangelization; care for the poor; ministry to children; outreach to university students, lawyers, judges, and politicians; twenty-four-hour Catholic Charismatic radio and television; publications; and more.
One of the things I love the most is the way Mary is honored in Brazil, especially Our Lady of Aparecida, their patroness. The Brazilians have set to music the Prayer of Consecration, “O my Queen, O my Mother, I give myself entirely to you.” I have never been to an event of the Renewal in Brazil where Our Lady was not honored and welcomed. I believe that this integration of Mary and the Holy Spirit is the secret of their fruitfulness, and we would do well to learn from them!
Speaking of Aparecida, I was called there suddenly in July 2018, to replace Sr. Briege McKenna at a retreat for priests. Aparecida is the town where Our Lady appeared about three hundred years ago, and it is the spiritual heart of Brazil. There were over two hundred priests; the average age was about thirty eight! Some men had just been ordained and about a third of the priests were new to the Charismatic Renewal. I was there just after the abuse scandal broke in the States, and I wanted to do something to strengthen the priesthood. By the grace of God, I was able to minister personally through the charismatic gift of revelation to each man. I’ve been used in this charism before,but never with the speed and accuracy that I experienced during those days. It was an increase and acceleration of grace because the times we’re living in call for it!
And that leads me to the prophetic word I received my last day with the priests:
“Brazil will lead the world in this new move of My Spirit which is coming. As you yield to Me, as you praise Me, as you look to Me, I will greatly increase your numbers. I will open doors that until now have been shut. I will give you an “entrée” to people who up to now have been closed. You will be amazed at the way the fire spreads. As in the beginning, in the first Pentecost, my Spirit will use you with great power. Be careful. Make sure to keep yourself very humble and to acknowledge that it is My power using you and not any force of persuasion of your own. Break your pride. Break your egoism. And you will see what the power of My Spirit can do. Remain humble, looking at Me and watch what I, the Lord your God, will do.”
Two months later, I was back in Brazil for a conference for six thousand teens at the Sanctuary of the Mother of God in Sao Paolo, home of my dear friend Fr. Marcelo Rossi, whose vocation was born in the Charismatic Renewal. His nearly twenty-five years of priesthood have been spent lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ through his celebration of the Eucharist (over six thousand people come to Mass at 6 a.m.), his music, and his books. He is followed by close to ten million people daily on the Internet and is one of the best-known priests in Brazil. What a joy to call the youth “to love Jesus as He has never been loved before!”
Katia Roldi Zavaris, president of the National Council of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Brazil, then invited me to the National Formation Conference in January of this year at Cancao Nova, in the largest covered stadium in Latin America. Brazil is celebrating fifty years of Charismatic Renewal in their country. For me, Katia is a living example of what Saint John Paul II meant when he spoke about “the feminine genius”—the particular way a woman can exercise leadership with maternal grace. When Katia assumed the presidency, this event drew four thousand leaders and very few priests. This year, there were fifteen thousand leaders (most under the age of thirty-five), three hundred seminarians, and 180 priests, along with many bishops.
The leadership council began the celebration by processing in with an open Bible over their hearts to signal the commitment to reading and obeying the Word of God. Katia had been deeply impressed by the prophetic word I received at Circus Maximus in the presence of Pope Francis on June 3, 2017. In one of her talks, she referred to that prophecy:
“Lift up your eyes and see, that the fields are white for harvest. And if you would obey me, and if you would obey the prompting of my Spirit, you will yet see, infinitely more than you can ask or imagine. You will yet see the power of my Spirit descend upon the human race. I tell you, the fields are white for harvest, but I need your obedience, I need your docility, I need your faith, and you will yet see marvels that will astound you, infinitely more than you can ask or imagine, for the glory of my name.”
The fields are white! As people entered, each one received a sheaf of wheat. After Katia’s presentation, the young people went through the crowd of fifteen thousand, collecting all the wheat in baskets, which were then placed at the feet of Jesus. Katia made the point that Pentecost in the Old Testament was a harvest festival as well as a time to celebrate the giving of the law on Sinai. Our Pentecost is meant to bring in a harvest of souls by the power of the Spirit.
My travel companion received a prophetic word for the Brazilian leaders, knowing nothing about my prophecy to the priests last July. The similarities are striking!
“I am sending a new and greater wave of My Spirit upon you. Greater things will you do in My Spirit. All that you have seen and experienced has been a foretaste of My Spirit with you. As I release this new wave upon you, there will be increase . . . exponential increase of numbers . . . increase in My gifts and power. As you love My Mother and remain low in humility, I will bring more! You, My people of Brazil, will be a light, a witness to the world of the new and fresh outpouring of My Spirit. They will look upon you and hunger and thirst for My Spirit to come in new ways. You will bring My Spirit to the world.”
Amen! Let it be!
Patti Gallagher Mansfield was a participant in the historic Duquesne Weekend that marked the beginning of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. From the first days of the Renewal, she has served in leadership through her teaching, writing and pastoral ministry. Patti has ministered at conferences and retreats for laity and priests around the world. For the past fifty years, she has proclaimed the grace of the baptism in the Spirit on all five continents.
Patti is married to Al Mansfield, Director of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of New Orleans, Louisiana, and together they serve as liaisons to the Archbishop of New Orleans on behalf of the Renewal. They have four adult children and eleven grandchildren. In the Jubilee Year 2000, the Mansfields were awarded the Papal Medal, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For the Church and the Pope), by Saint John Paul II.
In recent remarks, Pete Buttigieg, Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, remarked that his same-sex “marriage” to Chasten Glezman has brought him closer to God. His remarks were directed toward Vice President Mike Pence, who is on record as opposing such “marriages.” Buttigieg said:
“Being married to Chasten has made me a better human being because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent. My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God.”
This raises a question: To what god has he moved closer? Respectfully and sincerely, Mr. Buttigieg, it cannot be the God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures and through the Church. God is not in the habit of speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He does not contradict himself by altering, let alone reversing (as you claim) his teachings.
At every stage of scriptural revelation, from Genesis through the New Testament, God has spoken of homosexual acts as sinful and disordered. He also condemns other forms of illicit sexual union such as fornication and adultery. Jesus even condemns the entertaining of lustful thoughts. I have written before of the biblical record on these teachings (“Do Not Be Deceived: God Forbids Homosexual Acts”).
Some point out that Jesus is never recorded in Scripture as condemning homosexual acts. That may be true — but he is not recorded as condemning rape, either. An argument based on silence is weak at best and erroneous at worst. Further, Jesus said to his apostles “He who hears you hears me” — and the apostles unambiguously describe homosexual acts as sinful. These biblical texts are not ambiguous, and they are consistent across every biblical era. They support the Church’s proper conclusion as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, [Genesis 19:1-29; Romans 1:18ff; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:10; inter al.] tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (2357).
In January, Renewal Ministries welcomed Be Love Revolution (BLR) into its family. Be Love Revolution is an outreach primarily to high-school-aged young women that is led by Debbie Herbeck and a team of young adult women with hearts for serving the next generation.
“I am very grateful—and in amazement—how Be Love Revolution has grown to reach more and more young girls and help them establish strong identities in Christ,” said Renewal Ministries’ President Ralph Martin. “What a valuable service in such challenging times! We are honored to have BLR join the Renewal Ministries family of ministries that are strengthening men and women, boys and girls, all over the world.”
Renewal Ministries’ Vice President Peter Herbeck agrees: “This is a mature ministry that has successfully mobilized young women from elementary through high school and college and is doing a very effective job of making disciples. They are talented and inspiring young women who are hungry to love as Jesus loves.”
BLR officially began in 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the intention of creating a culture that helps young women develop a personal relationship with Jesus and grow into mature disciples. Its mission is three-fold:
Be His: Help young women know the personal and transformative love of Jesus.
Be Free: Form young women to live freely and confidently as daughters of God.
Be Love: Equip and empower young women to be God’s love in the world today.
Today the ministry “spreads its net wide” to reach large numbers of young women at its weekly event called “Beloved,” which features practical talks, testimonies, small groups, and praise and worship. BLR also reaches large numbers of young women at retreats and Pine Hills Girls’ Camp. An important part of BLR’s ministry, however, is reaching smaller numbers through women’s groups, Bible studies, mission opportunities, and one-on-one mentoring; those smaller numbers are intentional, Debbie explained. In fact, the key to BLR’s success is that it has moved away from a programmatic approach and into personal mentoring and discipling.
“We have lots of girls involved, but I see tremendous fruit from the smaller groups and our more personal times together,” said Debbie. “Girls have a place to share their lives and be accountable to each other. They are growing as disciples, and being equipped and empowered as leaders. It’s inspiring to see the older girls leading retreats, giving talks, and praying and caring for their younger sisters in Christ. It’s an environment of faith where everyone is learning how to love.”
“Accompanying, discipling, and being with girls—it works,” added Debbie, who has thirty-five years of experience in youth and women’s ministry, leading Pine Hills Girls Camp, mission work, speaking, and writing. “In today’s culture, young people need personal care and formation, not just information. Mentorship is not passive; we walk with them day in and day out, helping them to confidently choose Christ.”
“Mentorship is an investment in someone’s life,” she continued, “and it can be hard to do because it takes time, energy, and patience. By being present we want to remind them in a visible and tangible way that they are loved and valued.”
According to one high schooler, “I’ve grown as a daughter of Christ; I’ve learned to face my fears, try new things, and I don’t have to worry about being judged by others.”
BLR was featured on a 2018-19 episode of The Choices We Face. Afterward, Debbie said they received dozens of calls from women who want to implement BLR in their parish or school—which reflects the “hunger and need for this kind of ministry to young people.”
BLR has begun expanding outside of the Ann Arbor area. According to Debbie, there is a fledgling chapter in Maryland and one starting in Lansing, Michigan, that is “ready to go, has the vision, and has the support within the local high school and parish.” Groups in northern Canada, Kansas, and even someone in Italy have all expressed interest in establishing BLR in their communities as well.
Debbie said, “If women have a vision for what we are doing and the ability to not just run a program, but to invest in and mentor young women—to create a culture of love—then they can do what we are doing. Saint Mother Teresa is our model because we believe that loving the person right in front of you is possible for all of us, and this causes a ripple effect. We sincerely believe we can transform the world through a revolution of love—one person at a time.”