Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Entrance Way to the Church's Treasure

Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Entrance Way to the Church's Treasure

Article excerpt

If there was such a thing as a typical Charismatic prayer group newcomer, Mary was that. She came to her first prayer meeting with that "typical" look of anticipation, mellowed by fear. She had heard that people here sang songs, raised their hands in praise, prayed in tongues and believed that God worked in their daily lives. She seesawed between good Catholic skepticism of these outward manifestations and a curious desire to see for herself what this was about.

After attending several prayer meetings, she reflected on the inexplicable sense of joy and peace that she was experiencing in her everyday life: humming songs of worship as she worked, even reading her Bible. The words seemed to speak directly to her and carry a great feast for reflection. She loved the leaders, the music ministry, the glorious sunshine, the pristine snow, the little brown sparrows. Every living thing was teaching her of her creator. Mary had entered her first spiritual consolation--she knew that God loved her, that Jesus died for her, that the Holy Spirit was leading her into a personal relationship with God. And she saw that it was good.

For Mary, as for many people, the Charismatic Renewal provided an entrance way to a new and personal relationship with God. People felt invited to this banquet of love, surprised that ordinary people like themselves could be called to enter into the experience of God. The Charismatic Renewal unlocked a whole new spiritual experience for many people and prayer groups began to spring up in many places around the world.

While Charismatic prayer groups seemed to mold in response to differing local situations and needs, they all were characterized by some common elements. The main one was, and still is, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This baptism is not a sacrament but a simple ceremony in which a person freely renews their baptismal commitment, freely accepts Christ as their God and Saviour, and in the name of Jesus invites the Holy Spirit to renew in them the graces and gifts received at Baptism and Confirmation. St. Paul describes these gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-13: the gifts of faith, healing, prophecy, discernment of spirits, praise, gift of tongues, knowledge and the excellence of Love. In some cases, perhaps too much focus was placed on the gifts of the Spirit rather than the Giver of the gifts, and on the "power" of the Spirit rather than the poverty of Spirit required for growth in this relationship with God. But there is no denying that the Charismatic Renewal provided an experience of God's loving and caring presence in people's lives.

Prayer groups flourished in the 1970s. In fact, by 1975 the Directory of Catholic Charismatic Prayer Groups listed more than 3,800 groups in fifty-four countries (more than half in the United States). People flocked to Charismatic conferences around the world, hungry to be nourished at the table of God. Weekend retreats for Charismatics had long waiting lists. The enthusiasm and commitment to things of the Spirit seemed insatiable.

Today, while the numbers of people attending prayer groups have decreased, many groups continue to exist across North America and continue to fulfil a role in leading people to an experience of God.

The Charismatic Renewal was highly successful in fulfilling an evangelical purpose, but people who sought to journey further along the path of spiritual life found that the way was not always clear and in fact was often painful. …

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