Beirut (AsiaNews) – The beginning of June in Rome saw the Golden Jubilee of the Charismatic Renewal (RC) in the presence of Pope Francis, who described it as a “current of grace” with countless tributaries. Members of the assemblies are now fully entitled to speak of the “baptism of the Spirit” which is not a second baptism, but a confirmation of the grace and presence of Christ. Fady Noun, deputy editor of L’Orient-Le Jour and correspondent for AsiaNews, was among the speakers from Lebanon who attended the event as a journalist and as an active member of the charismatic movement. Here are his thoughts:
A “current of grace” for the whole Church
The Golden Jubilee of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church just held in Rome (31 May-4 June 2017) has been described by many as “an ecumenical Pentecost”, with Pope Francis being the first to insist on the “Ecumenical character” of this renewal from its inception. This assertion can be understood two ways, first historically, then theologically.
Historically, the 1960s saw an extraordinary convergence of two currents of grace that led to the charismatic renewal of the Catholic Church. The latter claimed an extraordinary spiritual heritage that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, with an ecclesial depth that is indistinctly Catholic and evangelical.
From this perspective stands out one pope, Leo XIII (1810-1903), who on the advice of a nun, Elena Guerra, consecrated the 20th century to the Holy Spirit, as well as a small Protestant evangelical congregation established in Topeka, Kansas.
Sister Elena Guerra is the founder of the Congregation of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit in Luca (Italy). At the age of 50, she wrote to Pope Leo XIII under special inspiration and encouraged by her spiritual director to press him to ask that the Holy Spirit be ardently invoked for the renewal of the Catholic Church. The other decisions that this correspondence sparked include a religious ceremony led by Leo XIII on 1 January 1901, the first day of the first year of the 20th century, in which he invoked the Holy Spirit and sang the hymn ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ (Come Creative Spirit) in the name of the whole Church.
On that same day, at about 11 pm, thousands of miles away, on 17 Stones Avenue in the town of Topeka, Kansas (United States), where Reverend Charles Fox Parham had set up the Bethel Bible College (Bethel Gospel School) and where a chain of uninterrupted prayer had been started to invoke the Holy Spirit, a student asked Rev Parham to lay his hands on her. She was then baptised into the Holy Spirit and began to pray in tongues. In the days that followed Rev Parham and others had the same experience. This event is generally considered the starting point of Pentecostalism in the Reformed Churches.
In order to renew his Church, like the One who had made Peter a fisherman of men, the reverend threw his nets among humble black and white folks of a nation that was to become the first power in the world. He did so far from the established Churches of a sleepy Reformation that ended up persecuting the emerging “Pentecostalism” and forced it to become a tradition on its own. Such is the story of this historical and mystical link that binds the Catholic Church to the Pentecostal movement and which subsequent developments confirmed.
It is worth noting that Elena Guerra was the first woman to be beatified by Pope John XXIII, who summoned the Second Vatican Council and asked the Church to pray to the Holy Spirit to renew its wonders “as if it were a new Pentecost.” It is thanks to the faithfulness of the Pentecostal churches through many persecutions that the buds of this new spring broke out in American academic circles at the University of Pittsburgh in 1967, two years after the Council ended. From there, it spread like wildfire throughout the world, to the point that the “members” of groups of prayers and communities claiming the Charismatic Renewal now number some 150 million.
It is the very fact that those who were baptised in the Holy Spirit refused to leave the Catholic Church which made possible the Charismatic Renewal as we know it, exactly the opposite of what happened to the Reformed Churches.
By welcoming the “Charismatics” in Rome at Pentecost in 1975, Paul VI did not hesitate to describe this renewal as “a chance for the Church.” In fact, he said that in view of its fruits, “how not to believe that this renewal is a chance for the whole Church?” This was a warning against rejection by an episcopate who, in the early days, mistrusted it. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis confirmed this at once prudent and courageous diagnosis.
With the Golden Jubilee just held in Rome, Francis completed the task and officially accredited the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church as “a current of grace” for the whole Church and the experience of baptism in the Spirit as a rule in the life of every Christian.
During a symposium held at the Pontifical Urbaniana University (1 June), Raniero Cantalamessa, Ralph Matin, Peter Hocken and Vinson Synan made some informative statements that clarified theologically the pope’s views.
In his warm voice, the preacher of the Papal Household said that the Charismatic Renewal is “the most remarkable sign of the awakening of the Catholic Church to the action of the Holy Spirit and to its charisms” after Vatican II. He also spoke about the contribution of the Charismatic Renewal to the renewal of the theology of the Western Church and the Reformed Churches.
Citing St Augustine and Nietzsche as a counterpoint, as well as Protestant theologian Karl Barth and Saint Basil of Caesarea, Fr Cantalamessa spoke of a “theology of the third article” of the Creed (I believe in the Holy Spirit) announced by Barth that has come to renew the spirituality of the Western Church by “restoring to the doctrine of salvation its positive content, namely the constant and inward presence (indwelling) of the Holy Spirit and the new life in Christ” against the negative, repressive and guilty content rejected by the West.
This is why, Fr Cantalamessa insisted that the “charismatic renewal” must not be reduced to devotion or belonging to a group or movement, but must be understood as “personal openness to the Holy Spirit” or as a “current of grace flowing in different forms” throughout the Church.
Fr Peter Hocken and Vinson Synan both insisted on the “radical equality” of all those who receive the baptism in the Spirit. Father Hocken also spoke of a “charismatic ecumenism” that brings together all those who have experienced baptism in the Spirit, as opposed to the theological ecumenism in the institutional Church.
For his part, Ralph Martin shed new light on the sacrament of confirmation, considering that the experience of the inward presence (infilling) of the Spirit can be regularly renewed, that it is not “given once and for all times.” For him, there will be no “new evangelisation” without “a new Pentecost”.
What is happening in various forms in the Catholic Church is good. In it, the “baptism in the Spirit” is spread by a thousand ways through the body of the institutional Church, well beyond the visible boundaries of charismatic groups, communities or fraternities with more or less loose, more or less permanent structures.