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Catholic Charismatic Renewal & God’s Word

Author: Fr Fio Mascarenhas SJ

Image: sxc.hu/1167176 abcdz2000

Catholic Charismatic Renewal & God’s Word

The spread of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) to almost every country of the world has brought over a hundred million Catholics to experience a remarkable spiritual renewal of their Christian lives. One important sign of the vitality of this post-Vatican II move of the Holy Spirit, as mentioned by Blessed John Paul II and his successors, is a deep love for the word of God. In 1981 the Pope declared to the Leaders’ Conference,

“In 1975, my venerable predecessor Paul VI addressed the International Charismatic Congress which assembled here in Rome, and described this movement as ‘a chance for the Church and for the world’; and the six years since that Congress have borne out the hope that inspired his vision! The Church has seen the fruits of your devotion to prayer in a deepened commitment to holiness of life and love for the word of God...”

Pope Benedict XVI as well has commented several times that the CCR is “a unique gift of the Lord and a precious resource for the life of the Church.” And our winsome Pope Francis recently declared that, from his own personal experience, the CCR is “truly a grace of the Spirit, and necessary for the good of the Church.”

The CCR is first of all an ecclesial “movement of faith” rather than just of charismatic gifts

A major reason for this success of the CCR is the centrality of the word of God in its teaching and formation programmes. The CCR is first of all an ecclesial “movement of faith” rather than just of charismatic gifts. This is because the people who come to charismatic prayer groups primarily discover new faith, and thereby become open to the charisms and the prayer of praise. “ Now faith comes from... the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17), and since the Life in the Spirit Seminars are truly saturated with the word of God, proclaimed with freshness and conviction, and strengthened by personal witness to the truth of God’s word just proclaimed, they are powerfully used by the Holy Spirit to bring the gift of faith to its participants. This gift of faith resulting from “hearing” the word of God (Fr Raniero Cantalamessa calls the word of God an “auricular sacrament”!) leads in turn to a deeper “love for the word of God.”

Furthermore, from the very beginning, all national and international CCR conferences and retreats have used some relevant text of Scripture as their theme, with the keynote and other talks all developing its rich scriptural content. This practice has influenced other organisations in the Church to do the same, so that the prominence given to the word of God is becoming more widespread among God’s People. Also, the CCR has pioneered innumerable scripture-based songs (in all languages) which have become very popular and are in general use in many parishes.

As for formation programmes, in India we started the first Catholic Charismatic Bible School for lay people in 1979 (Fr Rufus would boast it was the only such residential school in the whole world), and for several years it ran 9-month residential courses teaching a Catholic interpretation of every book in the Bible. We changed its name in 1998 to the Catholic Bible Institute, Mumbai, so it could cater to the whole Church (and not just the CCR), and it is still offering both one month live-in courses, and evening non-residential courses. A few thousand lay people have benefited significantly from them, and in turn are sharing the word of God in several parishes and dioceses of India, Asia, and the world.

Scripture has an inbuilt power: it is a dynamic, creative reality which effects what it proclaims Jesus himself pointed out, “It is the spirit that gives life... the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn.6:63). And the Second Vatican Council used very strong words to teach Catholics about the power of scripture: “Such is the force and power of the word of God that it can serve the Church’s children as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life ... Just as from constant attendance at the eucharistic mystery the life of the Church draws increase, so a new impulse of spiritual life may be expected from an increased devotion to the word of God” (Dei Verbum, 21, 26). Unlike any other literature, Scripture has an in-built power: it is a dynamic, creative reality which effects what it proclaims! It is therefore the Holy Spirit’s favorite tool for fashioning willing disciples into the image and likeness of Jesus.

Danger of Catholic fundamentalism while interpreting the Scriptures

However, much needs to be done still! The famous words of our Cardinal Suenens were repeated by Benedict XVI, that many Catholics “have been sacramentalised but not yet evangelised.” It is we Catholics, therefore, who are most in need of the New Evangelisation, to foster growth in faith and to strengthen our Christian identity. This can happen wonderfully if we promote a vivid devotion to the word of God: “If the practice of Lectio Divina is promoted with efficacy, I am convinced that it will produce a new spiritual springtime in the Church” (Benedict XVI). On the other hand, the danger of Catholic fundamentalism while interpreting the Scriptures (even in the case of otherwise good Catholics) is very real.

The 2008 Synod of Bishops (in which I had the privilege of participating as an “expert”) was convened to study how effective “Dei Verbum” had been in the life and mission of the Church. Its preparatory document stated that “though many positive things have clearly taken place in the People of God... some things pose problems.” One of the main concerns mentioned was the allure of various forms of fundamentalism. Then, the post-Synodal Exhortation “Verbum Domini” urged all believers to pursue greater understanding of the Church’s teaching concerning Scripture and knowledge of the appropriate Catholic interpretive methods.

But sadly, the parishes, and the CCR, have still to respond decisively to this urgent call of the Church! (Meanwhile, almost 30% of Catholics in Brazil have left to join the Pentecostal sects). Whereas the CCR has brought a real renewal for millions of Catholics in terms of prayer and the charisms, it is yet to offer adequate training in solid bible-study on a regular and systematic basis to its people. (For example, our people must be helped to see that there is no contradiction between modern findings of science and the biblical revelation).

We should not be satisfied with a pious love for the word of God

Serious bible-study calls for commitment and hard work, and we should not be satisfied with a pious “love for the word of God” which expresses itself only in reading some comforting scripture texts in an arbitrary way whenever we are in the mood! The CCR must do much more to help our people become “scripture literate” by investing time, energy and money for such training, and perhaps even more than we do for other charismatic programmes. “We must train people to read and meditate on the word of God: this must become their staple diet, so that, through their own experience, the faithful will see that the words of Jesus are spirit and life” (Benedict XVI to CELAM, May 13, 2007). I believe that if the CCR leadership and members take the lead in doing this as a high priority, we will fulfill even better the Pope’s grand words that the CCR is “a precious resource for the life of the whole Church.”

Note: God’s Word (upper case “W”) is Jesus Christ himself, whereas God’s word (lower case “w”) refers to the word of God in written form (as in the Bible). This is how biblical texts about the word of God (as in Heb.4:12) and references to the word of God in Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini are printed. Unfortunately, many journals routinely print references to the word of God with an upper case W

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