Guided by the Spirit

The worldwide charismatic movement, which now includes an estimated 700 million people around the world, of which an estimated 160 million are Catholics, has its origins in the events of January 1, 1901, when a young girl began speaking in tongues after the prayer and invocation of the Holy Spirit by a lay evangelist of Methodist extraction.

May 22, 2015

By Alessandra Nucci
The worldwide charismatic movement, which now includes an estimated 700 million people around the world, of which an estimated 160 million are Catholics, has its origins in the events of January 1, 1901, when a young girl began speaking in tongues after the prayer and invocation of the Holy Spirit by a lay evangelist of Methodist extraction. This took place in Topeka, Kansas; from there the movement grew and gradually spread to the established churches in the Protestant and Orthodox traditions, and lastly to the Roman Catholic Church.

Although customs and terminology were grafted onto the Catholic Charismatic Renewal from these Pentecostal sources, the Catholic Church had its own part to play in the January 1, 1901 beginning. On that morning, in Rome, before young Agnes Ozman started speaking in tongues in Topeka, Pope Leo XIII ushered in the new century by solemnly invoking the Holy Spirit over all of Christendom.

One of the chief ends that Pope Leo had explicitly dedicated his long pontificate to was the reunion of all Christians. Now, he was asking the Holy Spirit to bring his work to maturity and to bear fruit, with a renewed outpouring of his gifts not just over Catholics, but over all the disciples of Christ. Very few in the Protestant and Orthodox worlds — indeed, not even many Catholics — are aware of this historical fact. But to believers who attach such specific meaning and tangible effects to the invocation of the Holy Spirit, it can be no small matter.

It all started with a nun in Lucca, Italy, Elena Guerra (1835-1914), the founder of the Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit, whom Pope John XXIII was to beatify and give the title “Apostle of the Holy Spirit “in 1959.

Over a period of eight years, around the turn of the last century, Blessed Elena Guerra wrote 13 letters to the Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII, urging him to establish an institutional devotion to the Holy Spirit. Leo was thus prompted to call the faithful to a novena in preparation for Pentecost 1895, in an apostolic letter entitled Provida Matris Charitate, in which he called particular attention to one of the fruits of the Paraclete, “the unity and unanimity” described in Acts 4:32: “The whole group of believers were united, heart and soul.” Two years later, he wrote his short encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum Illud Munus, (“He is the substantial, eternal, and first Love, and there is nothing more lovable than love”), explaining the Spirit’s unity with the Father and the Son in the Trinity and making the novena to the Holy Spirit public and permanent.

Both documents fell on deaf ears: the bishops did not take the Pontiff’s instruction to heart and the lowly nun observed, in her sixth letter to Pope Leo, “It is true that right after the publication of that encyclical, which I believe was dictated by the Holy Spirit, many bishops thanked Your Holiness…And this was good. But wouldn’t it have been better to obey…?”

Elena Guerra wrote more letters and Pope Leo took two more steps. On January 1, 1901, in St Peter’s Basilica, he chanted the Veni Creator Spiritus, invoking the Holy Spirit over all Christians — again, at Elena’s suggestion. In a letter dated October 15, 1900 she wrote: “May the new century begin with a Veni Creator Spiritus…sung either at the beginning of the Midnight Mass, or before the first Mass to be celebrated in every Church on the first day of the year.”

Lastly, in 1902, the Roman Pontiff, now 92, had a copy of his 1897 encyclical sent to the bishops, with a cover letter entitled Ad fovendum in cristiano populo (To the purpose of promoting in the Christian people), as a reminder of the perpetual and obligatory nature of the Pentecost novena to the Holy Spirit, again insisting it be prayed for the unity of all Christians.

Despite Pope Leo’s efforts, the devotion died down in the Catholic Church, which was facing troubled times, and was carried on by the order of the Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit, founded by Blessed Elena. Blessed Elena was in her prime during these years of the 19th century, when the Catholic Church was surrounded, slandered, and hollowed out by laws that confiscated, by degrees, the property of all of the religious orders, one after the other. In these years, 1,322 monasteries were closed down and 57,492 religious were deprived of their possessions, down to their very beds. The main instigator of these confiscations was the Prime Minister of Italy, Count Camillo Cavour, a Freemason who proclaimed himself Catholic and explained that losing all property meant that the Church would be free of material encumbrances and therefore better able to tend to its spiritual mandate. In other words, stealing from the Church was presented as something entirely in the Church’s own best interests.

This, of course, was the situation that prompted the dogma of the infallibility of the pope, promulgated in 1870 at the first Vatican Council, which was interrupted by the canon fire of the Northern Italian troops as they broke through the fortifications of the city of Rome.

Decades of deliberate ambiguity, deception, and re-written history books have taken their toll on the reputation of the pope and the hierarchy, and on many religious orders. Thus were Catholics, whether lay or religious, in Italy and the world over, kept busy defending and, ultimately, defining their faith against division, confusion, and infiltration.

Is it any wonder, then, that the action of the Holy Spirit, at the Pope’s invocation and Blessed Elena’s inspiration, gave rise to an immense tide of prayer, not in Rome but on the other side of the Atlantic and in the heartland of Protestantism?

The Charismatic Renewal comes full circle
The Charismatic Renewal was eventually sparked in the Catholic Church in 1967, not by any intervention of the pope or clergy, but at the level of the laity at a students’ retreat at Duquesne University, in February of that year. Interestingly, tradition puts in an appearance here as well, as Duquesne was founded in 1878 by the Holy Ghost Fathers, members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. From there the flame went almost simultaneously to Notre Dame where, in the words of Dorothy Ranaghan, writer and witness of the beginnings, after the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit:

Summer school brought in priests, nuns, and lay people from all over the world. And so we held prayer meetings and crowds attended and hundreds were baptized in the Holy Spirit and they took the baptism in the Holy Spirit back to their home countries. It was a wild and wonderful summer. There were no Life in the Spirit Seminars (they hadn’t been written yet), we just laid hands on everyone and prayed right away and amazing things happened. Given our youth and inexperience, it is all the more evident that it was God’s work, not ours.

How interesting that, at the same time, hippies were having their “Summer of Love” in San Francisco, and the Beatles were being sought out by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, to attract, through them, the youth of the West to Hinduism and the New Age, the Holy Spirit was invisibly at work, treating His own young people to a wild summer of rejoicing and charismatic renewal at Catholic Notre Dame.

The Holy Spirit came full circle when the Charismatic Renewal landed back in the Catholic Church in Rome, in 1970, led by Americans, both lay and religious.

Source: Catholic World Report

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