Monday, January 26, 2009

Does the Church need the Charismatic Renewal?


Anselm's wonderful quotes from different Magisterial documents on ecumenism really got me thinking about a topic that is not quite ecumenical in the strict sense but which is affected by many things pertaining to ecumenism, and that is the Charismatic Renewal.

I often laugh when Catholics complain about the excesses of charismatic worship within the Catholic Mass, because I myself came from Protestant Pentecostalism, which is about one-hundred times more extreme than Catholic charismatic worship. I sometime want to say, "You think waving your hands in Mass is extreme? You should've seen the churches I've been to!" I recall the yelling, people rolling on the floor, weeping, jumping, giving prophecies, laying on the ground beneath the pews jabbering...Of course, I understand the context is completely different. What is "extreme" in a Catholic Mass (or rather, what is or is not fitting) is different than a Pentecostal Protestant service, and there are entirely different criterion for judgment. But I still must snicker to myself, because I wonder how the same Catholics who are so put out by hand waving would react to the places I've been through...

But at any rate, that is really just food for thought. When I first returned to the Catholic Church, and even before, I started to feel a certain shallowness in the charismatic (Protestant) churches I had been attending, because it seemed to be based too heavily in emotionalism. I was thrilled when I returned to the Catholic Church to dive into the Church's rich intellectual and spiritual traditions, and to be able to study and grow my mind on stuff like Augustine and Thomas while being able to learn quiet contemplation at the feet of Teresa and Therese. In Catholicism, there is a perfect union between the active and contemplative, between intellectual and spiritual, between Peter and John, between flesh and spirit; it is a union that allows the devout worshipper to be a whole person and to truly find their own humanity even as they subject it to God's will.

It was in the middle of this new revert "high" that I first came in contact with Catholic charismatic practices through a "Life in the Spirit" seminar. I was shocked that such things existed in the Catholic Church, because as a baby Catholic coming out of Protestantism, I naturally (and I think somewhat rightly) thought of charismatic worship as a "Protestant" thing. I was surprised to find out that with all of the rich liturgical, intellectual and hagiographical traditions of the Church that there was anybody who was looking "outside" of this Catholic Tradition for anything else to supplement it. I dallied with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal a little bit, but found it unsatisfying and kind of wimpy (again, coming out of Pentecostalism, the charismatic worship of the Catholics seemed forced and inorganic - at least the Protestant Pentecostalism was more harmonious with the nature of their faith as a whole). There was something of a unnatural union in the idea of Catholic charismatic worship.

Now, as my pastor did when he recently preached on this, I am going to have to toe the line here and say that, yes, the charismatic renewal is a legitimate expression of Catholic worship and the Pope has in some way sanctioned it. But here is my real problem with it - the reason why while not outrightly rejecting it I have nevertheless been uncomfortable with it. The Charismatic Renewal is, in the last analysis, a spirituality from outside Catholicism that has been transplanted into it in recent times. This is where I take issue with some of the official or semi-official sanctions of the Renewal by the Magisterium. If the Magisterium wants to sanction this spirituality, then that's fine with me. That is it's perogative. But I question the grounds upon which it is sanctioned, and what I mean by this is the very tenuous attempt to connect the modern charismatic movement with the charismata and worship experienced by the first Christians.

Sure, the Church has never lacked charismatic gifts. That's obvious, but we are fostering a tremendous falsehood on people if we are trying to somehow connect modern charismatic worship with the charismatic gifts of the Church, simply because of the common use of the word charismata. I am much too busy to do all the research and cite the documents now, but if you look at John Paul II's letters endorsing the charismatic movement, you will see that they are based on a loose association of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the charismata of the Early Church with the alleged charismata manifest in the Charismatic Renewal. It is almost like he wanted to say "Yes, this is Catholic, and it is essentially Catholic; i.e., it has always been a part of Catholicism." One example I can give you is from his address to leaders of the Renewal on December 11, 1979. In that address, he made the statement that, "I am convinced that this movement is a very important component of the entire renewal of the Church" (source). I am not against saying that there is an important role that charismatics can play (as JPII said ), but is it going a bit far to say that this movement is a central component of the renewal of the entire Church?

One other example comes from then Cardinal Ratzinger, in the forward of a book written by Cardinal Suenens. In the forward, Ratzinger says:

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 [Renewal and the Powers of Darkness, Leo Cardinal Suenens (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1983)].

Here we see what I was talking about - a mention of the Charismatic Renewal followed by an immediate connection with the New Testament, as if the type of charismatic stuff we see now that had its origin in the 1960's is the exact same thing that was going on in the New Testament!

I'm sorry, but that is where I must protest. If you are looking for the origins of the Charismatic Renewal, it is not to the Early Church you must turn but to the 1906 Protestant Azusa Street Revival in California. Charismatic worship, as it is practiced today in the Catholic Church, is fundamentally Protestant and foreign to Catholic spirituality. Perhaps some Catholics want to deceive themselves and pretend that the Early Church or some of the saints were doing the liturgy the way some charismatic churches now do it, but it simply isn't so. Protestants don't lie to themselves on this issue, and most Protestants who are aware of Catholic charismatic liturgies applaud it as an introduction of a certain element of Protestantism into the Catholic Church. The website of the Azusa Street Revival says it plainly: "Every Church member that is charismatic of pentecostal has roots that stem from the Asuza Street Revival" (source).

The problem for me is that in embracing the Charismatic Renewal in its fullness, the Church is somehow saying that it was in "need" of this movement. Many charismatics will say this openly - the Church "needs" the Charismatic Renewal. If they do indeed believe this, then it is heresy. It is evident that charismatic worship stems from Protestantism, and as Anselm quoted from the Holy Office's Instruction On the Ecumenical Movement, 20 December 1949, the Church says that anything or anyone coming into the Catholic Church ought not to imagine that they are giving the Church some essential element from without her that she was somehow in need of:

It should be made clear to them that, in returning to the Church, they will lose nothing of that good which by the grace of God has hitherto been implanted in them, but that it will rather be supplemented and completed by their return. However, one should not speak of this in such a way that they will imagine that in returning to the Church they are bringing to it something substantial which it has hitherto lacked (II).

Yet this is exactly what we see with the Charismatic Renewal: a spirituality modern in its origin and fundamentally Protestant, hidden under a thin veneer of Catholicism and adopted whole-heartedly by the Magisterium which acts as if we are in dire need of this Protestant movement.

I do not doubt or deny the orthodoxy or fidelity of Catholics involved in the Renewal - the charismatic parish down the road from us gives out more seminarians every year than all the other parishes in the Diocese combined. But I do take issue with any idea that says that the Catholic Church, as it has traditionally existed, lived and prayed, is somehow deficient in the means it gives to people for their sanctification and that something "new" ought to be infused from the outside in order to renew it. As far as I can see, this idea is heresy, because all the means of grace and sanctification given to man are found within the Church and her sacraments as expressed in her traditional devotional life.

6 comments:

Bobby Bambino said...

Very well said. I couldn't agree more.

Jeff Pinyan (japhy) said...

Permit me to speculate...

"However, one should not speak of this in such a way that they will imagine that in returning to the Church they are bringing to it something substantial which it has hitherto lacked."

The pictures of the Church given to us by St. Paul include a body with its members and an olive tree with branches and roots.

The returning (or first-coming) of members to the body may supply a function that was not yet performed, just like the grafting on of a branch may bear new fruit not yet borne. But the BODY has not changed, and the ROOTS have not changed: the same blood flows through the veins, the same nutrients flow through the branches. But not each member and not each branch and twig has the same function and response to that source.

Is it reasonable to assume that a person (or movement) in the Church is being used to manifest some fruit of the Church which may not have been exercised recently, if only because there was no chosen vessel for that charism?

So these new things are not "improving" or "adding to" the body or the tree, because they are not the heart nor head (that's the Eucharist and Christ) nor are they the roots (which again is Christ). But they are increasing the functioning of the body and bearing more (and maybe NEW) fruits.

Does this sound reasonable?

(I am not affiliated with or particularly vocal for or against the Catholic Charismatic Movement, although I question why such a "charismatic" movement would not be more embracing of traditional worship and practices (e.g. Gregorian chant, Latin).)

BONIFACE said...

Jeff-

I totally agree - there is a place for the Church to grow and be renewed by new movements, just like the Franciscans, Benedictines, etc. helped the Church to grow. But at the same time, I think we must be careful in how we express this reality. To say that the whole Church is in need of the charismatic renewal is going too far. Sure, perhaps some segments of the Church can benefit from it, but I am arguing against the position taken by some that the charismatic renewal is the sole hope for the Church in the 21st century, and that the model of Catholicism presented by the Renewal is the Church of the future. These thoughts are especially disturbing since the renewal is foreign to the Church's tradition.

rkl said...

As a Catholic who went to a Protestant K-12 (all 13 years) and have participated in numerous chapel services as part of the mandatory curriculum, I am relieved that the Catholic church is more temperate in its worship "equivalent" (I qualify the word "equivalent" because I believe that our Mass is far more beautiful and affords its participants the opportunities for grace and Sacraments whereas the Protestant services focus more on emotions and feelings as you've already pointed out). How many times have we gone to mass feeling like too tired or distracted? If one should go to a Service with the same attitude, the person probably will not get all the "feel-good" feelings out of it, but if the same person goes to Mass with that attitude, the person can still receive the Eucharist (provided the person is in a state of grace), the most important Sacrament of all. Love of God is not necessarily a feeling, but a spiritual state of being that is not always gauged by emotions.

While I understand that there are brothers and sisters in Christ that need to initially approach God through their feelings, it is good to encourage them to increase their understanding of what it is to be in love with God, that is, they will not always feel an overwhelming love for Him, but to have a mental and spiritual commitment to love Him through our thoughts and actions. Temperance is, after all, one of the cardinal virtues.

[[note to editor: this is Ritzi posting, but I absolutely despise my name because people who know me see it and will know exactly who I am. I've had my name on email lists and people I've met once or twice years ago will email me and say "are you Ritzi from wherever?" I'm posting with my initials from now on for my own sanity, RKL, but just wanted to let you know about that. Thanks!]]

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Everyone I know who is involved in the Charismatic Renewal has the cultic attitude that "you need this." "This need to become entrenched into our parish." Um...no. I know of seminarians (encouraged by other charismatic seminarians) who claim to have lost their faith because they couldn't speak in tongues, etc. It is dangerous and you are correct in calling this a heresy.

Yes good things could come from one's experience at a charismatic event, but people can learn how to pray at Medjugorje. People can be drawn to Mass by LifeTeen rock music. That doesn't make it a good thing and it certainly does not make it a necessary thing.

Norah said...

You have expressed for me all of my misgivings about the Charismatic movement.

I accidentally attended a one day retreat which was run by the Charismatic Movement and the determinedly cheerful women on the guitar and the priest who broke into babbling during the homily I found amusing.

The CaFE programme is run by charismatics. Fr Cantalamessa, Bishop Mark Coleridge and Marcellino D'Ambrosio are Charismatics but they don't push it.