In the early 1980s, the charismatic renewal started a lot of things in Steve Montross' life, including a deeper relationship with the Lord and a budding desire, eventually fulfilled, to become a deacon at St. Raphael Church in Santa Barbara.
Bev Reyes' participation at an SCRC convention as a 13-year-old over a decade ago helped to keep her connected to the Catholic faith throughout adolescence and young adulthood.
Both Montross and Reyes were among more than 8,000 spirit-filled Catholics attending this year's 43rd annual SCRC Convention over the Labor Day weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center. Centered on the theme, "You Are the Light of the World," the convention of workshops and daily liturgies also included tracks for Vietnamese and Spanish speakers, a special "Unbound" track on deliverance ministry and programs for children, teens and young adults.
"The Holy Spirit overshadowed the event and it was so obvious in everybody's countenance," said Dominic Berardino, SCRC president. "Observing the crowds over the three-day convention, it was just wonderful to see the loving atmosphere, the peacefulness and the people who were enjoying one another's presence."
'Current of grace'
"We are being given another chance to bring this grace of a New Pentecost to the universal church," said speaker Patti Mansfield, who was present at the 1967 Duquesne Weekend retreat near Pittsburgh where participants had an intense experience of the power of the Holy Spirit, sparking the birth of the charismatic renewal movement in the U.S.
In her Saturday arena workshop, "Growing in Spiritual Maturity," she showed video clips of the June 1 Charismatic Renewal Convention at the Olympic Stadium in Rome attended by more than 50,000, where Pope Francis in his address called the charismatic renewal "a current of grace."
"If we in the charismatic renewal are to be 'a current of grace in the Church and for the Church,’” said Mansfield, “we have to look for new ways to bring this gift of the Baptism in the Spirit to more and more people. We can't just expect people to come to us [in our prayer meetings] like they did in the early days — that may not happen.
"This Holy Father is saying 'Go Out.' Pentecost was the church on the move, the church reaching out," noted Mansfield, citing the pope's declaration in his address that the first gift of the Holy Spirit is "the gift of Himself, who is love and makes you enamored of Jesus."
"How do we grow in spiritual maturity and how do we obey what the Holy Father is asking? We fall in love with Jesus Christ, true God and true man."
Mansfield noted that people who love Jesus should be spending time every day in prayer if they are serious about holiness. "In this time when souls are perishing,” she said, “the Lord needs us to be living in the light, and to be living in the light in such a way that it will attract people who are walking in darkness."
Mansfield ended her talk by urging those in the assembly to "start giving your personal testimony again, if you've stopped giving it," letting people know how Jesus gives "consolation and peace" amidst life's trials.
Living among saints
First-time SCRC speaker Msgr. John Esseff, a spiritual director and exorcist for the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., followed Mansfield's presentation in the arena with his talk titled, "Living Among Saints," sharing stories with a rapt audience of his personal friendships with St. Padre Pio and Blessed Mother Teresa.
His first meeting with Padre Pio in Rome in 1959, he recounted, was a bit confrontational, as the Capuchin Franciscan with the stigmata in his hands and feet wanted to know if the young American priest was a "curiosity seeker."
Msgr. Esseff assured him he wasn't, and the two priests then settled into a "wonderful discussion." During their talk, Msgr. Esseff shared about difficulties he was having in hearing confessions.
"He said anytime you have a problem in confession, ask your guardian angel to come to me, and I will assist you; I will come. I didn't realize that he had the power of bilocation."
He recounted his memories of Padre Pio celebrating Mass the day after they met with blood flowing down his hands. "Most of what I'll never forget was his eyes," said Msgr. Esseff. "As he looked at the host, he was on fire with love for Jesus on the cross."
Padre Pio, noted Msgr. Esseff, suffered rejection for most of his life from people, including some of his superiors, who were suspicious that his wounds were self-inflicted. "What Padre Pio taught me was how to love those who reject you, how to forgive those who suspect you, how to continue in all of your ways toward them with love," said Msgr. Esseff, who became a spiritual directee of Padre Pio (who was canonized in 2002 by St. John Paul II).
While serving in Beirut, Lebanon, after being assigned there in 1984 to be the Pontifical Mission director, Msgr. Esseff met Mother Teresa, and later became one of her spiritual directors.
"I met this little woman just a little over four feet tall [with] a magnificent, loving burning love in her heart and in her eyes," described Msgr. Esseff. "She radiated love. Mother Teresa discovered something in her heart. She had discovered Jesus looking at her with fire from the cross.”
Mother Teresa's discovery of Jesus' love for her, he said, prompted her to say yes when Jesus asked her to take care of the poorest of the poor. "That's why when she was driving down the street one day in Rome — she had an appointment with the pope, and he was going to give her a place in the Vatican to take care of the poorest of the poor --- she had the sisters stop [when she saw a dying man in the street] and she began to care for him."
In response to her sisters who said she would miss her papal appointment, according to Msgr. Esseff, Mother Teresa said, "Tell the pope that I will try to make another appointment with him, but I'm with Jesus now."
"Over and over again," added Msgr. Esseff, "I could tell you stories about Mother Teresa (who died in 1997) but the story is about love. Her story is the love that God has for her. Padre Pio's story is the love God has for him."
"What is the love of God for me?" Msgr. Esseff asked rhetorically of those in the arena assembly. "He sent his Son for me to redeem me, and once I realize that I have been forgiven, that I have been saved, then I can have the fire to go out and have that love for everyone, including those who are killing us," in places like the Middle East.
"There was a light, and that's Mother Teresa; there was a light, and that's Padre Pio; and I'm sure there is a light, and he is James Foley (the American photojournalist recently killed by ISIS in Iraq). Lights come out in the dark. These are our stars, and the darker it gets, the more brilliant they are.
"What our 21st century needs is new Mother Teresas and new Padre Pios," declared Msgr. Esseff. "I want to be one of those, and I pray that you will be also. The world needs stars, and each one of us can be one, because we can be Christ to one another."
Editor’s note: The Tidings’ YouTube channel will have an upcoming video with Msgr. John Esseff talking about St. Padre Pio and Blessed Mother Teresa.