fTHERThe Flame: September/October 2017
Dear Readers of The Flame,

Just what is the essence of the charismatic renewal? As we celebrate 50 years of this special movement of the Holy Spirit, we would do well to reflect on this question. I often meet people who have had some experience of the renewal but write it off. Perhaps they have met an overly enthusiastic “charismaniac”, whose enthusiasm left them with the impression that this is a movement for the emotionally unstable. Distinguishing the essence of the charismatic renewal from that which is extraneous may help us explain it to others.

Here are three essentials of the renewal:
Baptism in the Holy Spirit:
This phrase refers to an empowering and sometimes personally cleansing encounter with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist uses this phrase. (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) Jesus uses similar phraseology. (Luke 24:49 & Acts 1:5, 8) This encounter with the Holy Spirit is not simply a sacramental event but a personal experience. For example, when Philip preached the gospel in Samaria (Acts 8) and baptized them, there was great joy among the believers. However, there seemed to be something missing. He sent word to the Apostles in Jerusalem. Peter and John went to Samaria and prayed over these new converts. (This passage is often the basis for the sacrament of confirmation.) A magician named Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was conferred on these Samaritan believers and tried to buy this power from Peter and John. That would be a topic for another time. However, the question is, just what did Simon see? The prayer and laying of hands made a visible difference in the lives of these Samaritans. Did they pray in tongues? Did they prophesy? The text does not say. However, we know that something manifestly powerful happened. And this leads to the second essential.

water Gifts of the Holy Spirit (charisms): In the early Church, fully initiated Christians were expected to have received some sort of charism (spiritual gift) by which they could build up the Church. Healing was common place in the early communities. They were the tools by which the Church conducted its business. Jesus referred to them not as merit badges (see Matthew 7:21-23) but as gifts that would help the Church fulfill its mission (Mark 16:15-18). As time marched and the Church became more institutionalized, the expression of charisms diminished. However, charisms were never completely stifled. In the minds of many, they seemed manifested in the lives of the demonstrably holy. However, that is not the biblical teaching. Charisms were reaffirmed by Vatican II (LG #12 et al) and as they were earnestly sought for (I Corinthians 12:31a & 14:1) they reappeared in the lives of ordinary people.

The Message of the Renewal: The charismatic renewal has really led to a kerygmatic renewal. The Greek word kerygma means proclamation. It refers to the basic gospel message. That is why the phrase most often on the lips of charismatics utters nothing of the Holy Spirit. The phrase is simply: Jesus is Lord! And this is the work of the Holy Spirit. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:3b) In John 16:14 Jesus said, “He (the Holy Spirit) will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” The message of the charismatic renewal is the basic gospel message married to the convincing power of the Holy Spirit.

There are many other things in the renewal that are extraneous. Falling down while being prayed over is not a charismatic renewal essential. Waving one’s arms, dancing and even speaking in tongues are not charismatic essentials. (Praying in tongues is a gift of the Spirit. However, one can be baptized in the Spirit without praying in tongues.) Now, most of these things are authentic expressions of devotion to the Lord and I have experienced many them. However, these expressions are not the essence of the renewal.

As we celebrate the Jubilee of this marvelous current of grace, let us commit ourselves afresh to living and spreading these essential aspects of charismatic renewal. If we are going to evangelize effectively (proclaiming the kerygma) we need to be saturated with the Holy Spirit and use his gifts. The Church needs us charismatics more than ever.

Sincerely in Christ,  
Fr. Bob Franco
Bishop’s Delegate to Catholic Renewal Ministries