ALIVE IN THE SPIRIT
by Fr Ken Barker MGL
(Modotti Press, 2013, 196pp, $24.95, ISBN: 978-1-92216-850-4. Available from Freedom Publishing)
This latest book from Fr Ken Barker will be welcomed by the many readers of his spiritually uplifting and insightful books, among them Young Men Rise Up, Amazing Love, His Name is Mercy and Becoming Fire. The connecting themes of his writings include evangelisation and spiritual renewal with the emphasis in the present book being on the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Fr Barker will also be familiar to AD2000 readers as the the founder and Moderator of the Missionaries of God's Love, one of Australia's most successful newer religious congregations.
In his foreword, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane notes the important role of the Charismatic Renewal following the Second Vatican Council in nurturing new communities that have brought renewed energy to the Church.
Archbishop Coleridge writes: "In his latest book, Fr Ken Barker explains what God has been doing in breathing fresh life into the Church through the Charismatic Renewal. At times, the Church can look like a corpse; and that would be true were it not for the gift of the Holy Spirit. But because God chooses to breathe the Holy Spirit into the Church, we can speak of the Church not as a corpse but as the Body of Christ, radiant with the life that is bigger than death, the life of Easter.
"Fr Ken also points out that the faith of many individual Catholics has been brought to life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In their lives, Jesus has become not a pallid role-model who lived long ago, but a living presence and power here and now. They have experienced the love of God in a very personal and overwhelming way. The words of Scripture have come alive for them, as have the teachings of the Church, however counter-cultural they may be.
"In these pages, Fr Ken weaves together Scripture, tradition and stories both autobiographical and biographical. It is a style we have seen in his earlier writings, but never more effectively than here. What he has produced is a work both old and new, both personal and ecclesial, both local and universal, both contemplative and charismatic."
Fr Barker notes that the current impact of secularisation and the loss of a sense of God in the minds of many people have had their adverse impact on the life of the Church. These days, the faith of many Catholics has become "shallow and incapable of withstanding the prevailing cultural indifference to Christianity".
The loss of God, he says, has meant the loss of what it means to be human: "Moral issues are being decided with a relativistic mind-set. To add to our woes we are faced with the sexual abuse scandal within our own ranks. Victims of abuse have experienced a profound betrayal of trust. The pastors of the Church have lost credibility in the eyes of many. Besieged from within and from without by forces that threaten destruction, the Barque of Peter could appear to be sinking.
"But down through history, at times like this, when all seems so dismal, the Holy Spirit has been poured out afresh, generating a new springtime of renewal. These are undoubtedly troubled times but they are not times to despair. The good news is that we are living in an era of a new Pentecost within the Church, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the sake of personal holiness and a new evangelisation."
Fr Barker's focus in Alive in the Spirit is on the way the Holy Spirit can bring personal conversion and transformation of life for individuals. In turn, a renewed Church needs to be built up primarily from the changed hearts of those who have experienced "a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives" and on individual Catholics experiencing a new personal Pentecost.
To the extent that individual conversions happen, a "new culture of Pentecost in the Church" can occur, bringing about overall increases in holiness and evangelisation.
While the present book will particularly resonate with members of the Charismatic Renewal, it will also provide inspiration and encouragement for those seeking to deepen their awareness of the workings of the Holy Spirit in their personal lives.
In the first two chapters Fr Barker provides background on the advent of the experience of the baptism in the Spirit within the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church while discussing its importance for today's Christians. The balance of Alive in the Spirit sets out to show what can happen to those who yield to the Holy Spirit and open themselves to his action.
The book gains particular immediacy through the testimonies of the many people Fr Barker has encountered and whose experiences illustrate the power of the Holy Spirit to lift people from the depths of despair and sinfulness and bring new meaning and purpose to their lives.
Fr Barker concludes: "The new springtime in the Church which has come through the new outpouring of the Holy Spirit since the Second Vatican Council has given me hope in my journey of discipleship, and given new energy and vision for priestly life.
"With gratitude this book celebrates the lives of ordinary Catholics who are living in an extraordinary way a Spirit-filled life in imitation of Jesus for the sake of the gospel. Most of all it is a humble attempt to give glory to God for the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and to encourage all who read this book to open their lives to the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life"
As always, Fr Barker writes with enthusiasm and authority, and in a way accessible to the average reader. It is a worthy addition to his growing library of spiritual treasures.