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Theological Notebook: Another CNS Article on Catholic Charismatic Renewal and Dissertation Thoughts

Another CNS story on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. As I mentioned earlier, I've been amused to discover myself writing a significantly charismatic-focused dissertation, particularly when I'm a person who doesn't go in so much for the types of behaviours – as mentioned below in the article – that are so often characterized as "charismatic" or "pentecostal." I tend to move into stillness in worship, myself, with the Mass creating an increasingly contemplative mood in me as we move toward the Liturgy of the Eucharist (although at the same time I can get very involved in the music). That is, if I'm not zoned out or distracted, which of course also happens to me, like with anyone else. (I think a lot of people feel they have to screw themselves up into some kind of ultra-attentive state or they didn't "do" Mass properly. I think it's the community that "does" the Mass, though, and our personal states of attention aren't what's important; although like with conversation, working our jobs, driving a car, or lovemaking, it's probably better for us if we pay attention to what we're doing.)

The main point with regard to charisms that I've been learning from Sullivan's work on the subject is that charisms are such a wider category than the types of things that are associated with pentecostal worship and prayer. In many Pentecostal churches, yes, you do tend to get an identification between having the gift of "speaking in tongues" with the notion of having received the gift of the Holy Spirit. If you can't do it, you haven't received the Spirit yet. That thinking certainly doesn't fly in Catholic theology and life: the Spirit is given in Baptism and in the laying on of hands in Confirmation, but there are so many other ways and moments in life that the Spirit can become manifest, even after a Sacramental rite that meant nothing to us at the time.

Following Paul's theology closely, Sullivan is quick to emphasize that the Spirit gives us all gifts/charisms, and, as Paul had to tell the church at Corinth in the First Letter to the Corinthians, the "gifts of inspiration" that they so emphasized – tongues, prophecy, and speaking inspired "words of knowledge" – are of little value if they are not applied to the building up of the community, of the Church. That's what the whole "love chapter" so famed at weddings, 1 Cor. 13, is all about: those gifts not applied to the building of the community – to love – are a whole lot of nothing, even though they remain real gifts. It's building us up in love – in that divine life of perfect unity among the three Persons of the Triune God – that make that life of God come alive in us.

Sullivan thinks that if we can "mainstream" these "charismatic" parts of the Church (all of it has always been charismatic: that's the down side of the label – that it makes it seem like only some people have charisms), rather than letting them become some sort of little, separate, Protestant Pentecostal "church within the Church," then these gifts can really fulfill their potential in helping build up the prayer life of Catholics. In other words, he really thinks the potential in the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church is to empower the misison of evangelism within the Church, of the Catholics themselves. That it's about going "further up and further in."

  Catholic News Service PHOTO
Pablo Bayona preaches during the Hispanic program at the national Catholic charismatic renewal conference in Secaucus, N.J., in late June. The Catholic layman from the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a full-time preacher. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)
Don't be afraid of charismatics, leaders tell their fellow Catholics
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

SECAUCUS, N.J. (CNS) -- Mention that you're attending a charismatic renewal event to most American Catholics and they may take a cautious step backward, as if they expect you to lay a hand on their foreheads and pray over them, unbidden.

In a world where being Catholic can seem countercultural, being a charismatic Catholic often adds one more layer of popular misunderstanding. Terminology like "slain in the Spirit" and "speaking in tongues," hand-waving, dancing and enthusiastically expressed joy are images of charismatics that make other Catholics more than a little uncomfortable.

But by one estimate, 14 percent of North American Catholics -- nearly 10 million people -- fall under the broad umbrella of the charismatic renewal. The fastest growing portion of the U.S. church, Latinos, are five times more likely than their Anglo counterparts to be a part of charismatic activities.

The U.S. church is becoming more charismatic, whether or not other American Catholics feel awkward around charismatic practices.

Speaking with Catholic News Service during a 40th anniversary Conference of the Charismatic Renewal in New Jersey in late June, a bishop who has long been a part of the charismatic movement and three other leaders told the stories of how they came to be involved in it.

Walter Matthews, executive director of Chariscenter USA, described being in a prayer group in Manhattan after college when he had a profound experience of the Holy Spirit.

Msgr. Joseph Malagreca, pastor of Ss. Joachim and Anne Parish in Queens Village, N.Y., was a senior in college when he said he was "overwhelmed by the Spirit" during a seminarian's witness story.

For Father John Gordon, a Newark archdiocesan priest, it was August 1975 during a prayer meeting at a parish where participants prayed for what is called "baptism of the Holy Spirit."

And for Bishop Sam G. Jacobs of Houma-Thibodaux, La., it was in September 1969, five years after his ordination, at a gathering of 15 fellow priests when he first experienced the sense of spiritual renewal that has drawn him to the charismatic movement for nearly 40 years.

The four explained the origins of the Catholic charismatic renewal -- a student retreat at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1967 -- and its rapid spread, first across college campuses and soon around the world. From its beginning the movement has had strong support at high levels of the church.

As early as 1969, a U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine report about the charismatic renewal noted its "strong biblical basis" and legitimate theological reasons for existence. The report said the movement should be allowed to develop and gave recommendations to bishops about how to guide it.

The late Belgian Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens was an early proponent of the charismatic renewal, and Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have all supported it in various ways. At one point, every U.S. diocese had an official liaison to the charismatic renewal.

Father Gordon said that, although the very physical, very emotional expressions of charismatics often are more associated with Pentecostal Protestants, since the early days of the church Catholicism has been a part of the Spirit-filled approach to faith.

"For Catholics it's not a big leap," said Father Gordon. "We expect the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives. Our experience of worship is very physical. It involves all the senses," through incense, candlelight, the Eucharist and song.

Among the typical characteristics of charismatic experiences are the "gifts of the Holy Spirit." Some people are overcome with a physical feeling of warmth and well-being, sometimes called "baptism of the Spirit." Some find they can "prophesy" or relate to others a message from God.

Other people shout or dance, sometimes without control over their actions, falling to the floor in what is called being "slain in the Spirit." Others may simply raise a hand high, swaying along with a song. What is called "speaking in tongues" is traditionally the ability to speak in a language unknown to the individual, but may be heard as a phrase such as "Jesus is Lord" or something indecipherable, repeated over and over like a mantra.

Defining who is a part of the charismatic renewal is even harder to quantify.

News stories about what was called Catholic Pentecostalism in the 1970s described massive gatherings: 20,000 at a 1973 conference at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana; 10,000 in 1975 at the Vatican; 600 priests -- about 1 percent of all priests in the country at the time -- praying together over three priests with medical problems at a healing service in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1975.

Today, no one organization keeps track of who is involved in the many practices, groups and events that might be described as charismatic, such as Life in the Spirit seminars, Life Teen, covenant communities, healing ministries, retreat programs and parish missions.

The Council on Faith in Action, a Latino evangelical organization, estimates there are 3 million charismatic Catholics in the United States. The International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services cites the World Christian Encyclopedia in estimating there are 9.7 million charismatic Catholics in North America and more than 119 million in 235 countries worldwide.

There's little doubt, though, that as the U.S. church becomes more predominantly Hispanic, the percentage of charismatic Catholics will grow.

A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 62 percent of Catholic Hispanics at least occasionally attend Masses that have "displays of excitement and enthusiasm, such as raising hands, clapping, shouting or jumping."

Among non-Hispanic Catholics, only about 12 percent consider themselves charismatics, the study found.

Bishop Jacobs believes the way to ensure that more people come to at least accept, if not participate in, the charismatic renewal is to "bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and God will convert their hearts." He suggested activities that have helped people find such a personal connection to God, including Life in the Spirit seminars, retreats and Marriage Encounter.

Father Gordon said he would like to encourage other Catholics "not to be afraid" of the Holy Spirit working in ways that seem strange to them.