"And that we might live, no longer for ourselves but for Him, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth, and bring us the fullness of grace" (4th Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, based on 2 Cor.5:15).
There is no better description of the purpose of Pentecost, and of the Charismatic Renewal (which has been called a "new Pentecost"), than this text. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon us is to enable us to live, no longer for ourselves but for Him, our Father God! The whole of the Acts of the Apostles confirms this, describing well what Pentecost meant in practice, namely, the inner experience of God's love, and the outward ability to share it in practical and steadfast ways (for example, read 2:44-47; 4:32-35). The more this text is fulfilled in our own lives, the more fruit will we bear, for God's glory and our eternal happiness!
The Spirit himself is the first indwelling and permanent Gift that Christians receive. Thereby they become a "new creation" (2Cor.5:17), they become "sons and daughters of God" and "co-heirs with Jesus Christ" (Rom.8:15-17), and are "transformed, degree by degree, into the image of Jesus" (2Cor.3:17f). It is this transformation by the Holy Spirit which makes it possible for us to live other-centred lives, in the footsteps of our Elder Brother, Jesus, and so to bear more fruit, fruit which will last.
St.Paul also teaches about the need for God's People in every generation to witness to this "new life" (by showing they have changed from a worldly to a holy lifestyle): "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would... But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal.5:16,22). St.Paul points out that whereas the desires of the flesh "prevent you from doing what you would", the fruit of the Spirit enables the disciples to overcome the flesh and to live unselfish lives, and so bear more fruit, for God's glory.
Every Christian must bear fruit in order to be a genuine and vibrant disciple. Then how much more must we who are leaders and members of the Renewal? Let us be guided here by our present Pope. In his splendid Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Inuente (nos.30-41), Pope John Paul II situates the whole programme of Christian activity for the Third Millennium (and therefore of the Renewal too) in the context of our call to holiness.
"First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness... Once the Great Jubilee is over, we resume our normal path, but knowing that stressing holiness remains more than ever an urgent pastoral task... The objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptised. But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: 'This is the will of God, your sanctification' (1Thes.4:3)".
The Pope goes on to declare, "Since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity... The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction". In other words, holiness, in the power of the Spirit, is intimately linked with our bearing abundant or more fruit.
But is the Charismatic Renewal really re-proposing to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living? It seems to me, no. All over the world, I am seeing a neo-pentecostal culture invading the CCR. The revolution in electronic communications has brought television channels by the dozen into our homes. And among these is the so-called "Miracle Channel" of TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). Many Christians, Catholics included, see this as a heaven-sent blessing, and spend hours glued to their TV sets, taking in the gospel according to this or that preacher. The obvious attraction of TBN's star performers is the promise of health and wealth as the divine right of every believer, based on biblical fundamentalism. Sadly however, the average Catholic, largely unfamiliar with the Bible and Christian doctrine, thinks that the preacher is "expounding forcefully on the word of God"! In fact, much of what is taught is unbiblical, and falls into the common mistake of absolutising and distorting some real promises made by God in the Scriptures. The hermeneutical principle that "a text out of context is a pretext" is very apt here! These preachers have memorized a litany of biblical proof texts for their doctrines which they wrench naively from their contexts. They are also very selective, leaving out most of the Gospel which refers to holiness of life and to carrying the Cross in union with Jesus!
The primary concern of such "Word-Faith Theology" is not living a life pleasing to God, or a desire for holiness, but living a comfortable life enjoying health and wealth, and freedom from trial and hardship. "Victory" for such preachers is victory over sickness, poverty, suffering and trials. They refuse to accept that these can be turned for good according to God's plan. On the contrary, they are presented as a "curse," and anyone who is sick or poor is said to be "under a curse". By proclaiming a gospel of health, wealth and prosperity, they are teaching people to become self-centred getters. "Getting" becomes the most important focus of one's life. The sad result is that thousands of people across the world now want the Holy Spirit only for healing or for success in making money so that they can live worldly lives of pleasure and have a new status. They have never even heard of that Holy Spirit who is given "that we might live no longer for ourselves but for God".
Hence the need to make new efforts to stay open to the Spirit of Jesus Christ. To become "Spirit-filled" is easy, but to remain "Spirit-led" requires ongoing effort. As leaders, we can never slacken in our vigilance but must invest new energy into our pastoring of the flock that Jesus has entrusted to us. Fr.Cantalamessa too has pointed out ways in which the genuine spirituality of the CCR is being compromised, for example, running after novelties which distract us from the main purpose of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, which is to empower us to witness (in our lifestyles and activities) to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to the new values of the Kingdom of God that according to Jesus must first be within our hearts, and to the holiness of God who must be the be-all and end-all of our lives. He concludes, (quote) "Our task as spiritual guides is to help our brothers and sisters to be open to the great mysteries of the faith, and never to shut themselves up in any short-lived devotionalism, which can never serve to re-evangelise the world."
Perhaps one reason why we get attracted to neo-pentecostalism or on the other hand to Catholic devotionalism is because we lose our focus on the Cross of Jesus. Christians throughout the ages of every place, language and culture have pointed to the cross as the most fundamental point of reference for Christian faith. "They have sung its praises, lifted up its symbol, extolled its benefits. But, at the same time, they have often removed its scandal. They have cherished its symbol, but shunned its discipline. They have lauded its blessings, but sought to remove its burdens. There has always been something deeply disturbing about the cross, something that deeply offends human pride and achievement, something that insults human self-reliance. And so, while confessing the importance of Jesus' death for us, Christians have been tempted in many ways to alter the radical message of the cross into something more in harmony with human reason, human sensibilities, and human wishes".
In the secular ethos of today the very idea that one would choose to follow the Way of the Cross has become nearly incomprehensible. Most of us, in our heart of hearts, view all suffering as bad. For most of us the highest good has become the removal of all suffering. We seek above all peace, safety, pleasure, the removal of all pain. As much as possible suffering is to be avoided. And so we marshall all the technology, wealth, and ingenuity at our disposal to do that. Fr.Cantalamessa corroborates this when he points out that many Christians "in fact believe not so much in God as in something they have looked upon only as a means to enable them to enjoy undisturbed the goods and pleasures of this world. The moment some material disaster overtakes them, they cry out against him. But God cannot be reduced simply to a guarantor of earthly wellbeing, a wellbeing moreover which is not for everyone but only for a select group of people - a small fraction of humanity lives to squander in luxury, while the rest is dying with hunger and disease".
To many Christians in today's world, Paul's testimony to being 'crucified with Christ' becomes almost nonsensical. Jesus' call to forsake everything, to 'hate one's own life also' (Lk.14:26), and his charge that he who would save his life must lose it (Mk. 8:35-36) simply do not make sense to people who live by this vision of the good life. But we must remember that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, and he always directs us to the Crucified One and thus to the Way of the Cross. The Spirit forms in us the character traits to follow that way. The Spirit implants in our hearts the strength to follow the way of weakness, the power to receive and care for the powerless, the peace to endure and absorb hostility". (Remember the example of the Saints, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Don Bosco, Maximilian Kolbe, etc., and Mother Teresa as well!)
I now would like to share three areas in which we must make efforts to foster a genuine "new Pentecost". The first is our life of prayer, the second is our sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, and the third is the many initiatives of love the Spirit will inspire us to take daily:
- The first, our lives of prayer: whether in personal prayer or in communitarian prayer, before the Blessed Sacrament or in a prayer meeting, using a rosary or participating at the Eucharist, prayer is a prime means of experiencing the love of God, the grace of Jesus, and the fellowship of the Spirit. If this experience of the Trinity is real, we will bear "more" fruit. Through our praise, worship, intercession, thanksgiving and prayer of contemplation, we will deepen our union (as branches) with Jesus the true Vine, and bear fruit that will last.
- Secondly, our sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Suffering is NOT nonsense, though by reason alone we cannot understand suffering. By faith we know that it is something redemptive and meaningful. As St.Paul puts it, our sufferings "fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his Body the Church" (Col.1: 24). Every time we die to ourselves, every time we forgive 70x7, every time we choose the values of the Gospel over against the seemingly more attractive and successful values of "the world, the flesh and the devil", every time we "pick up our cross daily and follow him" we are allowing the Spirit to conform us to the image of Jesus, our Lord, Saviour and Brother. Thereby we are pushing forward the final victory of Good over Evil and hastening the Second Coming of the Lord. Mary, and the saints, have given us a marvellous example here.
- Finally, we must take many initiatives of love for the Kingdom! "I was hungry, thirsty, naked, in need, and you came to my aid" is the norm by which we will all be judged, as the parable in Mt.25 tells us. After all, this is the reason why God pours out His Spirit upon us! As the 4th Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass puts it, quoting 2Cor.5:15, "That we might live, no longer for ourselves but for you, He sent the Holy Spirit as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth, and to bring us the fullness of grace!" The CCR was not started only that we might personally enjoy the riches of Christianity but also that we might be empowered to love one another as He loved us, and be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. It is said that "love, like bread, must be baked fresh everyday", and the Spirit who is ever creative, will give us many opportunities DAILY to express our love for needy humanity in our homes, our neighbourhoods, our places of work, our parishes and the whole world.
Let us rejoice then that "all over the world, the Spirit is moving", inside the Church and also in people of other faiths who are sincere and hungry for God! Let us rejoice that the Holy Spirit knows no boundaries or limits, whether of persons or of places. And let us all open our hearts more generously to his salutary action, and to one another as well. Pentecost, and the new Pentecost we experience through Charismatic Renewal, is meant to empower us "to live, no longer for ourselves but for him..." Then we will bear abundant and lasting fruit.
Pope John Paul II constantly challenged the world's youth to follow the Gospel, and he got a positive response from them. In his Message for the last World Youth Day 2002 he said, "Do not be content with anything less than the highest ideals! You are right to be disappointed with hollow entertainment and passing fads, and with aiming at too little in life. You must steer clear of the mediocrity and conformism so widespread in our society. Dear young people, let the Gospel be the measure and guide of life's decisions and plans! May God make you too the saints of the Third Millennium!" Let us too as leaders and members of the Renewal think alike and make the same challenge to our people, Amen.