The Lord has moved upon a “doomed land” - Fiftieth Anniversary of the Charismatic Renewal

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page

As the liturgical year comes to a close, we have been reading from one of the last books written in the Old Testament, the Book of Wisdom.

The reading we have just read offers a beautifully poetic, and at the same time dramatic, prophesy of the Incarnation:

“When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all powerful Word”.

We are immediately reminded of the Prologue to St John’s Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

The reading speaks of this word entering the “heart of a doomed land”. Humanity has been wandering lost in a doomed land. God in his great mercy is now to act in a sovereign way. Salvation was about to be manifested.

We could say a similar thing about the supreme act of God at Pentecost as the Spirit was released in extraordinary way upon the frightened and confused Apostles. This was the moment of the birth of the Church. The Church was born by a sovereign act of God. It could never have begun otherwise. God acts in surprising and unexpected ways. This is surely true of the grace of the Charismatic Renewal in the Church over the past 50 years.

There is a question that stirs within me: “What has been the purposes of the Lord in this remarkable movement of His Spirit across the Church in our time?”

The Holy Spirit was poured out in extraordinary fashion at Pentecost. The infant church grew, we are told, “under the consolation of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). The charisms were in clear evidence in the early apostolic communities (cf. 1 Cor. 12:4, Eph 4:11-12). We can see that God needed to act powerfully in order that the Church might be established.

The Holy Spirit has been with the Church ever since, as the Lord promised (cf. Jn 14:16). His presence has not always been easily recognised. However, Christian history reveals that there have been moments of particular outpourings of grace, for the Spirit blows where he wills (Jn 3:8).

Now the Lord has once again acted in a powerful way. We have lived through a period of the special outpouring of Grace. As Pope Paul VI noted, “We are living in a privileged moment of the Holy Spirit” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 75).

What has been the Lord’s purposes in this? Why at this time in history?

In 1967 the Church was in the early stages of the implementation of the reforms of the Vatican Council. It was a time of great hope and optimism. It was an exciting time for the Church.

At the same time across the world young people were staging revolutions fueled, as they felt, by the desire for peace and love. The old order was changing, a new and better order was coming in. Generally, there was a hope for a new and vital future for the world and for the Church.

Yet unknown at this time, the Church was to experience much turmoil, confusion and uncertainty. From the new and exciting future promised in the 1960s, we have experienced many painful moments and much darkness – and it continues to this day. The last 50 years have not been easy ones for the Church. And they continue to be challenging as we are witnessing this very week. The future for the Church will be very challenging.

Back in 1967, a small group of students from Duquesne University on a weekend retreat focused on the question of the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in the Church, spurred in their search by their contact with the Pentecostal movement in America. One student, Patty Mansfield, went to the chapel to pray and experienced in a very tangible way an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

She shared her experience with the others, and they too came to experience this outpouring, which they called a “Baptism in the Spirit”. News spread. Catholic university students at other mid-west campuses came under this special outpouring of grace.

Catholic Pentecostalism, as it was called in early days, was brought to Australia by a mathematics professor, Dr Alex Reichel, who had been on sabbatical in the US. In January 1969 Professor Reichel received permission from Cardinal Gilroy to hold prayer meetings at St Michael’s, City Road, then the University of Sydney Catholic Chaplaincy.

I attended some of these meetings in 1971 while a seminarian at St Patrick’s College, Manly. My life came under the grace of the Renewal. A flame was lit in my heart and still burns brightly.

What was the Lord doing in this particular outpouring of grace?

Many of us here would be able to testify as to the extraordinary influence of the Charismatic Renewal on our faith and lives. The exposure to and exercise of the charisms of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament – tongues, prophesy, healing – led us into new dimensions of faith and ministry. We became aware that God can act in direct and tangible ways.

This grace which has been granted to us was an unmerited gift. We came to understand that it is not just a personal blessing for our own spiritual benefit, but it is a grace for the Church of our time. As St Paul teaches in I Corinthians 12 (12,12ff), it is for the upbuilding of the body, the Church. The Charismatic Renewal is for the Church.

The Renewal has touched the lives of millions of Catholics. It began as simple prayer meetings where praise of God and the exercise of the charisms were in evidence. For many people these prayer meetings nourished a new and deeper dimension to their faith.

The personal renewal in faith has spread more broadly than its expression in prayer meetings. The Church has witnessed the emergence of an extraordinary number of new ecclesial movements, many of which have their spiritual genesis in the Renewal. These have become places where the gift of the Holy Spirit has been nurtured with solid teaching and formation, the development of defined patterns of communal life, and have nourished a range of very active and successful ministries.

The Renewal has fostered many new ministries, sometimes formed around the particular gifts of an individual or around a specific ministry task, like healing for instance.

Especially we should note the development of ministries of evangelisation which have taken multiple expressions. The Life in the Spirit Seminar became a significant instrument for the renewal of faith in millions of Catholics. These are a fruit of the Renewal and, indeed, the call of Pope Paul VI and then Pope John Paul II to make evangelisation the centre of the Church’s mission has been heeded and expressed particularly in individuals and groups inspired by the Renewal.

All manner of initiatives in the Church, including World Youth Day, owe so much to the Renewal.

One can go on to speak of the contribution of a renewed spirit of worship and praise that has found a place in Catholic liturgy – in the Mass and in Eucharistic Adoration. The Renewal has inspired a new body of music whose defining characteristic is worship of God.

One can attribute a renewed thirst to read and study the Scriptures as the living Word of God as emerging from the Renewal.

The list goes on. Clearly God was renewing the Church and taking it to the heart of its life and mission.

The Charismatic Renewal has had a profound influence on the Church. It is, in fact, a grace given to the Church in our time. It is a special work of God to help the Church deal with the pressing problem of loss of personal faith among so many as secular influences eat away at the inner life of the baptised. The Renewal is God’s antidote to secularisation.

Today, we can be humbly grateful for the mercy of God as He has once again come to the aid of His people. We can personally recognise how much we are indebted to the grace of the Renewal in our own lives. Through the Renewal each of us has had a fire lit within us. Like the fire at the burning bush that Moses witnessed, it is a fire that does not consume the bush and does not go out.

From the heavens the power of the Lord has leapt forth, and we, unworthy as we are, have been touched, transformed and empowered. The Lord has moved upon the “doomed land” and hope has been revived. Praise be Almighty God who has done such marvels among men.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, November 17, 2017