Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Baptism by fire and the Holy Spirit

3rd June 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

It was a great day for a picnic – one of those in-between, late-spring days that sought its identity from winter past merging into summer creeping in. Cool and cloudy in the early morning, the day’s peak hit 90, the same as last year. Everyone was content with the weather, despite and partially because of the blustery, persistent, cooling wind.

Our Mother Of Mercy Church’s second outdoor family Mass and picnic was on.

Shortly before I arrived on the grounds of River Legacy Park in North Arlington, there was excitement afoot as a turtle some 14 inches in girth made a hurried transit toward the south, then quickly toward the pavilion that we had rented, where he disappeared.

I opined that it must have been a land turtle, for there is no water in the immediate area. However, cell phone shots revealed some alligator-like ridges on the tail indicating that it was a snapping turtle whose powerful jaws are capable of severing a finger. Some of us joked and laughed about having caoenne (Creole for turtle) for dinner.

Greened by intermittent spring rains, the park is arresting and relaxing to the eye and inviting to nature lovers who find surcease from urban stress in its spacious splendor.

Church member Anicetus Fernando had delayed by several hours his flight to Seattle with his wife Sabrina and his son Jeremy to be at a mini-reunion of his family. Expert in things electronic, he used his own equipment to set up a PA system for the Mass. Despite some wind static, all were pleased with the sounds of voice and music.

Swelled by the voices of our close friends Bibi Nyembo and her African choir of St. Joseph Church in Arlington, our own choir welcomed back pianist Terry “Hutch” Hutchinson who teamed up with pianist Zenobia Collins, saxophonist Don Waliker, Jr., drummer Floyd Ware and congo drummer Anicetus Fernando to give us a vibrant, sacred, inspiring sound befitting the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church.

Associate OMM church member Madeline Morrison seized the grandeur of the occasion to commemorate the March 16, 2013 homegoing of her sainted mother, Willie Mae Morrison. About a score of Madeline’s church members from St. Vincent de Paul Church in Arlington accompanied her to the outdoor celebration in River Legacy Park.

Of course, our newest dear friends, Mary Nell Riley and a bevy of family and friends from the Irish Travelers were there to pray, sing and rejoice with us. Gregarious, affectionate, possessed of strong faith, close family ties and sincere love, they are folks whom we have come to appreciate and treasure during their visits with us at OMM.

While we were exchanging hugs and best wishes during the rite of peace, I stopped short with the downright spooky feeling that our choir combo was eerily close to the New Orleans sound in rendering “I’m gonna lay down my burdens down by the riverside.” Several times I said, “That’s New Orleans! That’s the sound of New Orleans!”

Pentecost was the perfect background for that outdoor Mass, enabling us to affirm sub divo that we were in God’s house under the canopy of the azure sky and the green overhang of towering cottonwood trees. “Where is Our Mother Of Mercy Church?” I asked the 150 souls there. “Our church is out here! We are the church!” came the answer.

I reminded them that the Scripture readings told us the story of Pentecost, the fiery birthday of the Church when the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, the apostles and the group of 120 with flames of love and power. “But how many of us have the Holy Spirit?”

“We all do!” came the strong response from many of the eager folks.

“Indeed we do!” I concurred. “At whatever age we were baptized, we received the God’s grace, inviting into our souls the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, unless we had already received God’s grace through baptism of desire. In the latter case, the Holy Trinity was living inside us as soon as we were gifted with God’s righteousness.”

Again, there was special action of the Holy Spirit at the time of our Confirmation. We must include the promise of Jesus in John 14:23, “If you love me, you will keep my word, and my Father will love you, and we will come and live within you.” Of course, wherever the Father and the Son are, there also inseparably is the Holy Spirit.

This renders inexact the end of a friend’s email, “Come, Holy Spirit!” Likewise, beautiful, inspiring hymns like “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest” do not express the hot reality that the Trinity is always in us. We cannot invite one to come who is already in us.

What, therefore, is baptism in the Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is already in us? I dare say that by far most people anywhere will never experience the likes of Acts 2:3’s tongues of fire and wild glossolalia of preaching apostles. But one sign of baptism in the Spirit is experiencing one of the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment, tongues. If nothing else, you have been baptized in the Spirit if you are driven by the Spirit in your thoughts, words and actions.

This article originally published in the June 3, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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