I have been (and still consider myself to be) what you might call a “charismatic Christian” for the last 40 plus years. Raised a Roman Catholic, and then receiving what is commonly called the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” on August 15, 1970 (on the Solemnity of the Assumption), I have found myself in a variety of charismatic and Pentecostal circles for many years until returning to the Church of my youth in the fall of 2005.
Tongues and Traditions
For the record I still believe in the gift of tongues and try to allow the 9 charisms of the Holy Spirit spoken of in 1st Corinthians 12-14 to be practiced in my life as God wills and allows. However, since returning to the Church, I have become increasingly concerned with the subtle but real conflicts in both teaching and attitude towards spiritual gifts within the Catholic Church. There seem to be two groups, both very sincere and committed to Christ and the Church, but with decidedly different views on the practice of charismata.
One group practices these much as I did as a Protestant—and in large part tends to ignore the Sacraments as our main source of life and hope, while the other is so Sacramental that they tend to shy away from the very charisms which, according to our Catechism (CCC# 2003), God has given graciously to our faithful, and even within arguably the most charismatic of all Christian communities (the Catholic Church) this rift exists nonetheless. And with reason.
Over the past 5 years since my return to Catholicism, I have rediscovered, on a much deeper level than as a youth, the power of the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. I have also found the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be the most highly charismatic of all prayers, and most miraculous as well. In fact, I think it is safe to say that Holy Mass is charisma personified! My need and desire to pray in tongues has actually diminished to some extent by participation in daily Mass, as well as the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet, as each of these also assist in fulfilling the command in Ephesians 6:18 to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” I also have yet to explore more fully the riches of Lectio Divina (an especially prayerful way to read the Sacred Scriptures), contemplative prayer, or the Liturgy of the Hours, all of which, when used correctly, are certainly doorways to the movement of the Holy Spirit as well. However, I do not wish to throw away what I believe are valid charisms that I have experienced for nearly 40 years either, and finding a balance between the two approaches has not been an easy task for me.
For example, the Catholic charismatic meetings I have attended since my return, including a charismatic Mass, have left me less than enthused about becoming part of a “Spirit filled” Catholic prayer group. At the charismatic Mass I observed, for example, the entire parish breaking into “singing in tongues” during (or immediately after) the Consecration of the Eucharist (including and actually initiated by the priest!), at a time when I believe stunned silence would have been far more appropriate and meaningful. While there may be rare exceptions, in general the moment of Consecration, of all times within the Mass, should be a time for God to speak to us, and for us to shut up and listen! At that same Mass, numerous folks chit-chatted loudly both before and after, even within the sanctuary, and in their lending library area were volumes written by people who teach what I must call heresy, such as the “name it and claim it” theology of a well known Word of Faith teacher, whose theology flies in the face of Rome on many other levels as well. Yet their parish bulletin boldly claims total submission to the Magisterium. That does not add up in my estimation.
I also visited a prayer group that a very dear family member who is Catholic belongs to, which to my thinking was barely recognizable as a Catholic group at all. There was not even a holy water font present, nor once did I see the sign of the cross made before or after any of the prayers. If a priest was present at all, he certainly was not in any leadership position, and the Blessed Virgin Mary was not even mentioned as Mother of the Church or honored as such. My understanding is that these steps were taken, at least in part, in order not to offend the numerous Protestants in regular attendance. Yet this is one of the larger Catholic Charismatic communities here in the Twin Cities.
Truth be told, the more I have searched, the less I have found that is truly “Catholic” within many of these groups. In fact, the official position of the Catholic Charismatic Center on the World Wide Web regarding the Rosary is this:
Many Charismatics are very “into” the Rosary. Much of the modern Marian movement has been fueled by Charismatics.
However, the charisms certainly are more traditional than the Rosary. The church got alone fine without the Rosary for a thousand years, but the charisms sparked the growth of the church from the very beginning. If one reads Butler’s Lives of the Saints, one sees that charisms were operating in the church in every century and in every part of the evangelized world.
Is there any wonder that Catholics are leaving the Church for Protestant charismatic fellowships and congregations after going through a “Life in the Spirit” seminar? And please understand—I am not against seminars or retreats such as these, as they have unquestionably helped many to find a fuller and deeper relationship with Christ and His Church. But care and caution, and above all, discernment is needed in how they are conducted, and too often this is far from the case.
Catholics are Already Charismatic
Also, regarding the baptism in the Holy Spirit itself, we find that most charismatic Catholics accept it as a separate and new experience, although they may refer to it as some type of extension or enlivenment of their Confirmation. It is almost as if they believe that the Sacrament didn’t “take” when the Bishop or priest laid hands and anointed them. At the end of most Life in the Spirit seminars, hands are generally again placed on them (and often by the laity!) so that they can receive the “baptism in the Spirit” and speak in tongues!
Yet if you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC# 1285-1288) you find that the power of Pentecost attributed to the laying on of hands in the New Testament is indeed the Sacrament of Confirmation. They are one in the same. If you have been validly confirmed you are already baptized in the Holy Spirit, and, as Ephesians 1:13 tells us, “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” indelibly. It is almost as if many charismatic Catholics are trying to retrofit their experience of, in many cases very valid charisms, with a one time experience that the Church promises only through the Sacraments.
I also shudder to even think what this quote from the same website means:
The person questions the authenticity of the Charismatic renewal because so many elements are practiced by Protestants:
Catholics and Protestants share alike a commitment to personal prayer, devotional Bible reading, the importance of evangelistic witness, the need for personal repentance, the joyful expectation of the return of the Lord, a desire to live like Jesus, and many more things. Some Protestants share with us the sacraments, at least in outward form. Are Catholics to reject these things because Protestants share them? Hardly! We are to rejoice because we have so much in common in Christ. We are after all, brothers and sisters in Christ, even if separated in some things.
We won’t bother to quote church documents on this issue, but suffice it to say that we are to rejoice in the common elements we have in Christ. The fact that we don’t share everything is a source of prayer for an ultimate reconciliation in Christ as we join in His prayer “may they all be one.”
It is certainly not a sin to fellowship or pray with Protestant Christian brothers and sisters, and not unfeasible for us to reach out to one another, whether charismatic or otherwise. In fact we should and must. But to do so by rejecting so many basics which make our Faith distinct, and ignoring anything “controversial” such as praying to our Blessed Mother or the Saints, Papal authority, or 2000 years of Sacred Tradition, is to do so at our own (and their) peril—and not a sign of obedience to Magisterial Teaching!
Finally, once again from the Catholic Charismatic Center:
The person asserts that they find more confidence in following certain private revelations as a basis for their spirituality than being Charismatic:
We would suggest that a surer foundation would be a spirituality based firmly on the Word of God that stresses the personal encounter with the risen Lord and the Holy Spirit. If they find these fruits to come from their “traditional” devotion, great!!! The Lord has many ways of reaching His people and we want to esteem all authentic spiritualities.
And I would suggest that approved “private revelations,” such as the Divine Mercy, Fatima, and many others, are part of the Word of God, or at least an extension of it. Clearly they never are part of the Deposit of Faith as such, but neither are the “prophetic words” which are manifest in charismatic meetings! At least those tried and true traditional devotions are tested thoroughly by the Church before becoming widespread expectations of overly excited leadership who eagerly tell others, as I heard at my relative’s prayer meeting, to “prophesy to everyone you know this week.” However according to Lumen Gentium, the official Constitution of the Church per the 2nd Vatican Council, we are told the following: “Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly desired nor is it from them that the fruits of apostolic labors are to be presumptuously expected. Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thessalonians. 5:12, 19- 21).” [Lumen Gentium 12] Somehow the idea of “prophesying to everyone you meet” seems a bit rash in my book!
While on the topic of “rashness”, it is utterly important that we remember St. Paul actually wrote 1 Corinthians 12-14 as a correction concerning misuses of the gifts, rather than a carte blanche on how free we are allowed to be in using them! There are numerous rules, generally ignored by many charismatic fellowships, both Catholic and Protestant, which were given to protect the Church from the very abuses we so often see today. To name a few—St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 14: 26-33 (among other instructions) limits the number of prophecies, as well as gifts of tongues even if accompanied with interpretations, to 3 apiece. I have been at prayer meetings where 10-15 or more “prophetic words” were given. This is an abuse by anyone’s standards. He also clearly indicates that, if one does not have the gift of interpretation, that person is to “speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:28). I know too of a charismatic group that asked their adherents to “pray in tongues” for 30 minutes a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament! I won’t even touch that one.
Moreover, it is our priests and bishops who have been given the charism of the sacramental Anointing of the Sick, and this comes directly from St. James 5: 14-16. Yet these meetings are, other than the gifts of tongues and prophecy, probably most famous for laying hands on the sick and believing for divine healing, and again generally administered by the laity. And while praying for those who are ill is certainly not a bad thing, it is seldom publicly explained to those being prayed for that this is not the same thing as the Sacrament of the Sick. In fact it more often takes its place instead. Another point is in the area of casting out demons. We have certain priests with valid powers of exorcism, and these are generally only exercised under the authority of the bishop, who is successor to the Apostles. We as lay people can certainly pray against satan and should do so, but I myself have never once seen a group of charismatics use the beautiful and effective “Prayer to St Michael”, given to the Church by Pope Leo XIII. Instead we just rebuke satan ourselves. The list could go on and on, but in my opinion the point is clear that the Catholic charismatic movement is far too often shooting wildly and using very loose cannon while doing so.
So what to do? I cannot and do not reject my entire last 40 years of spiritual experience as invalid, but I do believe that, in my Pentecostal/charismatic zeal, I was missing a very basic element that would have kept me grounded in the truth of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. That element was the Sacraments, and included with them, a spirit of submission to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church on this earth, which I now believe finds its fullest expression in Roman Catholicism. In fact I honestly felt that I had to choose between my newfound “walk with Jesus” and remaining Catholic, and obviously, given that choice I chose our Blessed Lord as best I understood Him. It never once crossed my mind that both Jesus and the Church were readily available to me previously, and that in fact the most direct path to Him was indeed the very Church I was already a part of. Sadly it took me 35 years to realize this.
Mass—the Best “Holy Ghost Prayer Meeting” of All
As suggested earlier, I personally believe that gifts of the Spirit are available today, and that tongues can indeed be used as a language of prayer between ourselves and God if He so desires. However I believe that seeking for tongues (or any other charism, for that matter) can often be a serious mistake, especially if it causes us to focus more on the gift than on the Giver. Seeking Jesus fully, using first of all the Sacraments, and then enriching our prayer life with the numerous other beautiful and varied devotions given to us by the Church and her Tradition of centuries, we may actually find ourselves one day speaking in a language we did not learn, or entering into an ecstasy, or being miraculously healed. If so, praise God! And I am not suggesting that asking for charismata is in itself wrong. But seeking for them “rashly”, or thinking that somehow we are more “Spirit filled” by receiving specific manifestations is not consistent with historic Catholic/Christian teaching, and can lead to much confusion, as well as often placing people on the sides of the “haves” and “have nots.” I am not automatically more spiritual if I speak in tongues, and I am no less “baptized in the Holy Spirit” if I do not. Besides being theologically shaky, that outlook all too often leads to spiritual arrogance, which is something we must always guard against, no matter what our charisms happen to be. Should you join a charismatic prayer group? That is not for me to say. However, if you are currently going to daily Mass, reading Sacred Scripture daily and prayerfully, receiving Jesus in the Eucharist regularly, and seeking Our Lord and Lady through the Rosary and other devotions as mentioned, you are already in one—too often we run here and there and all over to find Jesus, and He is mystically present in every valid Catholic Church—in the Tabernacle. Do not allow prayer groups, seminars, or any other activity, no matter how Christian or Catholic, take you away from the basics. Too often we go for the sensational and forget the simple beauty of holiness.
One last caution—I do not think it is, at least generally, appropriate or wise to pray or seek for supernatural workings such as tongues or prophecy until after receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. In my case, doing this led me to the erroneous belief that I did not need to be confirmed, “since I had the Holy Spirit anyway,” and what I never realized until actually receiving this wonderful Sacrament was that, in reality, I was simply borrowing from the its graces during all those many years. In other words, God in His Mercy heard my cry to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” but in no way did this replace or override the fact that the Holy Spirit in His fullness is normally imparted to us at Confirmation by the laying on of hands of the priest or bishop.
Are there exceptions to this? Definitely. In the book of Acts, St. Peter is shown a vision to go and speak to the first Gentile Christians, a man named Cornelius and his those he had assembled to hear the Word of God who “While Peter was still saying this” (Acts 10:44), are filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in other tongues. However I think it important to note that this was a very special occasion in every way, and that the chosen leader of the Apostles was involved directly in bringing the Word to them first, and, although not having yet laid hands on them, was at least physically present and in control of the situation. And you can bet your bottom dollar that he didn’t say to St. Cornelius and those he had gathered, “Okay, on the count of 3, stop speaking Latin!” If that idea sounds ludicrous it should (even though it is a common technique among today’s charismatics!). God was doing a sovereign work here, literally for the first time in history extending the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles, and never is there evidence of any coercion techniques, psychological or otherwise, on the part of the Apostles present. It just “happened.” And, of equal importance, the sacrament of baptism was still administered to them immediately afterwards to initiate them fully, (very likely including the laying on of hands) by the Apostle and his companions who were present that day.
If you do therefore have a unique charism, whether prophecy, tongues or any other, you still need the full graces offered in Confirmation. I found it to be a difference of night and day when I was finally confirmed at age 50, and I had been “baptized in the Holy Spirit” for 35 plus years at the time! God can always work within us and “He Himself is not bound by His Sacraments” (CCC #1257) but when they are available to us we are to connect with them whenever possible.
Sacramental Life in the Spirit
My conclusion, at least for myself, is this—in my own experience I have not yet found a Catholic Charismatic prayer group that is truly 100% “Catholic.” I am sure they exist, and when I find one I will happily be part of it if the Lord leads me in that direction. Until then, I will, as St. Paul the Apostle exhorts us, pray both in my native English and, certainly from time to time, in my given prayer language “to myself and to God,” while making it my highest priority to stay close to Christ, the Church and the Sacraments. That to me is what true life in the Spirit is all about.