The Real Charismatics

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The article is a response to another column on Ignitum Today, “Charismatics in Context,” originally published on January 30th by Matthew Olson. I have to admit, before writing this article I had to take a few deep breaths and step back a little bit. While the writer clearly had a good intention in wanting to protect the Liturgy, he completely and utterly missed the point of the Charismatic Movement. This response I’m writing is necessary because the Charismatic Movement is a way in which the Holy Spirit is actively working in the Church, and to paint it as anything less than that is simply incorrect.

That tweet was one woman’s 140 character example of how the Holy Spirit impacted her and her family, and I found it moving, although not surprising. I know so many people who have similar experiences, but I understand that personal testimony is not everything – although it is a very important thing, as our faith is profoundly personal, with the person being Jesus who wants to relate to each one of us – so I will move from testimony to responding to specific claims in the article. Know this, though: personal testimony is a key part of an active faith, and the amount of testimony I could have found of the Charismatic Movement leading people to faith is nauseating.

The Popes, the author states, have supported the charismatic movements for its “purported ecumenical benefits.” Now I first would like to point out that these aren’t just purported benefits, they’re very real; if you don’t believe me, watch a video of some Protestants getting super excited because the Pope reached out them and showed them that the Catholic Church cared about its people having a deep relationship with Christ: “Pope Francis Message of Christian Unity”. What is more disconcerting, though, than the fact that the author seems to glaze over the real ecumenical benefits, is the fact that he’s completely wrong in stating that the Popes have only okayed the Charismatic movement for ecumenical reasons.

To this point, I would like to present a few statements from the Popes:

“This authentic desire to situate yourselves in the Church is the authentic sign of the action of the Holy Spirit … How could this ‘spiritual renewal’ not be a chance for the Church and the world? And how, in this case could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so…” Pope Paul VI, 1975

“I am convinced that this movement is a very important component of the entire renewal of the Church.” Blessed John Paul II, 1979

“At the heart of a world imbued with a rationalistic skepticism, a new experience of the Holy Spirit suddenly burst forth. And, since then, that experience has assumed a breadth of a worldwide Renewal movement. What the New Testament tells us about the charisms – which were seen as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit – is not just ancient history, over and done with, for it is once again becoming extremely topical.” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), 1983

“As I have been able to affirm in other circumstances, the Ecclesial Movements and New Communities which blossomed after the Second Vatican Council, constitute a unique gift of the Lord and a precious resource for the life of the Church. They should be accepted with trust and valued for the various contributions they place at the service of the common benefit in an ordered and fruitful way.” –Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 2008

As evidenced above, Popes have not stopped praising the Charismatic Movement, and these are not praised based in ecumenism alone, but in the deep and abiding need for the Holy Spirit in the daily Christian life. Since the Popes understand this need, the Popes see the actions and prayers of members of the Catholic Charismatic renewal and they are nothing but excited. As Pastors of their people, The Popes want to guide all people to heaven, and the only way there is through a personal relationship with Christ which they see in the members of the Charismatic Renewal.

Let’s return, though to the issue that this author has with the movement, because I think it is the one that most people have: the Liturgy, which those who dislike this movement often cite as their reason. As they see it, Charismatic Liturgies disregard the necessary solemn nature in favor of a more flamboyant one. To the untrained eye, you can see why the Liturgies sometimes celebrated at a charismatic gathering look like this; there are hands raised, prayers spoken loudly, and sometimes even laughter.

All of this must pose the question: what is the point and proper attitude for Liturgy?

We should start, I think, with the Liturgy of the early Church. I certainly believe, for one, that the early Liturgy would have looked a lot more Charismatic than Tridentine, taking place in homes and including free prophesying, if we are to take Justin Martyr for his word. While the beautiful Liturgies later developed had an important place in the Church, they were not the early Liturgy of the Church.

Instead of taking that as truth, though, since I will admit it is debated, we should look at the heart of Liturgy’s purpose. Liturgy is an act of public worship, gaining its name from the Greek leitourgia. As such, it is an act of showing what one believes to the public. Liturgy (in particular, the Mass) is also an act of following the command of the Lord at the Last Supper and in John 6 to “take and eat,” and as such is profoundly important in the Christian life.

It seems to me that all our Liturgy – and with specific importance the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – is a public worship of the one God flowing from a deep desire of the human heart to unite to Him. How, then, might one say the Charismatic gathering of believers who sing praises loud, lift up their hands, and wholeheartedly reply ‘Amen’ when they are presented with the very Body and Blood of their Lord is anything but worthy of the Church’s Liturgy?

Before I go any further, I must say this: I get it. I understand the importance of Liturgy, and that our desire to stay close the Lord in Liturgy makes us scared of what might seem new or foreign. Remember, though, that the Latin Liturgies performed in Gothic Cathedrals could not possibly have seemed more foreign to Saints Peter or Paul. Our desire for continuity throughout the ages of the Church is admirable beyond measure, and our desire to protect the sacredness of Liturgy is of the utmost importance; these desires, though, must not be misplaced.

When a person says they are a charismatic, if they really understand what that means they will be close to the Lord in their daily life and in their faithful reception of the Sacraments. When a Liturgy is described as charismatic, and it is authentically so, it is a Liturgy of men and women authentically coming before the Lord with their hearts and minds prepared to worship and to receive Him.

Hopefully, this was some context. In all honesty, I was offended that the previously given context was to put all charismatics in a group as if anyone who wanted to expressively praise the Lord (contained throughout the entire book of Psalms, not just with David dancing naked) was a heretic who somehow missed the point. The real point, I think, is summed up beautifully by Christ in John 10:10, and is that we may each live life in abundance. My hope is that we can open conversation here to understand that abundance is not necessarily going to look a certain way, except if that certain way is dynamic relationship of love with the Living God.

I feel that one or two closing notes are necessary. First, I hate labels, and therefore having to call people Charismatics this whole article was difficult, so please forgive me for that. Second, I would like to point you, dear reader, to one of the real benefits of this movement, that of the ecumenism, which I glossed over so briefly, by pointing you to a brilliant article by “The Anchoress” on Patheos: “Charismatic: The Pope and Pentecostals are 45 Minutes of Fascinating.”

Jason Theobald

Jason Theobald

Jason is a Catholic youth minister who thinks that love casts out all fear. He is a diehard Chicago Bulls fan and dabbles in following hockey while doing his best to ignore baseball. He wants everyone to know that the Christian life is worth living and tries to write in a way which shows how true that is. He has a new website/blog, called Fulton Street, which will deal with art and modern culture, coming soon.

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7 thoughts on “The Real Charismatics”

  1. Avatar

    1 I broadly agree with this piece, as much as I do the last.

    2 I am not against the Holy Spirit, Locutions, or any other (genuine) super-natural phenomena. I just have grave concerns about the ‘Charismatic Movement’, as a movement.

    3 Although being Catholic I am the PA to a pastor of an Evangelical Church, so I’m not ‘anti’ Evangelical/Protestant in any way.

    4 I am in England, and the main men’s Charismatic is called ‘Harvesters’.
    Apart from Fr Cantalamessa, look at this book list of theirs:
    nearly every book is by a Protestant or dissenting publishing house.

    5 Harvesters often ‘concelebrate’ with the priests, saying the words of the Prayer of Consecration, with their hand outstreched, for example. When asked, they say the Holy Spirit has ‘led them’ to ‘participate’ in this way.

    6 The Charismatic Catholics I know, here in England, tacitly, if not explicitly, let the Spirit ‘trump’ the Magisterium. This ‘slippery slope’ is a parallel I’ve found of what I see happening (just posted by Pat Archibold):

    7 I fully agree with quotations from the Popes quoted here. I think new ecclesial movements are a definite force for the good, but the Charismatic Movement is not explicitly mentioned, is it?

    8 The Church is Tradition. She has moved on from the Book of Acts, but is not cessationist. My concern is a sort of ‘Restorationism’ which is found in Catholic Charismania which is no different from Protestantism.

    9 It seems to me that genuine expressions of the Spirit are utterly consistent with what the church believes and does.

    10 ‘It’ tends to undermine what we believe about the efficacy of the sacraments, as if some sort of ‘phenomena’ are necessary.

    11 ‘It’ tends to look down upon ‘popular piety’ and other devotions which have been central for centuries, as if they are inadequate.

    12 ‘It’ often seems more a function of dopamine than anything spiritual.

    In short, I find a huge gap between the Charisms themselves, and that I believe in wholeheartedly, and the majority of ‘Charismatics’ who I think are more desperate for experiences ‘of God’ than God Himself.

    I have encountered what appear to be too many Charismatic charlatans, and the movement utter trivialises the Charisms, making them ten-a-penny. Do you think the real God would be doing what appear to be more party tricks for everyone, and with so much frequency?
    Do you think the real God would manifest Charisms like fashions? That is, so many ‘Charismatic expressions, are ‘in’ for a time, then they go ‘out’ and replaced by the ‘latest model’ of ‘Charismatic’ phenomena, which ‘go viral’ for a time then wane.

    Why haven’t the Rosary, Devotion to the Sacred Heart, etc., waned in the same way as trends in the Charismatic Movement? In fact, why is the practice of Traditional Devotions growing in proportion with commitment to Orthodoxy? Why are ‘old’ ways coming back as if they’d been lost through thoughtlessness, rather than simply oversight?

    To me, the ‘Charismatic Movement’ is simply a ‘culture of disrespect’, but I re-emphasise that in no way am I against Charisms. I just find the ‘movement’ cheapening of the richness of what we have gained through Tradition, a reversion to immaturity.

  2. Avatar

    Thinking more on this as someone who also studied as a therapist, and especially religious pathologies (Clinical Theology) and hysteria, I have to say:

    There are things that look as if they’re in line with the Tradition, but aren’t
    There are things that look like the Charismatic, but aren’t
    There are things that look like locutions, but aren’t
    There are things that look Modernist, but aren’t
    There are things that look like a Mass, but aren’t (Protestant ‘Eucharists’)
    There are things that look like acts of kindness, but aren’t
    There are people who look like Intentional Disciples, but aren’t…
    …and the list could go on.

    We simply cannot talk about ‘movements’, as if everyone in the set shares the same characteristics, or that people who claim to be, or have, something, actually are, or do. (Why I hate labels)

    The dishonesty in most of these is wishful thinking. That is, they’re not deliberately so, but would like to think themselves more faithful, holy, spiritual, gifted, etc., than they are whereas, if they tried stark honesty, they’d be far more likely to discover their solidarity with their neighbour and Christ.

    Any gifts are completely effective when they are an epiphenomenon of grace, rather than simply acted out, ‘as if’. People sense their falseness (but often go along with it) but what’s more, they’re unsustainable.

    I cannot tell you how many ‘spiritual’ or ‘Charismatic’ Christians have admitted to me they feel like a fake. It’s because they are. They know it in their heart-of-hearts. But that’s the point where I tell them to join the club, and start a real journey accompanied by grace rather than searching for external manifestations and feelings. 🙂

    The most damaging thing about the Charismatic is that it makes many other normal Christians feel inadequate, or if feel as they are missing something, and sadly, many Charismatics propagate this notion. They are not inadequate.

    If we’re Catholics we need no other experiences or ‘worship styles’, because Catholicism is not about me, my experiences, or my feelings.

    In fact, Laura McAlister, in her recent piece, Gatecrashing the Trinity: Don Miller and Why Catholics Go to Mass, here on Ignitum, gets it completely.

    Her lens is exactly the lens through which we should view all things Catholic, because it highlights the fundamental difference between us ant Protestants, I think.

    God deigns to let me approach his majesty. I have no rights, and certainly should not have any expectations or assumptions that he will do what I want or ‘use me’. We are not Protestants, so we are not just a coterie of like minds. We are the Church.

    People can dance about as much as they like as there’s plenty of Scriptural warrant, but it’s not a question of understanding, authenticity, or sincerity. but at best, superfluity, at worst, testing God.

    As Catholics, we can’t use the excuse that we’re ‘kinesthetic learners’, like Don Miller, to justify the Charismatic either, otherwise modelling worship on a night club (which would make it ‘relevant’ too), rather than Sacrosanctum Concilium, is the model to follow.

    All the passages in the Gospel relating to the people needing signs and wonders, is what makes me suspicious, especially if the Church is really who she is as the Catechism teaches. At times, it seems to me, the Charismatic actually undermines her very nature because it seems a step backwards at best, and a tacit accusation of apostasy at worst.

    1. Avatar

      First off, I would like to say, thank you for taking the time to write all of these thoughts. Just a couple of things I’d like to say to maybe clarify:

      A lot of the problem is taking individual people/groups who are doing this wrong. Those praises from the Popes are specifically directed at the charismatic movement, some of which being directed specifically to groups of charismatic leaders gathered with the Pope at the time. The Popes praise this movement because of the potential for good, but as with any good some people are going to take it one wrong way or another. If the people following this movement relativize the faith, lose sight of the beauty of the Catholic Church, or anything the like, there is a serious issue, but it is with the person and not the movement.

      I think I simply disagree with your point that the manifestations of the Spirit at charismatic gatherings are simply testing God, because I have experience and been with many who experienced these not as a necessity, a right, or anything like that but rather simply as the love of God moving in a specific way in their lives.

      In general, this is what the charismatic movement is about, and people who authentically buy into it will do so in this way.

      Thanks, again, for commenting!

  3. Avatar

    I’m sending my prayer and thanks to pastor Humen for his prayer and love spell that he did for my last week and i never thought i will ever seeing my husband again after he left me and my kid for almost 3years, and last week i wrote to pastor humen on email: and i told him all my problem he call me on phone gave me all the advice that i need and also told me what i need to do and after which i received a call from my husband and told me that he was going to come and visit me and my kid and now the most important thing now that is making me happy is that we are back together again all thanks to pastor humen..

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