John Paul II
Champion of the Charisms

 

John Paul's seminal address to the Lay Movements and Ecclesial Communities at Pentecost 1998

 

 

In 1979 shortly after he became pope, John Paul II met the ICCRS (then known as ICCRO) council, the international council for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, for the first time. He was shown a 40 minutes video about the Charismatic Renewal and was particularly struck by the vibrancy of the singing he saw. Afterwards he commented:

"Thank you" It was an expression of faith. Indeed, the singing, the words and the gestures. It is.. how does one say it? I can say that it is a revolution of this living expression of the faith. We say that the faith is a matter of the intelligence, and at times also of the heart, but this expressive dimension has been absent. This dimension of the faith was diminished, indeed inhibited, scarcely there. Now we can say that this movement is everywhere.

This is my first meeting with you Catholic Charismatics. first, permit me to explain my own charismatic life: I have always belonged to this renewal in the Holy Spirit. My own experience is very interesting. When I was in school, at the age of 12 or 13, sometimes I had difficulties in my studies, in particular with mathematics. My father gave me a book on prayer. He opened it to a page and said to me: "Here you have the prayer to the Holy Spirit. You must say this prayer every day of your life." I have remained obedient to this order that my father gave nearly 50 years ago, which I believe is no little while. This was my first spiritual initiation, so I can understand all the different charisms. All of them are part of the riches of the Lord.

I am convinced that this movement is a sign of his action. The world is much in need of this action of the Holy Spirit and it needs many instruments for this action. The situation in the world is dangerous, very dangerous. Materialism is opposed to the true dimension of human power, and there are many different kinds of materialism. Materialism is the negation of the spiritual, and this is why we need the action of the Holy Spirit. Now I see this movement, this activity everywhere. In my own country I have seen a special presence of the Holy Spirit. Through this action, the Holy Spirit comes to the human spirit, and from this moment we begin to live again, to find our very selves, to find our identity, our total humanity. Consequently I am convinced that this movement is a very important component in the total renewal of the Church, in this spiritual renewal of the Church."

 

Pentecost 1998

In 1998 Pope John Paul II called all the lay movements and ecclesial communities to come and celebrate the vigil of Pentecost with him in St Peter's Square. Up to 400,000 people responded. It was during his address that for the first time he spoke of the importance of the charismatic dimension of the church, which he said, was co-essential to its hierarchical dimension. Like Pope John XXIII, he too prayed for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church.

 

"Suddenly the sound came from heaven like the rush a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit."

Dear Brothers and Sisters, with these words the Acts of the Apostles bring us into the heart of the Pentecost event; they show the disciples, who, gathered with Mary in the Upper Room, receive the gifts of the Spirit. Thus Jesus' promise is fulfilled and the time of the Church begins. From that time the Wind of the Spirit would carry Christ's disciples to the very ends of the earth. It would take them even to martyrdom for their fearless witness to the Gospel.

It is as though what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago were being repeated this evening in this square, the heart of the Christian world. Like the Apostles then, we too find ourselves gathered in a great upper room of Pentecost, longing for the outpouring of the Spirit. Here we would like to profess with the whole Church "the same spirit… the same Lord… the same God who inspires them all in everyone." This atmosphere we wish to relive, imploring the gifts of the Holy Spirit for each of us and for all the baptised people.

Today's event is truly unprecedented; for the first time the movements and the new ecclesial communities have all gathered together with the Pope. It is the great common witness I wish for the year which, in the Church's journey to the great Jubilee, is dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is here with us. It is He who is the soul of this marvellous event of ecclesial communion. Truly, "this is the day that Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

In Jerusalem, almost 2000 years ago, one the day of Pentecost, before an astonished and mocking crowd, due to the unexplainable change observed in the Apostles, Peter courageously proclaims: "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God… you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up". Peter's words expressed the Church's self-awareness, based on the certainty that Jesus Christ is alive, is working in the present and changes life.

The Holy Spirit, already at work in the creation of the world and in the Old Covenant, reveals himself in the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery of the Son of God, and in a way "burst out" at Pentecost to extend the mission of Christ the Lord in time and space. The Spirit thus makes the Church a stream of new life that flows through the history of mankind.

With the Second Vatican Council, the Comforter recently gave the Church, which according to the Fathers is the place "where the Spirit flourishes" a renewed Pentecost instilling a new and unforeseen dynamism.

Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness, he radically changes people and history. This was the unforgettable experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, during which under the guidance of the same spirit, the Church rediscovered the charismatic dimension as one of her constitute elements. "It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills, he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank… He makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church."

"Open yourselves docilely to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit"

The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church's constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God's people. It is from this providential rediscovery of the Church's charismatic dimension that, before and after the Council, a remarkable pattern of growth has been established for ecclesial movements and new communities.

Today the Church rejoices at the renewed confirmation of the prophet Joel's words which we have just heard. "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh". You present here, are the tangible proof of this "outpouring" of the Spirit. Each movement is different from the others, but they are all united in the same communion and for the same mission. Some charisms given by the Spirit burst in like an impetuous wind, which seizes people and carries them to new ways of missionary commitment to the radical service of the Gospel, by ceaselessly proclaiming the truths of the faith, accepting the living stream of tradition as a gift and instilling in each person an ardent desire for holiness.

Today I would like to cry out to all of you gathered here in St Peter's Square and to all Christians: Open yourselves docilely to the gifts of the Spirit! Accept gratefully and obediently the charisms which the Spirit never ceases to bestow on us! Do not forget that every charism is given for the common good, that is, for the benefit of the whole Church."

By their nature, charisms are communicative and give rise to that "spiritual affinity between people" and that friendship in Christ which is the origin of "movements". The passage from the original charism to the movement happens through the mysterious attraction that the founder holds for all those who become involved in his spiritual experience. In this way movements officially recognised by ecclesiastical authority offer themselves as forms of self-fulfilment and as reflections of the one Church.

Their birth and spread has brought to the Church's life an unexpected newness which is sometimes even disruptive. This has given rise to questions, uneasiness and tensions; at times it has led to presumptions and excesses on the one hand, and on the other to numerous prejudices and reservations. It was a testing period for their fidelity, an important occasion for verifying the authenticity of their charisms.

Today a new stage is unfolding before you: that of ecclesial maturity. This does not mean that all problems have been solved. Rather it is a challenge. A road to take. The Church expects from you the "mature" fruits of communion and commitment. In our world, often dominated by a secularised culture, which encourages and promotes models of life without God, the faith of many is sorely tested, and is frequently stifled and dies. Thus we see an urgent need for powerful proclamation and solid in-depth Christian formation. There is so much need today for mature Christian personalities, conscious of their baptismal identity, of their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world. There is great need for living Christian communities! And here are the movements and the new ecclesial communities: they are the response, given by the Holy Spirit, to this critical challenge at the end of the millennium. You are this providential response.

"You are this providential response"

True charisms cannot but aim at the encounter with Christ in the sacraments. The ecclesial realities to which you belong have helped you to rediscover you baptismal vocation, to appreciate the gifts of the Spirit received at Confirmation, to entrust yourselves to God's forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation and to recognise the Eucharist as the source and summit of all Christian life. Thanks to this powerful ecclesial experience, wonderful Christian families have come into being which are open to life, true "domestic churches", and many vocations to the ministerial priesthood and the religious life have blossomed, as well as new forms of lay life inspired by the evangelical counsels. You have learned in the movements and new communities that faith is not abstract talk, nor vague religious sentiment, but new life in Christ instilled by the Holy Spirit.

How is it possible to safeguard and guarantee a charism's authenticity? It is essential in this regard that every movement submit to the discernment of the competent ecclesiastical authority. For this reason no charism can dispense with reference and submission to the pastors of the Church. The Council wrote in clear words "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." This is the necessary guarantee that you are taking the right road.

In the confusion that reigns in the world today, it is so easy to err, to give in to illusions. May this element of trusting obedience to the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, in communion with the Successor of Peter never be lacking in the Christian formation provided by your movements! You know the criteria for the ecclesiality of lay associations found in the Apostolic Exhortation "Christifideles Laici". I ask you always to adhere to them with generosity and humility, bringing your experiences to the local churches and parishes, while always remaining in communion with the pastors and attentive to their direction.

Jesus said: "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish that it were already kindled!" As the Church prepares to cross the threshold of the third millennium, let us accept the Lord's invitation, so that his fire may spread in our hearts and in those of our brothers and sisters.

"Come Holy Spirit"

Today, from this upper room in St Peter's Square, a great prayer rises, "Come Holy Spirit, come and renew the face of the earth! Come with your seven gifts! Come Spirit of Life, Spirit of Communion and Love! The Church and the world need you. Come Holy Spirit and make ever more fruitful the charisms you have bestowed on us. Give new strength and missionary zeal to these sons and daughters of yours who have gathered here. Open their hearts: renew their Christian commitment in the world. Make them courageous messengers of the Gospel, witnesses to the risen Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and Saviour of man, Strengthen their love and their fidelity to the Church.

Let us turn our gaze to Mary, Christ's first disciple, Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Mother of the Church, who was with the Apostles at the first Pentecost, so that she will help us to learn from her fiat docility to the voice of the Spirit. Today, from this square, Christ says to each of you: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." He is counting on every one of you, and so is the Church. "Lo", the Lord promises, "I am with you always to the close of the age." I am with you. AMEN.