On February 4, the Feast of St. Cornelius the Centurion, Bishop Hobby of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh ordained me a Priest in the Church. The worship of God’s people in the liturgy of Ordination and Eucharist was a holy moment– filled with praise, intercession, Scripture, a tender and bold word from my friend Jonathan Martin, and so much more. Dear friends and family, coaches and mentors, and colleagues in ministry gathered to participate in this sacred moment. There is a great deal about this day that is worthy and fruitful for reflection. But as a catholic Pentecostal, I want to hone in on a particular moment: the consecration of the priest.
In the plot of this liturgy (because every liturgy tells a story), this moment comes beyond the presentation and the ministry of the Word. It follows an exhortation by the bishop and the examination of the ordinand, ensuring their commitment to this calling. Then the congregation calls upon the Holy Spirit to come upon the ordinand by praying the ancient hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. Following that, the bishop prays. Then he– and other priests present– lay hands on the one to be ordained and says the following:
Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to you by the Imposition of our Hands. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld. Be a faithful minister of God’s holy Word and Sacraments; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
He continues with more prayers for blessing and for effective preaching and teaching. It is a solemn moment, with the Spirit hovering over the people of God to do what the Spirit always does: to give “comfort, life and fire of love.” The anointing of Priests going all the way back to the apostles, with the imposition of hands calls all the exhortations of the Apostle Paul to Timothy to mind. The charge to announce God’s forgiveness calls to mind John’s picture of the disciples receiving the Spirit after the Resurrection. The Prince of Peace appoints an ambassador.
What mission and ministry look like for this Priest, only God knows, but the need for the ability and willingness given by God alone is evident. Lord, have mercy.
One thing that the Pentecostal and catholic traditions have in common is an undistracted devotion to the spiritual discipline of fasting. The catholic tradition’s practice of regular fasting–days from the early church for each week, each season of the year, and guidelines for the faithful– and the Pentecostal’s warlike ethos of fasting for the sake of spiritual breakthrough come together in some unique ways in my life. As someone raised in the Pentecostal tradition, I do believe fasting is an act of war–not only against the indwelling sinner, but also against the powers and principalities who are arrayed against the people of God and His Christ. It’s a heritage that has taken the words of Jesus to heart: “this kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29).
Much has been written by pastors and practitioners over the years of the impact of fasting. The practical results, the typical psychological and physical effects, and the “pro tips” for holding up your commitment. Those may well have their place, but if the Pentecostal experience–and the stories of great ascetics like St. Antony of Egypt, St. John Climacus, or St. Colum Cille– bears out, then the spiritual battle that we enter in fasting is of far greater import and impact than any of the practical tips offered by these leaders.
Tradition tells of St. Antony being attacked by demons when he retreated to the desert for prayer and fasting, and how the Lord strengthened him in the face of those assaults. St. Patrick recounts an assault by the devil while fasting in the wilderness of Gaul that prevented him from moving, and how he cried out to the Lord, and the weight was lifted. St. Moses the Ethiopian, St. John Damascus, St. John of the Cross, and many others throughout our history have other testimonies. Fasting puts a target on your back–but the Lord Jesus already has the victory, and communicates that grace to us through the Holy Spirit at work within us.
So, when you fast, fast in full confidence that God is already present, already speaking, and already giving grace to you. But also fast in the full knowledge that you have personally declared war on the world, the flesh, and the devil, and their wrath will be focused on you. But as Martin Luther wrote so many years ago: “The Prince of darkness grim; we tremble not for him! His rage we can endure for, lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.”
I ordered this book at the recommendation of a dear friend. And started it twice. When I was too busy with ordination process details to even think about reading. But somehow an immersion experience in mission here in Germany has opened doors for time to finish it.
All I can say is: wow. Wow, such raw honesty about the absence and presence of God. Wow, such clarity about the questions we get from friends and acquaintances every day about faith and Christianity. Wow, such effective truth-telling about how much we as human beings suck (with our “Human Propensity to F*** things Up” as Spufford puts it). Wow, such compassion and tenderness for fellow human beings in our suffering and being weighed down by the realities of the world.
But above all, WOW. WOW, SUCH GRACE. Such an impressive grasp of the overwhelming, constant, annoying, enjoying, transforming and failure-ignoring forgiveness and love of God brought to us by Jesus. We can breathe fresh Gospel air reading Unapologetic.
But Spufford’s purpose isn’t immediately obvious from the title. So, Christians these days sometimes engage in apologetics: defending the faith. It’s a noble and necessary task. Most apologetics, however, is aimed at the teaching and ideas that we as Christians confess in creeds and affirm in other statements that we hopefully receive from the Scriptures. This book, uniquely, is a defense of Christian sanity–that we are not wrong to feel as we do about God, the world, Jesus and the Church. And he does it masterfully.
Definitely give this one a read.