By JOEY REISTROFFER
BELMONT ABBEY, N.C. — Franciscan Father Michael Scanlan stirred the embers of faith with a fire rally at Belmont Abbey Sept. 18, and he brought along a couple of friends from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio to help fan those flames.
They talked about repentance. They talked about evangelism. They talked about Pope John Paul II’s messages of hope for the millennium. Most of all, they urged the crowd to commit themselves to a deeper prayer life and dedicate themselves to following in the Lord’s footsteps.
Sometimes it’s tough, but with guidance from above, it’s doable, Father Scanlan said. Then the president of Franciscan University described his own struggles with faith and a parasailing incident in Mexico that changed his life.
“I wasn’t a child of the light. I wasn’t a child of darkness. I was a child of twilight,” Father Scanlan said. “I wanted the best of both worlds, until God finally grabbed me.”
He told the crowd of 2,200 that packed the Wheeler Athletic Center how he found himself parasailing high over the ocean when a gust of wind struck, and he realized he was not strapped in.
“I got the sense that the Lord was saying, ‘I got you where I finally want you,'” Father Scanlan said. “Suddenly, there was no distance between me and the Father. From that moment, I have known of embracing the Father.”
If we want a personal relationship with God, we have to get out of the twilight, Father Scanlan said. “Sin takes you farther than you want to go, keeps you there longer and hurts you more,” he said.
God, however, is anxious to embrace us when we finally do commit to becoming children of the light. He is a forgiving Father, Father Scanlan said, but he won’t go against our will. We must take that first step.
Sister Ann Shields agreed. She leads a group called Servants of God’s Love. And she said one of the first steps we must take is to forgive those whom we carry a grudge against. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been wronged, but letting that fester drives us deeper into despair.
“Let’s release people from debt,” Sister Shields said. “Ask God for the grace to let go.” And pray.
“Don’t give up. Pray in his name and trust him,” said Sister Shields. “God hears every word of every prayer we pray.”
Ralph Martin, president of Renewal Ministries, said the pope has called 1999 the Year of the Father, and we must prepare ourselves for the millennium by opening ourselves up to this loving Father. Otherwise, said Martin, we will not be prepared to receive him.
The Lord is coming, and we are not paying attention, Martin said. When you close you heart, mind and spirit, you are not prepared. You must willfully open yourself up.
The folks at Belmont Abbey did indeed open themselves up to the word of God that Saturday afternoon. They prayed together, worshiped together and burst forth in song as the band, “Hearts of Fire,” fueled their spiritual fervor.
A spiritual awakening seemed to roar as the fire of faith flowed over the crowd, which had come from all over the Southeast.
“I’m amazed,” Frank Bollero of Statesville, N.C., said simply as he echoed the sentiments of the crowd. “If you weren’t open to it before, you’ll be open to it today.”