By Richard Meek
The Catholic Commentator
For three consecutive nights, the north Baton Rouge community was electrified with the Holy Spirit, sparked by the rousing homilies of revivalist Father Gregory Chisholm SJ of Harlem, New York.
Father Gregory Chisholm SJ of Harlem, New York energized standing room only crowds for three consecutive nights during the fourth annual Lenten Tri-Parish Revival in Baton Rouge from March 20-22. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator
Father Chisholm spoke to standing room only congregations at Immaculate Conception Church on March 20, St. Francis Xavier Church on March 21 and closed out the fourth annual Lenten Tri-Parish Revival on March 22 at St. Paul the Apostle Church.
Each night featured high-energy music performed by each church’s respective choirs, Scripture readings, praise and worship and prayer, all setting the tone for Father Chisholm, who enraptured crowds by blending his own human experiences, spirituality and humor to deliver powerful messages.
“I know what it’s like to be on the battlefield for the Lord,” Father Chisholm, who is currently serving as pastor at St. Charles Borromeo, Resurrection and All Saints parishes in Harlem, said in his booming voice, amid cries of “amen” from the energized congregation.
“When they see ashes on my forehead (on Ash Wednesday) I want them to know that I serve Jesus Christ,” he added. “I want them to understand that it is an invitation that I serve Jesus Christ. But when they see me fasting, or when they see me abstaining from meat, or when they see me going to a Lenten fish fry, I want them to understand, more importantly, that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. That is what I am about.”
Father Chisholm, who grew up in Harlem and earned his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he knows what it’s like to suffer, what it’s like to beg for things that are needed. And he also knows about racism.
“I have suffered because of racism,” he said. “I know what it means when they start to distribute services unequal; I know what it means when they try to keep control over the government that they have the majority and we are in the minority; I know what it means when law enforcement targets our young men because they are darker than other young men; I know what it means to be treated differently in church.
“If racism is not the darkness of the devil, I don’t know what is.”
Quoting St. Paul, Father Chisholm encouraged people to put on the armor of God, and noted, “in all circumstances, you hold faith as your shield to quench all of the flaming arrows of the evil one.
“You have to be ready, church. That is what it means to be on the battlefield. I am committed to Jesus Christ yet I suffer in life almost daily. So I need the armor of God almost daily.”
Father Chisholm said there exists a different sense of what the Lord says to those who know what it is to be committed to Christ, yet also know what it means to suffer. He said the Lord takes those individuals on a different journey, and citing Scripture, added, “You are salt and light. Salt brings out the taste in all of the things around you. Light reveals the beauty of everything.”
He said the Lord demands that followers are not to kill their brothers and sisters but also not to be angry with them. He said internal strife can often create turmoil within the African-American community, and that “we would sometimes be better with some racists than we would be with our own people.”
“Angry at our own, and church, we can hold on to that anger for years. Trust me, I’ve been a pastor for too long,” added Father Chisholm, drawing a collective chuckle from the crowd. “Jesus says we need to let that go.”
Respect for others is rooted in respect for self, he said, adding that is why change must begin within the individual. He said Christians must define themselves because they are the salt and light of the world.
“What the Lord is trying to get us to understand is we have a reasonability to him, and the responsibility to him is we have to clean up our own act all of the time,” Father Chisholm, who earned his licentiate in sacred theology from Weston Jesus School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachutes, said. “He talked about doing the things you need to do to make sure you are doing the right thing. It is what comes out of the mouth that defines you.”
He said the Lord is not denying suffering, or that one has good reason to hurt. Rather, the Lord is calling individuals in the midst of their suffering to another kind of life.
“If you have fallen down, he wants you to say, ‘I’m sorry,'” he said. “And as much as I need God, church, I’ll be honest. I know that I am often ashamed of myself for offending God. You should be ashamed that you have done wrong. If you can’t feel ashamed don’t even try to ask God for forgiveness.”
Father Chisholm emphasized the spiritual importance of repentance and the sacrament of reconciliation. He noted the first step on the road to redemption begins with forgiveness and said praying Psalm 51 is an excellent start.
“Forgiveness is the key to everything,” he said. “Forgiveness is going to be the key when we acknowledge Christ is our lord and savior. Forgiveness is the suffering in our lives. It is the key to a new life in Jesus Christ.
“No one who has accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and savior is beyond forgiveness.”
As the revival concluded, St. Paul pastor Father Rick Andrus SVD said the revival is only the beginning.
“God has a way of (putting) us all together for God’s purpose,” he said. “To God we give the glory and praise.”
Father Andrus spoke about some of the recent turmoil in his community, but offered optimism, saying “this is not the end God has planned.”