Catholic Charismatic Renewal


Pentecostal Catholics
February 28, 2008, 12:12 am
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by Archbishop William J. Levada

The first group of Pentecostal Catholics experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the manner unique to Pentecostalism at Duquesne in Pittsburgh in 1967 and at Notre Dame in 1968. By 1972 Cardinal Suenens personally encountered the charismatic renewal, the preferred terminology for Catholics and mainline Protestants, for the first time during a visit to the United States. He was immediately taken by this encounter, appealing as it did to his keen desire to see the church flourish as in a new Pentecost through the work of the Holy Spirit. For him this amounted to a life-long goal.

In many ways Suenens was an unlikely person to carry the banner for the Catholic charismatic renewal. Personally reserved, even shy, at times almost overly intellectual, he was profoundly touched in his own personal experience and in assessing the fruits of the Holy Spirit in so many Catholics (and Protestants, too, I should add) whose spiritual journey had been deepened and advanced through the renewal. Cardinal Danneels captures it perfectly in his funeral homily:

“How could a cardinal with a face that did not show many emotions, with a straight and immobile stature, with a grave and steady voice, find himself at ease in the midst of a crowd that sang, danced, clapped hands and spoke in tongues? Was it a late life conversion to fantasy and imagination in a man who had been until then too rational and responsible? No. Rather, he perceived in this revival a return to the church of the Acts of the Apostles about which he had always dreamed — with a taste for the Scriptures, spontaneous prayer, joy, a sense of community, the stirrings of the Spirit, the proliferation of charisms. The Archbishop Levada (Continued from Page 1.) renewal gave the legitimate role of the heart and the body back to the spiritual life of Christians.”

Suenens dialogued with the Catholic leadership of the new movement — Ralph Martin, Steve Clark, Kevin Ranaghan, Father Jim Ferry in the United States, and in Europe as well. He made a singular contribution by explaining the renewal to the pope and the Curia, and by alerting its leadership to what I would call their “amnesia” about the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church: the Eucharist, The Blessed Virgin Mary, the pope as visible center of unity, the scope of Catholic teaching and practice.

From 1974 to 1986 Suenens composed a series of six “Malines Documents,” which still serve as a guide to the renewal, with precious insight into its possibilities and its needs. Charismatic Renewal, with Kilian McDonnell as lead consultant, was followed by Ecumenism and Charismatic Renewal (1978). In 1979 Charismatic Renewal and Social Action was written in collaboration with his longtime friend, Dom Helder Camara of Brazil. In 1982 he wrote Renewal and the Powers of Darkness, with a Foreword by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The final two “Malines Documents” treat two specific issues the renewal had to deal with: an over-reliance on introspection, in Le Culte du Moi et Foi Chretienne (1985); and the controversial phenomenon Resting in the Spirit (1986), sometimes also referred to as “slaying in the Spirit.”

1975 marks the year of the renewal’s “coming of age” in the Catholic Church. Thanks to Veronica O’Brien’s urging of the cardinal and the cardinal’s convincing recommendation to Pope Paul, the renewal was invited to have its world congress at Rome on Pentecost during the Holy Year. As Father Walter Abbott notes, during the 1975 Holy Year “the charismatic renewal was decisively accepted into the Catholic Church when Pope Paul endorsed it in St. Peter’s Basilica on Pentecost Sunday.” Peter Hebblethwaite, in his book, Paul VI–The First Modern Pope, concludes, “Suenens won another battle.” It is also fair to say that Suenens was the man of the hour for the renewal. His patient, intelligent, ongoing dialogue showed many in the charismatic renewal how to integrate their new enthusiasm for religious experience blessed by the gifts of the Spirit into the faith and practice of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Charisms for the Third Millennium

On July 14, 1979, less than a year into the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, Suenens submitted his resignation as archbishop of Malines-Brussels. It was a duty which he, above all, would not neglect or refuse, since he had been the first to publicly call for the retirement of bishops. While the council heard his plea without enthusiasm, Pope Paul VI introduced the rule, motu proprio.

On Jan. 4, 1980, he was succeeded as archbishop by Godfried Danneels, then bishop of Antwerp. His has been an active retirement, as his many books and lectures throughout this period will attest. His successor has publicly stated what Pope John Paul II said to him as he began his ministry, “Cardinal Suenens played a crucial role during Vatican II, and the universal church owes much to him.”

At this symposium we look to the 21st century and the third millennium of Christianity. I was asked to speak to you about the charism of Cardinal Suenens. I have tried to be reasonably thorough, and I hope reasonably objective, in the time given to me. I know that he was genuinely looking forward to this very symposium on retrieving charisms for the 21st century to find the new insights and new directions of the Spirit, who blows where he wills.

By way of conclusion, I would recall again Suenens’ singular achievement in providing direction for the council in its earliest days, when he outlined a simple framework for its deliberation and the council decided to concentrate its work around the central theme of the church as such — ad intra and ad extra.

It seems to me that he models a very significant charism to be retrieved for the new millennium: an ability to frame the question properly. Of course our society and its media already have a political framework for characterizing religious statements: They are usually cast on the grid from liberal to conservative. The frame of reference is most often the current political campaign, with comments as thoughtful as a sound byte. The Gospel message handed on in the living tradition of the church is either unknown or so far in the background that it is unrecognizable as a frame of reference.

In my view, even the church people tend to mimic the secular frame of reference, with its penchant for labels. I suggest a moratorium on labels in the church and a retrieval of the unified vision of the council, which did not issue a “conservative” Lumen Gentium and a “liberal” Gaudium et Spes.

To frame the question properly for these last days of our advent before the Jubilee of the Year 2000 and for the third millennium, we would be well served to focus more clearly, and with greater unity as Catholic Americans, about our task as sacramentum mundi — the sacrament of Christ in the world.

In his apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, on preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, Pope John Paul calls the Second Vatican Council, in which he participated as auxiliary bishop of Krakow, “a providential event, whereby the church began (to prepare) for the jubilee of the second millennium.” In commenting on the series of Synods of Bishops begun after the council, he says:

“The theme underlying them all is evangelization, or rather the new evangelization, the foundations of which were laid down in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of Pope Paul VI, issued in 1975 following the third general assembly of the Synod of Bishops. These synods themselves are part of the new evangelization: They were born of the Second Vatican Council’s vision of Archbishop Levada (Continued from Page 6.)

the church. They open up broad areas for the participation of the laity, whose specific responsibilities in the church they define. They are an expression of the strength which Christ has given to the entire people of God, making it a sharer in his own messianic mission as prophet, priest and king.”

John Paul relates the themes of Catholic social doctrine to the new evangelization, continuing the vision of Evangelii Nuntiandi, which proposed “evangelization” precisely as a Gospel vision which embraces the church ad intra and ad extra. It thus transcends the categories of dialectical perspective of action and reaction which characterize so much of modern political thought and strategy, of liberal vs. conservative as a dominant framework.

To enable and to serve this new evangelization, the Second Vatican Council provided its providential clarification of the true nature of the church, so that knowing who she is, the church might be better able to be the sacramentum mundi. The pluralism of contemporary society challenges us more than ever today to know and say why we believe in Christ and who we are as church.

For this reason the question of Catholic identity is necessary and central both for the church as a whole and for each individual disciple within the community. In the face of the well-documented religious ignorance among Catholics in America, I think we must look more urgently at the task of how well we form ourselves as church for our mission in and to the world. What Cardinal Newman called for more than a century ago in England — a well-formed, well-educated and convinced Catholic laity — will be more than ever a necessity in an increasingly democratic and pluralistic world of the third millennium.

Father Benedict Ashley has suggested that we pay more attention to the “documents” of this Catholic identity: the teachings of the Second Vatican Council as developed through the Synods of Bishops and their resulting apostolic exhortations, and particularly as presented in an integrated manner, updated with the teachings of Vatican II, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In his 1994 McGinley lecture at Fordham, Father Avery Dulles, a symposium speaker, called the catechism “the boldest challenge yet offered to the cultural relativism that currently threatens to erode the contents of the Catholic faith.”

Put another way, the broad task of the new evangelization, the church’s mission, requires the concomitant task of ongoing catechesis, I might even say a “new” catechesis, to provide the indispensable foundation for effective engagement in the church’s mission in the world, which is the baptismal vocation of the laity.

Framing the question for the next century and the new millennium in this way, as our readiness for the challenge of the new evangelization, will ideally bring us to an ongoing participation in the new Pentecost envisioned by Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Suenens for the Second Vatican Council.

In his final chapter of the Hidden Hand of God, Suenens gives us quite consciously his last testament: “As I look to the future, I cannot avoid stressing the role of the Holy Spirit in the church of tomorrow. He is always ‘the life-giving Spirit,’ in the fullest meaning of the words. This is the idea I would like to emphasize by way of farewell.”

Cardinal Suenens, we thank you for the charism — the gift — your life has been for us as church. In our farewell to you, may we pay to you the tribute you so kindly gave to your friend John XXIII in your homily at Vatican II: “At his departure, he left us closer to God and the world a better place for us to live.” Requiescat in Spiritu Sancto.


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