A renewal of faith in the modern church

On the eve of Pentecost 2014, Pope Francis attended a conference in an Italian stadium with 50,000 Catholics who appeared every bit as excited as the soccer fans who had swarmed the venue a few weeks later.

Aug 21, 2014

By Marcellino D’Ambrosio
On the eve of Pentecost 2014, Pope Francis attended a conference in an Italian stadium with 50,000 Catholics who appeared every bit as excited as the soccer fans who had swarmed the venue a few weeks later.

These Catholics were participants in a movement especially devoted to the Holy Spirit and the gifts that he poured out on that first Pentecost.

If we examine the account of what happened on Pentecost, we get an idea of what this modern-day movement is about. We see the apostles and other disciples who, though they had witnessed many miracles and even seen the risen Lord, were still timid and confused about what Jesus had really come to do.

Before he ascended, the Lord told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and that they would become his witnesses. Nine days later, when they gathered together, they found out what that meant.

We all know the story of the sound of the mighty wind and the appearance of the tongues of fire. The most important thing, however, is the difference brought about by the coming of the Spirit. For the first time, we see the disciples joyful, fearlessly preaching the Gospel in the tongues of all peoples.

The disciples emerged from the upper room so exuberant that some observers mocked them. They thought they were drunk because they were so happy. Three thousand of those who heard them, however, were so moved that they were baptized.

As we read the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles, we see further results of the Spirit’s power in the disciples – tongues, prophecy, healings and other miracles – not the least of which was the extraordinary affection the disciples had for one another. We also see a new understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures and how they predicted, prefigured and prepared for what Jesus taught and accomplished.

John had baptized Jesus in water, but on Pentecost, the ascended Lord had baptized the disciples with the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the church’s history, similar gifts and miracles appear in the lives of the saints. But generally, most Christians did not expect these manifestations of the Spirit to be part of the normal experience of being ordinary Christians.

In fact, some Christian groups developed the theory that these gifts of the Spirit were special equipment provided for the booster phase of Christianity and were no longer needed and therefore are no longer to be expected.

This theory was actually proposed by one of the bishops on the floor of the Second Vatican Council. But the idea was so vigorously shot down by other bishops that in the council’s central document on the church, Lumen Gentium, we read the exact opposite. We read that the charisms of the Holy Spirit are forever poured out upon the faithful of every rank for the building up of the church.

The document goes on to say that all these charisms, whether humble or more extraordinary, ought to be received with thanksgiving, for they are vitally important if the church is to fulfill her mission (Lumen Gentium, No. 12).

Interestingly enough, Pope John XXIII, in preparation for the council, had distributed a prayer worldwide beseeching God for a “new Pentecost.” In 1967, after the close of the council, a group of Catholic college students who met at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh for a retreat experienced many of the same things we see in the Pentecost account.

Many know this account. They said they experienced joy, zeal and prayer in tongues or unknown languages. This experience of the “baptism of the Spirit” quickly spread like wildfire among Catholics of all ages and countries.

Such experiences had begun to erupt among Protestants earlier in the century, so it was natural that these Catholic “charismatics,” as they’re called, learned much about this experience from their Protestant Pentecostal sisters and brothers in Christ.

But from the start, prominent Catholic prelates and theologians participated in and advised the movement, which came to be organized in various communities and prayer groups around the world. They included Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens, one of the four moderators of Vatican II, and Cardinal Avery Dulles. They are two examples from the early days of the movement.

Also, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the official preacher of the papal household under the last three popes, is an example today.

It would be a mistake to see the charismatic renewal merely as one spirituality among many in the church, or a style of worship that appeals to some and not to others.

The raising of hands, the “hallelujahs” and “amens” and tambourines borrowed from Pentecostal Protestant culture – these you can take or leave as you like. But such features don’t touch the essence of the movement.

The renewal is really about the recovery of the joy, the power and the full complement of spiritual tools that were given to the church on its birth day. And this is something that we all should be excited about.

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