Friday, July 26, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for Real? part 8

Letter to Kerry Zmatick continued. (Can’t this guy ever talk about something worth talking about?)

When last I wrote, I posed the question: “So what about the gifts of the Holy Spirit that you say aren’t gifts?” Perhaps I am being a little picky, but strictly speaking the gifts of the Holy Spirit as spoken of by Pentecostal/Charismatics are not called gifts in the Bible.  

When Peter stood up on the first Pentecost and said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He uses the word “dorea” referring to the “gift” of the Holy Spirit. The word gift (dorea) is not used in the first letter to the Corinthians to refer to these manifestations. It is used in the second letter to the Corinthians.  “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” That word for gift is dorea and it isn’t referring to the “gifts” so called.

So these things like speaking in tongues and prophesy and healing etc. are just not gifts. That’s not what the Bible says no matter how often you’ve heard them referred to as such. It just ain’t there. Deal with it. They are a specific kind of charism, an external manifestation of the power of God.

There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. 

There are nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and, self-control. 

Then there are the charisms. The catechism mentions them in Paragraph 799: “Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world.” The Bible word for grace is “charis” hence charismata are “graces” things freely bestowed. These graces or charisms exist not for the individual but for the building up of the body of Christ.

The scriptures list the following charisms in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 1Corinthians 12:28,Ephesians 4:11, 1 and Peter 4:11: Prophecy,  Service, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, Mercy, Word of wisdom, Word of knowledge, Faith, Gifts of healings, Miracles, Discernment of spirits, Tongues,  Interpretation of Tongues, Apostleship, Administration, Evangelism, 18 in all. Of these, nine are specifically referred to by St. Paul as “phaneroseis” “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit. These are  wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues.

So what are they for? Believe me, if you’ve ever seen a true manifestation of the Holy Spirit, you don’t forget it. Take the gift of prophecy for instance. When I was a young priest I was working very hard. I was doing retreats and Masses and Sacraments and prayer meetings and.... I was so tired that I once fell asleep standing in front of a refrigerator at ten at night. I hadn’t eaten that day. I often prayed for some confirmation that I was doing God’s will. Well, I got my word from the Lord, and it wasn’t exactly a confirmation.

 A woman I had never met came over to me after a fund-raising dinner for a drug treatment center and said, “Fr. Rich, you don’t know me, but I have been praying for you. The Lord gave me a vision about you,. I saw you dressed in all sorts of sporting gear, footballs helmet, goggles, track shoes, knee pads and more. The Lord wants to tell you that you aren’t really serving Him. You are playing at this like it was game.” 

You could have knocked me over. I had been asking the Lord for a word and this fearless woman was faithful to her calling and let me have it with both barrels, though she didn’t know me, or my situation. She was actually hesitant to confront a stranger with a hard word from God. She was faithful to the Lord and it changed my life. 

Another dear friend, afflicted with seizures was carried into a prayer meeting and left the meeting running and jumping. She has never had a seizure since, nor has she taken her debilitating anti-seizure drugs since. I have seen people leap out of wheel chairs and even saw a man spring back to life after the paramedics had given him up for dead. You notice these things. They are manifestations of the power and presence of God, a power that can change the life which will let itself be changed.

What about speaking in tongues, isn’t that a bit ridiculous? Yes, it’s quite ridiculous and its supposed to be. Most people think that the charism of tongues was a gift by which the Apostles could preach in languages they had not learned. This is just not so. In the plaza on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem, the crowd that gathered all spoke Greek and Aramaic many also spoke Latin and certainly Hebrew. There was no need for a gift of tongues. Everybody there shared a number of languages.  The disciples went out onto that balcony and were accused not of being eloquent, but drunk!! (Acts 2:13) St. Paul says, “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1Cor. 14:19) Whatever glossolalia (the fancy word for “speaking in tongues” which I will now use in order not to sound like a total idiot) was, it was unintelligible just like a good old meetin’ in a store front church in a run down part of town. So what is the good of speaking in tongues? Look at what St. Paul says about the manifestations of prophesy and tongues.

“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!” (1Cor. 14:22-25)

Let me get this straight. Tongues is a sign for unbelievers because they’ll think you’re crazy. Prophesy is a sign for believers, because unbelievers will have the secrets of their hearts revealed and say that God is among you. I hear you saying “That’s crazy. It makes no sense !! You must have it backward.”  

I remember a young man who was contemplating suicide. His mother begged him to come to a charismatic retreat. He went. The congregation were all shouting in unintelligible sounds at the top of their voices. They were clearly all crazy and they were clearly all happy. He thought, “Why not?” and joined in the lunacy. He is alive to this day. No one leaves a good prayer meeting and says, “Very nice service, Reverend” after people have been shouting in Babylonian and swinging from the chandeliers. No, they usually say “ You’re all crazy and should probably be arrested and I’m coming back next week to figure out just how crazy you are.” If it’s a real “penny-costal prayer meeting’ ” no one sleeps through the service. Unfortunately there are a lot of so-called prayer meetings through which I have slept quite soundly.  Still when you go to a prayer meeting that the Holy Spirit also attends, you know that something powerful is going on. Prophetic utterance can be a bit overwhelming. When the secrets of your hearts are laid bare, you might just not come back. So crazy tongues is a sign for unbelievers. Insightful prophecy should be reserved for believers who can take it. These manifestations have nothing to do with the personal holiness of the people who exercise them. They are pure unmerited grace. Herein lies one of the great Pentecostal problems, and it is a problem that Catholics jump into with both feet.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that the (real) gifts of the Holy Spirit exist to sanctify us by giving us the opportunity to grow in virtue. Wisdom engenders charity. Understanding engenders faith etc. You can look this up in the Catechism, in paragraph 1831. The fruits of the Holy Spirit; Love, Peace, Patience, Joy, etc. are the very character of Christ which is what the Heavenly Father is trying to work in us that we might be the image of Christ in the world and the adopted children of God.

The manifestation of the Holy Spirit exists only for the purpose of evangelism. The best definition of Charismatic Renewal I ever hear came form Mr. Bill
Beaty who was the President of the National Service Committee of the Charismatic Renewal. He said that the Charismatic Renewal is an evangelistic movement that brings people to a saving knowledge of Christ through signs and wonders. 

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a vocation to be an evangelist, and these manifestations exist for the good of the Church and the world. They are not an experience that validates me or heals me or makes me feel better or distinguishes me for my holiness. There is no me in them if they are used properly. The problem above mentioned is that we think that somehow these things are signs of the holiness of the agent. I have met some pretty disreputable people at whose hands great things have been done. I remember when a great faith healer was caught in scandal, someone who had been dramatically healed by that man’s ministry asked me, “Will my sickness come back now?” 

We Catholics have always known that a bad priest can say a good Mass, because it not the priest who says Mass, but it is Christ. So to it not the faith healer who heals or the prophet who speaks, it is Christ. Remember that Caiaphas the high priest, a charlatan if ever there was one, prophesied accurately when he said, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)

Jesus says very clearly that you are to judge a man and a ministry not by miracles, but by fruits, which are as I have pointed out are Love, Peace etc. as found in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. When a miracle happens, Catholics flock there by busload. Pentecostal Protestants do the same thing. I remember a bright neon sign on a Pentecostal church that read “Why should you suffer when others are being healed?”  The manifestations don’t exist for my convenience and comfort. They exist that the world might know that the Kingdom of God has come about in power and that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

Catholics and Protestants alike misunderstand the role of the miraculous and the narcissism with which people have received these powerful charisms has been a great hindrance to the unfolding of the Pentecost for which good Pope John prayed.  “By a kind of new Pentecost renew Your marvelous works in this our time.....enlarge the kingdom of the Divine Savior, a kingdom of truth and justice, of love and peace. ” 

Pope John asked, God gave, and we who were called frittered away the blessing.

Next week: If you think I’m done you’re not even close.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for Real? part 7

(Letter to Kerry Zmatick continued)

Once again, I apologize to my faithful readers (a group of about eight, two of whom are canaries anxiously staring at the bottom of their cages.) You probably have no interest in all this nonsense, but I think it may be of some importance.

The  Charismatic movement is bigger and more dynamic that most people think. It has lost a lot of steam here in the USA where it started, but among African, Asian, and Latin American Catholics it is huge and very influential. Years ago, in 2002 in his article “The Next Christianity”, (Atlantic Monthly October 2002) Phillip Jenkins claimed that the future of the world is the southern hemisphere, it is Christian and it is Charismatic. This was before the recent explosion of Christianity in China. He challenges the much touted claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion. It seems that in terms of adult conversions to the faith, Charismatic Christianity is the wave of the future. We don’t see that here because not only is the “American” church dying, America is dying. The vitality of the Church in this country is pretty much found among immigrants from Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Face it. If this is true, then we Catholics had better make sure we get it right and continue to offer the unchanging truth of Catholic Faith and its two thousand years of unbroken tradition. That means that those who are Charismatic had better do their best to understand what the Holy Spirit is doing among them and to integrate what they have received into the whole Church for the well being of the whole Church. To summarize the axe that I have been grinding for the past few weeks, I will try to get it into a sentence so simple that even the two canaries above mentioned and I can understand. Here goes:

About a hundred years after the Reformation, there was a reaction to the dryness of classical Protestantism that resulted in the Pietist movement (1725). This in turn resulted in the Methodist movement (1800) which in its turn engendered the  Pentecostal movement (1900) now called the Charismatic movement. This world-wide movement is thus an odd hybrid of Catholic spirituality clothed in definitions and theology taken from Protestantism. Such phrases as “Are you saved?” and “Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?” are understood more in terms of Reformation legalism than Biblical conversion. The terms in which these realities are described are important.

The movement is important and so the terms are important. To inaccurately define these experiences limits and even diminishes them. If for example you have a forensic -- that is legal -- understanding of salvation, you will answer certain questions differently. To the question, "Are you saved?"  You might answer, “Yes, I am saved and  I needn’t do anything more until Jesus comes except go to the occasional prayer meeting.”  If you have a Catholic, i.e. Biblical, understanding of the question, you might answer, “Yes, I am being saved, changed day by day into the image of Christ for the salvation of the world.” 

If you have a forensic understanding of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit you might say “Yes, I have the Baptism in the Holy spirit. I know because I have the gift of tongues as evidence and I have the other gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Remember, as mentioned earlier, the phrase, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” appears nowhere in the Scriptures, and speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing discernment of spirit, are never called gifts. They are charisms. So what’s the difference? You can have a gift (in Greek: “dorea”). You can only receive a charism (in Greek “charisma”).

If I give you the gift of a large picture of dogs playing poker, it is yours. You may keep it. Please do. The word charism has the sense of a favor, a blessing. It is related to the word for grace, “charis” It is grace operating in you, not a trophy to be displayed on your mantle. A charsim would be if I extended you the honor of representing me at the Frostbite Falls Religious Broadcast of the Week Award Banquet were I to receive the “Loony” (the coveted plastic trophy that depicts a loon holding a microphone). That would be a charism. Were I to say, "Keep the trophy," that would be a gift. 

They are different. A gift is mine. A charism is not mine. It is God’s favor, allowing me to be used for the preaching of His kingdom and the up building of His Church. It proves nothing about me, except that God loves me and is generous to a sinner. Gifts are to own. Charismata are to use. This is at the heart of the Charismatic problem. For many of us, to be Charismatic is to go to a wonderful prayer meeting where I really feel the presence of God and there is a really good music ministry and the speaker is dynamic and there is healing and people falling out in the Spirit, and then we go to Bakers Square afterwards for coffee. Hallelujah. For some people, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a kind of hobby.

To be baptized in the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. “Huh?”  I can hear you say. “Now Father! You are just being irritating.” That may be true, but I have a point. Let us look at the text. The verb phrase “to baptize in the Holy Spirit” appears only twice in the new testament, both times referring to the same sermon of St. John the Baptist. (Cf. Matt 3:12 and Luke 3:17)

“The ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not produce good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water for the sake of  repentance. but He that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

To make bread before this marvelous mechanized age, you started by cutting wheat and throwing it onto a threshing floor, which was usually a large flat stone on top of a hill. You brought up oxen, harnessed to a heavy sledge. The oxen would then tread out the grain, going in circles dragging the sledge behind them. The crushing of hooves and sledge broke open the hulls of the grain and separated the grain from the chaff. Then you would take a large flat wooden shovel and toss the crushed wheat into the air until the wind separated the lighter chaff from the heavier grain. Two piles would form, a large one of chaff, then a small one of wheat kernels. The chaff would be burned and the wheat ground once more to make flour which was once again subjected to fire in order to make bread. 

The temple was built over what had once been the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. The rough stone of the threshing floor was the very floor of the Holy of Holies where rested the ark of the covenant. The center of Israelite worship was a threshing floor like the one John spoke of. This Baptizing in the Holy Spirit was symbolized in the very heart of the old covenant and there was to be a new temple and new threshing floor to make a new bread for sacrifice when the old covenant was at last fulfilled. Threshing involves crushing and burning and the separation of chaff from wheat by the wind. It is telling to realize that in Greek and in Hebrew “wind” is the same word as “Spirit”. Crushing, burning, separation from what is useless. Does this sound like what most people mean when they talk about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit? No, they mean a seminar after which there is usually coffee and cookies. The immersion in the Divine Presence is not an experience. It is a roaring and mighty wind that separates one from what one holds dear. It is a fire that purifies by steady and repeated  burning away of whatever is useless.

That is certainly what started in my life on January 24, 1968.  I cannot say that I have the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. I have been Baptized in the Holy Spirit and that night so long ago was when the fire was lit, that continues to burn and crush and purify, if I let it. To be washed in the Divine Presence is a fearful thing. It is not some kind of merit badge or graduation ceremony. It is a like the wrestling match between Jacob and the angel of God.  There is joy, but it is hardly an entertainment. It is fire and it is a mighty wind that will take you away from all that you thought was important to you. It is not given to anyone to make life better. It, like love, makes life in this world much more difficult and at the same time infinitely more purposeful. To be Baptized in the Holy Spirit is to offer yourself on the altar of the new temple, and having passed through the fire in the altar of sacrifice, to enter the threshing floor, the true Holy of Holies.

Next week: so what about the gifts of the Holy Spirit that you say aren’t gifts?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for real? part 6

(Letter to Kerry Zmatick continued)

From its very beginning the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement/Renewal suffered from the coming together of two incompatible things: Catholic spirituality and Protestant theology. The experience of Pentecostals is very Catholic. Classical Protestant theology taught that the age of miracles was over. Pentecostalism is all about miracles. 

I remember hearing a Pentecostal pastor who came over into Catholicism with his whole congregation. He said that Pentecostals and Catholics have a lot in common. Pentecostals love miracles and it seemed to him that Catholics actually had some real ones. Pentecostalism was rejected by mainline Protestantism precisely because it was, in their eyes, too Catholic. Miracles were for Bible times and not for the present day. 

As I have already explained, when I returned home to my parents to tell them about this wonderful new thing God was doing, they pointed out that it wasn’t new to them. They sure took the wind out of my adolescent sails. The supernatural intimacy that traditional Catholics take for  granted is not part of mainline Protestantism. Classical Protestantism was a very dry thing until the Pietist movement rocked Germany in the 1700's. It always seems that Reformation theologians assumed that the Almighty had been on sabbatical from the death of St. John until the birth of Martin Luther, at least until Wycliffe and Huss. Luther and Calvin laid down the law, trimmed down the rituals and that should have been enough. 

It was until another German named Johann Arndt, (1555-1621) decided to stir things up. He was a general superintendent (sort of a Lutheran Archbishop) who read the writings of St Bernard, Johannes Tauler, Blessed Angela of Foligno and Thomas à Kempis, all pre-Lutheran Catholic mystical authors. That got him into all sorts of trouble for being too Catholic. He was criticized for religious art on church walls and exorcisms at Baptism and all that sort of Catholic mumbo jumbo. He wrote about his  rediscovery of pre-reformation Catholic mysticism in his magnum, and I do mean magnum, opus “Four Books of True Christianity” 300 plus exciting pages. It was by no means a best seller. It was all about the mystical union between Christ and the believer. Arndt was more interested in Christ's life IN the believer than classical Protestantism which is all about Christ’s death FOR the believer. Calvin and Luther, both former law students, were interested in the legal, forensic work of Christ. For them it was as cut and dry as a law court. They weren’t big on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Catholicism for all it’s complexity has always believed that Communion, the deep, intimate  union between Christ and believers is at the heart of the faith.

Arndt’s book wasn’t that popular. We Germans can be a bit tedious even for those who like things tedious. Another German fellow name of Jakob Spener (1635-1705) really loved  “Four Books of True Christianity.” He wrote Pia Desideria, as a preface to Arndt’s book. His preface was a mere 75 pages. It sold like hot cakes. In it, Spener emphasized personal transformation through spiritual rebirth. These were fighting words for orthodox Protestantism. If one was among the elect, what did personal piety matter? In 1695 the theological faculty of Wittenberg charged Spener with heresy, citing 264 errors. Interesting how the worm turns, Protestants charging someone with heresy? Fortunately Speer died before he could be condemned.  How lucky for him.  

Pia Desideria went through the German Empire like Imelda Marcos though a shoe store. Wherever it was read people would gather for spontaneous prayer in, heaven forfend, PRAYER MEETINGS!  These were forbidden innovations. In the German Empire, there were three permitted religions. Catholicism, Evangelisch (Luther’s brand of Protestantism) and Reformed Protestantism (Calvin’s brand).  Prayer meetings were absolutely non-Protestant, and absolutely forbidden.  In fact Protestant theologians called them “Catholic Monasteries on Protestant Soil. Impossible! People were jailed for public, spontaneous, shared  prayer. Thus was born Pietism and the prayer meeting. (Interesting to think there were no such things as prayer meetings before 1700. The prayer meeting was invented, not revealed.)

In 1738, John Wesley, an Anglican priest, encountered Pietism at the Aldersgate Pietist prayer meeting in London among emigrants from Bohemia, then part of the German Empire. Wesley eventually wrote, 

“In the evening I went unwillingly to a society (prayer meeting) in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.”   

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was a world changing event. Thus was born Methodism, founded by Wesley. Catholic piety was fused to Protestant theology by means of Methodism and the prayer meeting. It was Methodism that ended; slavery in the British Empire and ultimately in America. 

Methodism was an amazing movement before it ran out of steam. Good English Protestants did not have warmings of the heart, nor for that matter, did German Lutherans and Calvinists. Italian and Spanish Catholics had warmings of the heart and all that emotional rubbish. What we today think of as Evangelical Protestantism is, in fact, a strange hybrid of Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism. About a century and half later, Pentecostalism exploded among disappointed Methodists as I have already pointed out, and the hybrid got even stranger.   

When the first Catholic Pentecostals met in 1967 to ask “Well, what do we do now?”  There was no one there like my wise and wonderful parents to tell them that this was really nothing new. I remember hearing about local Assembly of God Ministers from the South Bend area who invited to help guide those first prayer meetings. They meant well, but they came with the inadequate Biblical theology that has kept Protestant Pentecostalism divided for its entire history. They brought inaccurate uses of Biblical terms such as “gifts of the Holy Spirit” and “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” 

The exact phrase “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is not found in the New Testament, the verb from baptize in the Holy spirit occurs twice, both in reference to the same words of John the Baptist (Mt 3:11 and Lk 3:16). It occurs twice in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:4-5, and Acts 11:16). There are a lot of other references to an encounter with the Holy Spirit such “poured out upon”, “falling upon”, “coming upon” , “pour out” , “clothed with power from on high”.

Protestant Pentecostal theology makes the assumption that these are all the same thing and that they constitute a quasi-sacramental, initiation that demands evidence for veracity. It confers status as a full believer. It makes one a member of the true church, whichever true church that happens to be. There is a whole theological wing of Christianity that assumes an experience that the Bible calls the Baptism with or in the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing. 

"Wait a minute? I thought you were baptized in the Holy Spirit!" 

If by this you mean that night in 1964 that altered my life’s course irrevocably why are you using a non-biblical phrase to describe it? Why not call it an encounter with the Holy Spirit? Or a pouring out? Or a clothing with power? The best I can make of it was that it was an encounter with the Third Person of the Trinity in which I found myself in the Holy Spirit who had been in me most of my life. It was the difference between taking a life giving drink of water and falling into a swimming pool. I felt quite literally in the Holy Spirit, the way one might be in a room. It was external, more than internal. It was not a gift made to me, it was something that  made me a gift to the church, at least to the degree that a sinner like me would respond to it. 

A noun is not a verb and a verb is not a noun and there is no such thing in the Bible as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Catholic Charismatic  theologians have danced around for years trying to explain how the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit relate to the sacraments. We would split hairs about receiving the Holy Spirit in Baptism and then accepting the grace of Baptism in the Baptism of (or in) the Holy Spirit. Was it an experience? Was it what one should have felt at confirmation? Was it necessary to feel something? Was it necessary to speak in tongues as evidence of the Holy Spirit? What if you spoke in tongues at Sunday Mass and the pastor threw you out?  Should there be Charismatic parishes?  The questions and the arguments went on and on all because there was no one there at the beginning who was as reasonable as my parents. In the earliest days, we just accepted the protestant definitions.

Our Protestant teachers told us that speaking in tongues, prophecy healing, the gift of knowledge, and all the rest are the gifts of Holy Spirit. St. Paul says so in his letter to the Corinthians, no? WRONG!  In the text St. Paul talks about “charismata” and “phanerosis”.  He doesn’t mention gifts. The word St. Paul doesn’t use is “dorea”. It means “gift”. 

St. Paul does mention “charisma”. It means attractiveness or charm, kindness, a favor or service bestowed. Grace is “charis” and charisma is the result of grace. Gift and charisma are two different things. The phrase “charismatic gifts” doesn’t appear in the text. The word gift isn’t in the text at all. The Catholic Church teaches that the charismata are spiritual graces and qualifications granted to every Christian to perform his task in the Church. That’s pretty much what St. Paul says, but the so called gifts of the Holy Spirit, as the Pentecostals call them, are a very specific kind of charisma, called “phanerosis”, or “manifestation”, a word related to the English word phenomenon. St Paul is talking about the external manifestations of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts are internal. Our misuse of the term “gifts of the Holy Spirit” ran right up against Catholic doctrine. There are seven  gifts (doreai) of the Holy Spirit:  wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (or courage), knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Not many Assembly of God ministers nor prayer group leaders were nuancing Greek texts and Catholic theology back then. Rather than look carefully at the text of Scripture, we accepted inaccurate descriptions for what was happening among us. We failed to understand these things in their relationship to the wider Church and we were unable to integrate ourselves into the Church as a whole. 

We became a strange group of fringe Catholics who had prayer meetings on a Thursday or a Monday, where we jabbered in tongues and sang rather maudlin songs. All along these prophetic manifestations should have been a blessing to the wider Church. We were unable to describe these things in terms comprehensible to the Church. We kept our light under a charismatic bushel, we had our own little groups often separated from the life of our parishes. They looked down on us and quite frankly we looked down on them. We were weird, they were lukewarm. Both sides were mistaken.  Now the imprecise definitions are entrenched and the Renewal has failed to live up to its promise.

Next week: Gift schmift, charism schmarism. Big deal.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for real? part 5

(Letter to Kerry Zmatick continued)

At this point people who have no interest in Charismatic Renewal or other strange religious phenomena will probably have lost all interest in these articles, but I still need to get it out of my system.

So what happened? How was this Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church derailed?  First of all, it has not been totally derailed. The vitality of the Church in many parts of the world is the direct result of the rediscovery of Pentecost that was one of the more helpful aspects of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Renewal. 

I am told that in France there is a certain blending of Traditional Catholicism and Charismatic Renewal. Though committed Catholics are fewer in France than in times past, they are dynamic and convinced.  The evidence is admittedly anecdotal, but still there is reason to believe that faith is on the rise in France. Even in the United States, the  odd marriage of traditional and Charismatic Renewal has been one  of the influences in the resurgence of a more traditional Catholicism, especially among young people. 

The resurgence, however, has been among those who don’t necessarily consider themselves part of a movement, or who may even have formally left the movement. Mother Angelica is perhaps foremost among these. She got her start in show business through the Charismatic Renewal. I know this to be true. I was there. I was on a stage with her at a Charismatic conference in Albuquerque. She was thoroughly charismatic and her humor had us rolling in the aisles. When she established the  Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), she changed the face of Catholicism in this country. I have heard the vocations coming into the church these days called Mother Angelica vocations or JP2 (John Paul the Second) vocations. The World Youth Days, the Rallies and Conferences that are currently popular were first pioneered by Charismatic Renewal, as was the renewed interest in Bible study for non-scholars, like myself.

Among priests being ordained these days it is estimated that 44 percent have attended prayer meetings or Bible studies. A period spent in the Charismatic Renewal is not uncommon for those entering the priesthood and religious life. Again, this is anecdotal, but it seems that the thought of a calling to the Catholic priesthood or sisterhood is not at all dead, and the case can be made that Charismatic prayer groups have helped create a climate in which a religious vocation is valued, because of the belief that we live in a supernatural world. Catholicism is once again an evangelistic religion, aiming at winning converts. The post Vatican II clergy were of the opinion that it was all good -- Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, it’s all good. The post-Mother Angelica crowd really seems to think there are good reasons to be Catholic Christians and these all have to do with Christ.

The movement itself, however  seems in large measure to be stuck in the 1960's among its English speaking members, and to continues to develop as a parallel Church that seems more Protestant than Catholic among its Spanish-speaking members. It seems that only in Africa is Charismatic life integrated into the wider church so much so as to be unremarkable. The amazing growth of the Church in Africa seems to take evangelism and charismatic spirituality for granted.   

Again, take all this with more than just a grain of salt, because I am, speaking from my own experience, and can’t back these statements up with hard facts. Still, the English prayer groups I know tend to be populated by older people who reminisce about what things used to be like back when the Renewal began. It seams to me that the intensity of the early Charismatic Renewal has been transferred to another amazing phenomenon that I can’t pontificate on nearly as well: Eucharistic Adoration. I theorize that the growth of Eucharistic Adoration is also a result of Charismatic Renewal, at least in part. 

The traditional belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist was certainly bolstered by Charismatic Renewal. Charismatics believe in miracles and nothing could be more miraculous that the transformation of bread and wine into flesh and blood. My progressive seminary training was full of attempts to  de-mythologize and explain Transubstantiation in terms acceptable to enlightened moderns, (Transubstantiation is the belief that one substance can change into another, e.g. bread and wine can become flesh and blood. Only Traditional Christians and some physicists believe this.) 

In the seminary graduate school, we had endless discussions of trans-signification, con- substantiation. A real popular one was called trans-symbolization, the idea that when Mass was over the Eucharistic species reverted to being merely bread and wine. They had only symbolized the Body and Blood of the Lord. This was not new. Before the Vatican Council, the idea of trans- symbolization was called Protestantism, however trans-symbolization looked more Catholic. It allowed for kneeling and bowing and incense and worship, if one insisted on that sort of medieval nonsense, but that sort of thing was only allowed in the context of Mass.  Those who practiced Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass were derided as “cookie-worshipers.” There was much laughter about the so-called “sacred crumb theory.” How small would a crumb have to be before it ceased to be divine? 

I remember the story of a faculty argument among the progressives and the more traditional faculty members about the whole matter, until one of the priest faculty took a bread basket, place his hands over it and said “This is my Body!” and handed it to one of the more traditional priests. The more traditional priest sat there and ate that whole basket of bread and every crumb he could detect. Tabernacles were moved to this side, that side. Broom closets were cleared out and called Sacrament chapels. I remember going into the seminary chapel and being unable to find the tabernacle. Over in the corner stood an arrangement of potted palms and other foliage. Behind the clump of greenery, you guessed it, I found the tabernacle. The Bible verse comes to mind “They asked (Mary Magdalene), ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don't know where they have put him.’ ” (John 20:13)

No matter what pious nonsense priests and liturgists mouthed such as “One shouldn’t have two focuses for the Eucharist". Or, "I don’t want to say Mass with my back to the tabernacle,” the real reason was a de-emphasis of the belief that the Lord was truly present in the form of bread and wine.

Meanwhile Charismatics were ignoring the clergy and sneaking off to convents where the Blessed Sacrament was worshiped. We would sneak out of the seminary through the woods to the Benedictine convent next door where they had Perpetual Adoration  and we would sneak across the street to a prayer meeting in the Carmelite monastery. The Charismatic Renewal flourished without benefit of clergy, at least ordained Catholic clergy.

Shortly after I was ordained,  no longer a student, but a member of the club, I was invited into the faculty room for a drink with a few faculty members. The conversation turned to things Charismatic, and whether or not I still participated in the prayer groups, to which the answer was and now would still be, “Of course!”   

The discussion was very heady, but one of the more progressive of the group looked squarely at me and asked “Do you pray in tongues?" 

I said “Yes, I do.” 

The conversation had ceased to be theological. It had gotten personal and one by one, the professors left the room. I don’t think they were angry or even dismissive. I suspect that they simply could not fathom that someone who seemed reasonable could be involved in something so unreasonable. They were, I think, embarrassed by me and for me and did not know where to take the conversation. I was left alone, and was quite alone in my involvement for years. 

In the seventies and early eighties, there were only five or ten priests who could be called Charismatic. In the Spanish-, I mean Icelandic-, speaking community there exactly three, two of whom had nervous breakdowns, leaving just me who, being out of my mind already, had no need of a breakdown. 

You may think that the refusal of the Catholic Presbyterate to shepherd the movement meant that the movement was out of control. Quite the opposite. There were all sorts of people who wanted to control the Charismatic Renewal and the leadership vacuum created by neglect became and opportunity for some very dangerous people. The best definition of a prayer meeting I have ever heard is this: “A prayer meeting is a gathering of the people of God for the free exercise of the gifts of God.”   

Charismatic groups as often as not were anything but free.

Next week; the Crazed leading the Blind