Growing up in the South I acquired an affinity for revivals and the accompanying pace, inflection, and power of the tent preacher. I think I inherited it from my father who sometimes would take us over to Pine Street on a Sunday evening. I can remember sitting outside the Pentecostal church and hearing the rhythmic call and response of the congregation.
In that same era, on early mornings in the summertime, on the way to swim practice, I would notice the tents being raised on the fairgrounds. You could always tell it was a revival coming to town by the buses adorned with marquees of being saved, redemption, and the preacher’s name in the largest of letters. That sight was a siren’s call luring me onto the rocks where no respectable Catholic boy should venture – at least not in the early 1960s.
Somewhat incautiously, I would ride my bicycle down Highway 50 out to the fairgrounds and try to blend in with a family so as to gain unquestioned entry. Most families came in Sunday best with the boys in shirt and tie. Since I could not leave the house dressed in Sunday clothes, least I give away my intention (and did not know how to make a tie knot… of course there was the ever faithful clip-on, the standby of all young Catholic boys) I had to blend in with a family that was more casually attired, sliding by the questioning eyes that I imagined were ferreting out gawkers such as myself. Failing to find a suitable family, there was always the classic sneaking under the tent flap, but truth be told, even outside you could hear the evening’s preaching.
But outside was not the same. You were not able to see the preacher and his earnestness on display in his movements and passion. Or the moment when the preacher’s jacket was cast aside, his tie loosened, the sweat pouring freely in the heat under the tent, and you knew the Spirit was a’coming, people were gonna’ witness, and Hallelujahs would be cast skyward along with hands and gazes. If you were lucky someone would be slain in the Spirit.
Yes, it was spectacle and show, but it was Power and Spirit – these were people of faith come to pray, to be reminded, and to remember that they were people, empowered by the Spirit and sent into the world. I suspect the next day at the watercooler or the coffee pot someone would ask, “So, how was your evening?” In a moment that spot became the “end of the earth” facing the “end of time.” A recounting of the prior evening would ensue, attempts made to describe the power afoot, and it would close with an invitation to come and join them on tonight’s foray into faith.
On one particular evening I recall that the preacher kept repeating “I am a consecrated man.” He enjoined the phrase with his life and calling: consecrated as husband, as father, as preacher, as witness, and as so many things in his life. He was deeply, truly, and unabashedly, a consecrated man and you were going to know it with no room for doubt. He would cry out, “Can I get an ‘Amen?’” – something simply not done in a respectable Catholic church of my youth.
All this came to mind as I recently celebrated my ordination to the priesthood, the day the bishop consecrated me to the service of the holy people of God. Consecrated me to be right here among you to join the great stream of women and men who have been empowered to go to the ends of the earth and set up their tents, to call people to feel the heat of the Spirit, to get saved, to embrace their redemption, to witness, and yes, if it be God’s will, slain in the Spirit. It is so strong a memory, I am tempted to call out during the Sunday homily: People of God, can I get an ‘Amen?’”
Indeed, I am a consecrated man. The holy oils have anointed me …. For the third time. Did you know that the same oils used for ordination were used to anoint you at Baptism and at your Confirmation? That makes you a consecrated person! Consecrated just like that fiery minister in the tent, just like the parish priest, just like Pope Francis – all called to be on fire, shake things up, witness at the water cooler, and more. And hopefully, like that minister, to be able to name the life and calling of your consecration.
You are a consecrated person. We are consecrated people. As. St. Paul writes, that consecration is for this life and the life to come: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8)