We’re on the Move – Don’t Look Back!

by Virginia King

I was reflecting on the role of Catholic Charismatic Renewal in our modern Church. Why did this “renewal in the Holy Spirit” emerge when it did? Was it that the Church was ready for this outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Was it that the world was in need of it? I don’t have a definitive answer to these questions but this scripture came to mind as I thought about them:

“How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable his judgments, how unsearchable his ways! For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has given him anything so as to deserve return?’ For from him and through him and for him all things are. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Rom 11:33

God alone knows the “why” and the “how” of his unsearchable ways. We can be sure that when the big picture is fully revealed, we will see how Jesus prepared his Church in every age to respond to the needs of the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. Where do we fit into this big picture, both as individuals and as a renewal movement? What is the historical background for Catholic Charismatic Renewal?

In the year 1897, Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical letter on the Holy Spirit, Divinum Illud Munus. He had the earnest desire that “piety may increase and be inflamed towards the Holy Ghost, to whom especially all of us owe the grace of following the paths of truth and virtue.” He exhorted Christians to “daily strive to know Him [the Holy Spirit], to love Him, and to implore Him more earnestly.”

Then, on January 1, 1901—the first day of the first year of the last century—this same Pope invoked the Holy Spirit by singing the hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus” in the name of the whole Church. The beginnings of a great revival in the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit began among Protestants on that exact date, as Christians in Topeka prayed to receive the “Baptism in the Spirit.” It was 66 years later that this same experience finally emerged among Roman Catholics.

In 1959 when Pope John XXIII announced that he was going to call the Second Vatican Council, he asked Catholics throughout the world to begin to intercede for the Council. Many of us are familiar with his prayer for the Council, “Renew your wonders in this our day as for a new Pentecost!” He was praying for a new Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church to enliven her for her mission in the world.

The Documents of the Council speak of the themes which have been responded to in a particular way through Charismatic Renewal, especially the universal call to holiness and the use of the charisms of the Holy Spirit:

On holiness, “The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who act under God’s Spirit and, obeying the Father’s voice and adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth, follow Christ, poor, humble and cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory. Each one, however, according to his own gifts and duties must steadfastly advance along the way of a living faith, which arouses hope and works through love.” (Lumen Gentium, 41)

On charisms, “The Holy Spirit…gives the faithful special gifts… From the reception of these charisms there arises for each of the faithful the right and duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the development of the Church.” (Decree on Lay People, 3; cf. Lumen Gentium, 12)

When Charismatic Renewal did erupt in the Church in 1967, it was not in isolation. It was, I believe, in response to many prayers. It could be viewed as the Holy Spirit’s provision for implementing certain man-dates from Vatican II. It did not come as the result of a well-devised pastoral plan but as a sovereign act of God working through a small group of people with expectant faith. And it has proven to be a powerful force for strengthening faith, hope and love in millions of Catholics throughout the world.

After 40 years, Catholic Charismatic Renewal has matured a lot. We have learned from our mistakes and have proven our faithfulness to the role that we have been given. In 1998, Pope John Paul II said, “The Catholic Charismatic Renewal has helped many Christians to rediscover the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, in the life of the Church and in the world; and this rediscovery has awakened in them a faith in Christ filled with joy, a great love of the Church and a generous dedication to her evangelizing mission” (to leaders in Fuiggi).

Our task is far from over. I believe that we are being called to be even more committed to living, proclaiming and nurturing the graces of our baptism in our Church and in our world in these turbulent times.

Many times in the past year, I have read or heard the leaders of the Church calling all Catholics to commit ourselves to being formed as disciples of Jesus. We hear of “schools of formation” and “training in holiness” and “schools of prayer” and the Church as the “school of communion.” The context in which I read these words are not usually referring to a formal educational process. Usually it means providing an environment where people will learn by experience how to be holy, how to pray, how to use their gifts “for the good of all people and the development of the Church.” That sounds like a Charismatic prayer group to me! At least, that’s the ideal to which the prayer groups are called.

I think that Catholic Charismatic Renewal has a responsibility to respond in a special way to this exhortation to be formed as disciples. Through prayer groups, conferences, workshops and other opportunities, we are called to serve the parishes and the whole Church with our particular dedication to the rediscovery of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This is key to our training in holiness, in prayer, and in the spirituality of communion. It’s not the whole picture, by any means, but it is an essential element.

This is an ideal time to renew our commitment to nurture our own involvement in this important movement in the Church. Not all of us can make a weekly commitment to a prayer meeting. But I think that nearly everyone could make it at least once a month.

“We must consider how to rouse each other to love and good deeds. We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do, but encourage one another…” (Heb 10:24). From the beginning of the Church, there has been the need for coming together for mutual support. We need to receive this support from others and also give to others the support they need. Each of us has knowledge, experience and insights to share with others.

Will this be hard? Yes. Will it require much sacrifice? Certainly. But we have been given “a new Pentecost” not for our own sake, but for the sake of the Church and, more importantly, for the sake of the world!

Virginia King is the former Executive Director of WWCCR.  This article was written in 2007