The Catholic Experience of Renewal
By Fr. Thomas Foster, S.J Bishop’s Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal, Diocese of San Jose, 1993
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, ” Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’.” He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. ” [John 7:37-39]
One of many spiritual renewals within the Catholic Church, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal started in 1967 when a handful of students and university theology professors from Duquesne University got together for a retreat weekend. From this small and inconspicuous beginning, by 1990 the movement had grown to include more than 72 million Catholics world wide (over 15 million in America). It has official organizations in 120 countries around the world. Many believe that this renewal is a direct result of Vatican II and Pope John XXIII’s prayer: “O Holy Spirit … pour fourth the fullness of your gifts … Renew your wonders in this our day as by a new Pentecost.”
The Catholic Charismatic movement is not simply a renewal of the charisms found in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians [Chapter 12]. It centers on the renewal of individual commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. This commitment has been the center of every authentic renewal in the history of the Church. The commitment begins by the reanointing with the presence of the Holy Spirit; what is sometimes called “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
This occurs when individuals ask Jesus Christ, who is the one who gives the Holy Spirit, to stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit within their hearts. St. Paul admonished Timothy: “I remind you to stir into flame the Gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” [2 Tim 1:6]
This is primarily a renewal of the gifts received in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. The results are many. Along with the reception of the charisms, people who have experienced this renewal in the Holy Spirit talk of a new and deeper personal knowledge of Jesus. They find new power in prayer, a new love of scripture, and a new and deeper appreciation of the Church, of the liturgy, and of the sacraments.
These characteristics of the Charismatic Renewal have led both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II to actively encourage the faithful and the clergy to become involved in the Charismatic Renewal. This approval was first dramatically demonstrated by Pope Paul VI in 1975. He, personally, invited the renewal to hold its annual conference in Rome. In a special session during that conference the Pope stated: “Nothing is more necessary to this more and more secularized world than the witness of the `spiritual renewal’ that we see the Holy Spirit evoking in the most diverse regions and milieux…How then could this `spiritual renewal’ not be a `chance’ for the Church and for the world? And how, in this case, could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so.”
Pope John Paul II, following the lead of Pope Paul VI, has also met with groups of charismatic people and, at one such encounter, said: “Remain in an attitude of constant and grateful availability for every gift that the Spirit wishes to pour into your hearts.” Encouraged by the leadership of Pope Paul VI and John Paul II, the Catholic bishops of the United States, Canada, and many bishops in South America and Europe, have written pastoral statements supporting and encouraging the renewal. The bishops of the United States, in their pastoral letter to the American Church on the Charismatic Renewal, wrote the following in 1984: ” … the charismatic renewal is rooted in the witness of the gospel tradition: Jesus is Lord by the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father.”
Insofar as the Charismatic Renewal makes its own this primary reality of the Gospel, it witnesses to elements of the Good News that are central, not optional: the covenant love of the Father, the Lordship of Jesus, the power of the Spirit, sacramental and community life, prayer, charisms and the necessity of evangelization. Insofar as the renewal makes its own what is central to the enduring reality of the Gospel, it cannot be dismissed as peripheral to the life of the Church. Clearly the Charismatic Renewal is in and for the Church, not alongside the Church. Because the Charismatic Renewal is at the heart of the Church, it also has a role in parish renewal. We wish those in the Charismatic Renewal to know that we make our own the view of Yves Congar: “The Charismatic Renewal is a grace for the Church.”
We assure those in the Charismatic Renewal of the support they enjoy from the bishops of the United States, and we encourage them in their efforts to renew the life of the Church.
Perhaps a few words about the charisms are in order. Vatican II echoes St. Paul in stating: It is not only through the sacraments and Church ministries that the same Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God. He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank…”The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit.” [1 Cor 12:7]
These charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church.” [L.G. 12]So the gifts, supernatural and ordinary, are gifts not to individuals, but to the community. These gifts are given to build up God’s people, and the Holy Spirit distributes “them individually to each person as he wishes. ” [1 Cor 12:11] Hence, they do not indicate the sanctity of the individual.
The gifts that are found in the Charismatic Renewal are outlined in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians [Chapter 12] : “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge… to another faith… to another gifts of healing… mighty deeds (miracles)… prophecy… discernment of spirits… variety of tongues… interpretation of tongues.” [1 Cor 12:7-10]
Hence, the list includes gifts through which God gives understanding about himself and the Christian walk; wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. Gifts through which God acts in his community; faith, healing, and miracles. And gifts through which God speaks to his people; prophecy, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
The Gifts of the Spirit
The following is a brief description of these gifts:
WISDOM: The gift by which the Holy Spirit directs a person to make the right decision or judgment and to live a true Christian life. Generally most Catholics acknowledge this gift by praying for the Light of the Spirit.
KNOWLEDGE: The gift by which the Spirit gives a person a deeper understanding of a Mystery of Faith or specific knowledge about a person or situation that could not be known, unless God revealed it. Many priests experience this gift in the sacrament of reconciliation.
FAITH: This gift inspires a person to pray with God given confidence. Knowing that what is asked for will be granted. This should not be confused with the virtue of faith (believing Christian truths). Jesus told his disciples that “whoever says to this mountain, `Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him.” [Mark 11:23]
HEALING: This is one gift which Catholics accept in the lives of the saints, but find it difficult to accept in the lives of ordinary Christians. This gift speeds up the natural healing powers of the body. Jesus healed many who came to him, for example, Peter’s mother-in-law.
MIRACLES: This gift is different from healing in that it does not depend on the laws of nature. An example of a miracle, or mighty deed, is the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
PROPHECY: This is a gift by which God, through a person, speaks a message to an individual or to the whole Christian community. It is God making use of someone, to state what He thinks about the present situation, what His intention is for the future; or what He thinks they should know or be mindful of right now. It is not primarily nor necessarily a prediction of the future. St. Paul says, “One who prophesies does speak to human beings, for their building up, encouragement, and solace.” [1 Cor. 14:3]
DISCERNMENT OF SPIRITS: Through this gift one senses the presence of good or evil spirits. Many experience a form of discernment when meeting people. Some people come across as loving and good; others radiate negative aspects. Primarily, this gift discerns the presence of the Holy Spirit.
TONGUES: Catholic Charismatics believe that God gives the gift of praying in an “unknown tongue” to anyone who seeks it. The person is able to speak this new language of praise of God, even though the individual does not understand what is being said. Actually, it is the Spirit of God within the heart praying. In the Book of Romans, St. Paul says, “the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” [Rom 8:26-27] This gift of tongues is mentioned 57 times in the New Testament!
INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES: Occasionally, a member of a the assembly will speak out some message in tongues. This utterance will be accompanied by an interpretation of its contents. Tongues and interpretation, St. Paul tells us, are the equivalent to the gift of prophecy.
Collectively, these gifts are for the building up of God’s people. They have existed in one form or another throughout the history of the Christian church. For example, the Orthodox Communions have them listed in their canon law, and many of their monks exhibit them.
The Prayer Group
At the present time in the Catholic Church, these “charismatic” gifts are usually experienced in the context of a prayer meeting. The main purpose of prayer meetings is to give glory to God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Most of the meeting consists of praising God with spontaneous prayers and with singing. These periods of prayer will be punctuated by scripture reading, sharing, and prayers for the particular needs of individuals. During the meeting the charisms will be exercised, although they do not always play a part. The typical meeting follows St. Paul’s directive: “When you assemble, one has a psalm, another an instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or interpretation. Everything should be done for building up.” [1 Cor 14:26]
In another place, St. Paul charges the Christians: “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and praying to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” [Eph 5:18-20]
Finally, in one of his earliest writings, St. Paul exhorts Christians to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil” [1 Thes 5:16-22]
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