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Holy Spirit and Fire_Lk 3 16_flipped

I (Dennis) did not come to know the love of the heavenly Father until I experienced a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in my heart. Unfortunately, brokenness from a failed marriage was the catalyst that drove me to my knees, crying out to God for help. Like Abraham Lincoln in the midst of division in our nation, I was driven “upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” [1]

I was raised a Lutheran. Growing up, we did not pray as a family. God was a “Sunday Only” thing. I married in the Catholic Church in 1979. My wife and I attended mass irregularly during the early years of our marriage. But I lacked knowledge of the grace that God pours into a sacramental marriage. The seeds of dissension were planted in our marriage by unchaste behavior during our courtship. Mortal sin had blocked the grace that God wished to dispense into our marriage. We had opened the door to Satan in our marriage which had destructive consequences.

Eight years into our marriage, my wife announced “I want a divorce!” I was devastated. Marriage and family were everything to me. My world was falling apart. In my distress, I turned to the Catholic Church. I asked God to give me a second chance to live my marriage His way. I thirsted for God’s wisdom on how to deal with my situation. I entered RCIA and came into full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil in 1990. I fell in love with Jesus, Scripture and the Church. My divorce was the impetus that moved me from a self-centered life to one focused on God.

When the day of Pentecost had come…there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4

In spite of my new found faith, I lacked joy and peace. I was distraught and brokenhearted. I was crushed in spirit, dejected and lonely. On the first Christmas away from my family, I was alone and filled with grief. I cried out to God, groaning and shaking, unable to verbally pray. After hours of crying, my groaning turned into indecipherable utterings. My lips raced to form strange words. I was astonished by the sounds emanating from my mouth. I experienced a sense of peace and calm like never before. God spoke to me in the silence, telling me that my wife’s “leaving was the first step in coming home.”

At the baptism of Jesus in the Jordon, the Gospel of Matthew records:

And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17

This event marks the beginning of Jesus’ public mission. Immediately, Jesus is sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tested and to confront evil before beginning His mission of the salvation of souls (see Mt 4:1-11).

As Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the desert after his baptism, the Holy Spirit sent me into the desert to test my faith. There I met Jesus. Like water flowing from a rock to quench the Israelites’ thirst in the desert (Ex 17:1-5), Jesus poured out living water to quench my thirst. The desert experience of divorce – “trial by fire” – brought me to Jesus. He, in turn, sent the Holy Spirit to baptize me with fire. My life was never the same. I came to know Jesus personally. He is God made man, one with the Father. He died for my sins, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be my counselor, consoler, defender, and guide. And He gave me the charisms of knowledge, teaching, and encouragement to help others struggling through life’s trials and tribulations.

Jesus walked with me through the desert of divorce, an eight-year journey. As promised, God brought my wife home. Two years after our marriage was restored, my wife died. Scar tissue from radiation therapy 25 years earlier had caused her heart and lungs to malfunction. God took me out into the desert to equip me for the future that He had in store for me. He graciously anointed me with the Holy Spirit, giving me strength to endure both divorce and death. He saved me from the pit of despair and filled me with great joy!

Like Jesus, I too was baptized in the Holy Spirit, hearing God speak these words to me, “You are my beloved son.” My true identity was not a man with a failed marriage but the son of the King. Like Jesus, God gave me a mission to help others with troubled marriages, to give them the same hope and encouragement I had received. He brought Rose into my life, and like Job who lost both family and wealth, God gave back to me all that was lost and more. In doing so, through our marriage apostolate, Calling Couples to Christ, we are fulfilling St. Paul’s exhortation to the Church at Corinth:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost in your life, your marriage, and your family.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit (by Cardinal Mercier)[2]

O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will.

[1] Goodreads, internet: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/38057-i-have-been-driven-many-times-upon-my-knees-by (accessed June 7, 2019).

[2] Catholic Online, internet: https://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=1404, (accessed June 7, 2019).