LIFE TOGETHER IN JESUS CHRIST, EMPOWERED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Plenary Session: Global Christian Forum
Mrs. Michelle Moran, President of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, UK
My task today is to share some of the riches of spirituality from the renewal movements and I am speaking from the perspective of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR). I have been involved in this movement all my Christian life. I came to faith as a teenager at a youth camp in 1976, in the early days of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
In order to fully appreciate the spirituality of Catholic Charismatic Renewal it is important to reflect upon some of the historical threads that led up to the emergence of this renewal movement within the Catholic Church. The beginnings of CCR are usually historically situated in the events that unfolded among university students in the USA in 1968. However, many would agree that during the 20th century we experienced many unprecedented outpourings of the Holy Spirit among all people in all the churches.
The 20th Century – a century of the Holy Spirit
In the late 19th century Elena Guerra founded a religious congregation, the Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit. Over a period of 7 years she had a series of mystical experiences. These prompted her to promote more publicly the person, the life and the work of the Holy Spirit. It seemed that at this time in the Church, the Holy Spirit was almost the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity.
Elena wrote a series of 12 confidential letters to Pope Leo XIII, between 1895 and 1903. She urged the Holy Father to call for a renewed preaching on the Holy Spirit and at this time she began to form prayer groups which she called ‘permanent cenacles.’ In response, Pope Leo XIII in 1895 published a letter calling for the Church to celebrate a solemn novena (nine days of prayer) to the Holy Spirit between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost. This was followed in1897 by the first encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum Illud Munus.
Perhaps one of the most poignant moments in the recent history of the Catholic Church came at the turn of the 20th century, when Pope Leo XIII heralded in the new century by singing the hymn, ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ (Come Holy Spirit) in front of the Holy Spirit window in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
He prayed in the name of the whole Church and consecrated the entire 20th century to the Holy Spirit.
It is interesting to note that at the same in Topeka, Kansas at the Bethel College and Bible School, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred which paved the way for the beginning of Pentecostalism.
In an extra-ordinary move of the Holy Spirit in Oct 1958 a little known, elderly Italian Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was elected Pope John XXIII. The press at the time immediately dubbed him a ‘caretaker Pope’ someone who would just hold things until the Lord raised up a more natural successor.
However, he believed that a new Pentecost could blow through the Church and in a short pontificate, which has been described as a ‘surprise of the Holy Spirit’, Pope John XXIII moved with extra ordinary speed and vision. By January 1959 he had sprung the idea of the second Vatican Council upon the cardinals in the Curia, where apparently his idea was greeted with little enthusiasm and much hindrance. However, undeterred and continuing to trust in the Holy Spirit, Pope John XXIII pressed on.
Just before the Council opened, Pope John XXIII prayed the prayer of invocation; ‘Lord renew your wonders in this our day as by a new Pentecost’. It was then as if the floodgates were opened and unreservedly the grace of Pentecost was poured out in an unexpected way upon the whole Church.
Many commentators see this time as one when the windows of the Church were opened to the Holy Spirit. Following the Council, renewal began to happen on a number of levels including in the liturgical, biblical and theological spheres. Also emerging were new approaches to mission and to how the Church related to the world in the socio-political arena.
The Nature of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal
It was in the slipstream of the graces of renewal that were flowing from the second Vatican Council that Catholic Charismatic Renewal emerged. Indeed this was a new springtime in the Church when many new movements were birthed or gained momentum. Undoubtedly, CCR is one of the largest ‘movements’ in the Catholic Church. It is estimated that there are 120 million people who will testify to a life changing experience of the Holy Spirit through their contact with CCR. However CCR is unlike many of the other ‘movements’. There is no earthly founder as CCR was birthed through the spontaneous action of the Holy Spirit. Similarly CCR is not a single unified worldwide movement with a centralised structure and membership lists. It is rather a highly diverse collection of individuals, groups, communities and ministries. One of the early pioneers of CCR, Cardinal Suenens, highlighted this by stating: ‘to interpret the Renewal as a movement among other movements is to misunderstand its nature; it is a movement of the Spirit offered to the entire Church and destined to rejuvenate every part of the Church’s life’. Also, in 1975 Pope Paul VI famously described Charismatic Renewal as ‘a chance for the Church and for the world.’
Clearly from the beginning CCR has always had an ecclesial dimension. It has been seen as a stream of grace emerging within the Church and destined to bring renewal to the whole Church. In the early days there was a move to name the new phenomenon ‘Catholic Pentecostalism’. However, in order to avoid misunderstandings and to emphasise that that this was a new move of the Spirit within the Church, the term Catholic Charismatic Renewal was soon adopted. However, we cannot ignore that what was experienced within the Catholic Church was part of a wider outpouring of the Holy Spirit which has been referred to as an ‘ecumenical grace’.
Pentecost: the heart of Charismatic Spirituality
At Pentecost the community were gathered together in prayer when ‘suddenly from heaven’ (Acts 2:2) the Spirit fell in a new way. There was both a communal and personal empowerment. As the fire rested on the heads of each of them, they were ‘all’ filled with the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the new empowerment and the gifts that were being imparted had a missionary dimension. Indeed, Pentecost marked the beginning of the apostolic mission and is often cited as the birthday of the Church.
Flowing from Pentecost, the essence of Charismatic Renewal is about embracing a ‘personal Pentecost’ this is sometimes referred to as being ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’. This involves coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and experiencing the love and forgiveness of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many fruits of this personal Pentecost or baptism in the Holy Spirit. These include; a deeper awareness of what it means to enter into praise and worship, a rediscovery of prayer, scripture and the sacraments and a desire to grow in holiness.
At Pentecost there was also a renewal of the community The Holy Spirit renews and brings the body of believers to life. The community dimension is very important in CCR. In the early days there were debates about how the grace of the renewal could grow and deepen in the lives of those who had been baptised in the Holy Spirit. Prayer groups within Parishes quickly developed as places of Charismatic expression, feeding and fellowship. However, some felt that these structures were limiting so this led to the development of Covenant Communities. These offered a deeper sense of belonging or ‘koinonia’. They provided systematic programmes of formation and perhaps embraced a particular calling such as evangelisation or ecumenism etc. Many Covenant Communities were semi autonomous. However, members still ‘belonged’ to the local Parish as this was their place of sacramental connection.
Many in the Charismatic Renewal both Protestants and Catholics have the conviction that the grace of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is for every member of the Church. Therefore, eventually the Charismatic Renewal would disappear into a charismatically renewed Church. However, this position is not accepted by everybody. The hierarchy of the Church regard CCR as one of the many new ecclesial movements, each with its own charisms, within the communion of the universal Church. Important truths are being expressed in both positions. In seeking to bring Charismatic Renewal into the heart of the Church care must be taken to avoid coercive elitism. However, being seen as one movement among many can lead to focussing upon building up the movement rather than enriching the entire Church.
What can CCR offer the whole Church?
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal enriches the Church through a body of people who have experienced a personal conversion and who are open to move in expectant faith as they embrace the call to discipleship and mission. In the early days of CCR mistakes were made by over-zealous individuals and sometimes too much emphasis was placed upon ‘experiential’ faith, this led to criticisms that CCR was too emotional. However, after 43 years, CCR is now coming of age.
In 1998 Pope John Paul II invited all the new movements to celebrate the vigil of Pentecost with him in St Peter’s Square. Up to 400,000 people gathered as the Pope declared that a new stage was unfolding for the movements, the era of ‘ecclesial maturity’. He said ‘the Church expects from you mature fruits of communion and commitment’. CCR has taken this call to grow in ecclesial maturity seriously and has made efforts, at every level, to enable people in CCR to be more deeply formed and more firmly rooted in the Church. Conscious of their baptismal identity, renewed and equipped by the Holy Spirit, they are then able to embrace their vocation in the Church and in the world.
What can we learn from one another?
The new movements draw from both the early history of the Church and the new Church traditions. In this sense, they can be like the householder ‘who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old’ (Matt 13:52). In March 2011, ICCRS (International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services) held a colloquium on Baptism in the Holy Spirit which was under the patronage of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. An important part of our reflection was to examine the characteristics of baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Patristic era. We were able to see that our experience of baptism in the Spirit in CCR in its form and expression, was in some ways unique to our time and yet it was also deeply rooted in the tradition of the Church. The new Church traditions encourage us to keep moving in the freedom of the Spirit and to remain open to the new surprises that the Spirit may want to bestow upon us.
In one sense CCR is in an uncomfortable but prophetic position. By bridging the old and the new we sometimes experience the tension between the institutional and charismatic dimensions of the Church. Lumen Gentium, one of the most important texts of the Second Vatican Council, states in section 12: ‘It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (1Cor 12:11) the Holy Spirit also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank…he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church’. In 1998 Pope John Paul II affirmed that the institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church’s constitution. CCR has the responsibility to be good stewards of the graces and charisms of the new Pentecost whilst at the same time remaining in faithful communion with the universal Church.
What can we share?
Pope Benedict XVI has frequently spoken about the importance of ‘spreading the culture of Pentecost’. In 1992, then Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote: ‘Are we going to discover the secret of the first Pentecost in the Church? Are we going to offer ourselves humbly to the renewing power of the Holy Spirit so that he can free us from our poverty and our total inability to carry out the task of proclaiming Jesus Christ to our fellow men?…The Upper room is the place where Christians allow themselves in welcoming the Holy Spirit to be transformed in prayer. But it is also the place from which one goes out to bring the fire of Pentecost to one’s brothers and sisters’.
In his last official address to CCR at Pentecost 2004, Pope John Paul II placed before us both a challenge and a mandate. He said: ‘I desire that the spirituality of Pentecost be spread in the Church as a renewed thrust of prayer, holiness, communion and proclamation’.
As we continue to reflect together on our central theme, ‘life together in Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit’, I think we can all share in the mandate to spread the culture and spirituality of Pentecost. We can join together in continuous prayer as the disciples did at Pentecost and offer powerful intercession for our world. The Holy Spirit brings unity and we can model this through our commitment to growing in deeper communion and embracing unity in our diversity.
As the Holy Spirit continues to renew, refine and purify us we will, in turn, offer a more convincing witness to the world. From this perspective, we can, like the disciples after Pentecost, move out into the world with renewed confidence. We can engage in evangelisation through dialogue, proclamation, and works of mercy and justice thus demonstrating and advancing the Kingdom of God.