Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

A New Pentecost? Catholic Theology and "Baptism in the Spirit"

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

A New Pentecost? Catholic Theology and "Baptism in the Spirit"

Article excerpt

  One thing, however, is certain: the face of the Church of the   third millennium depends on our capacity to listen to what   the Spirit is saying to the Church of our time (cf. Rev 2:7)...   It depends, therefore, on our capacity to be amazed by the   charismatic gifts that the Holy Spirit is lavishing on the   Church today with extraordinary generosity. And it depends   on the wisdom and generous farsightedness of Pastors who   do not quench the Spirit, but test everything and holdfast to   what is good (cf. 1 Thes 5:12, 19-21).    STANISLAW CARDINAL RYLKO    President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity (1) 

IT HAS BEEN MORE THAN FORTY YEARS since the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church first appeared and nearly that long since the first attempts to theologically understand the core experience of this renewal--"baptism in the Holy Spirit"--from a Catholic point of view.

"Baptism in the Spirit" is the main terminology used in North America to describe an experience of the Spirit that is often accompanied by a deeper personal encounter with Christ, characterized by a glimpse of his Lordship, an experience of the Father's love that is personal and deeply liberating, and a new awareness that we are truly not orphans but that the Holy Spirit is truly present and ready to encourage, convict, guide, and help us understand the things of God. (2) This vital experience of the Trinity brings with it a new or renewed desire for prayer, including in a special way praise, adoration, and thanksgiving; a new or renewed desire to read the Scripture, often described as "the scriptures coming alive"; and a desire to tell others about the goodness of God. It is also frequently accompanied by a desire to be in relationship with other Christians and by the manifestation of one or more of the charisms listed in 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4, and Romans 12. Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ, offers this as a brief definition of the experience: "A religious experience which initiates a decisively new sense of the powerful presence and working of God in one's life, which working usually involves one or more charismatic gifts." (3)

It has been understood from the very first theological reflection, in 1969, that the term "baptism in the Spirit" had its primary referent to the giving of the Spirit in the sacraments of Christian initiation, its usage in the New Testament, and that it was only being used analogously to describe the experience of those already validly baptized and confirmed Catholics. "If we were to be more precise we would not talk of receiving the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, but of renewing the Baptism in the Spirit." (4)

While the organized forms of this renewal have ebbed and flowed in various countries at various times, it remains one of the most widespread and influential of the movements in the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council and is present in more than 120 countries with more than 100 million Catholics to date experiencing what has been called "baptism in the Spirit." (5) The Catholic charismatic renewal is generally seen as part of a much wider phenomenon, the broader Pentecostal movement that began at the turn of the twentieth century and that now numbers more than 500 million participants. (6)

Since the appeal of Pope John XXIII that the whole Church pray in preparation for the SecondVatican Council asking God to send us a "new Pentecost," there has been a strong and continuing emphasis from the papacy on the need of the Church, and of each of us as individuals, to experience today the work of the Spirit as we see it described in the accounts of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. Following the council, Pope Paul IV wrote in Gaudete in domino,

  Assuredly we have here a work of the Spirit, a gift of   Pentecost. One must also recognize a prophetic intuition on the   part of our predecessor John XXIII, who envisaged a kind of new   Pentecost as a fruit of the Council. … 
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