Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Charismatic Renewal: Clap if you love Jesus?

The Charismatic Renewal is a movement in the Catholic Church to reemphasize the importance of developing spiritual gifts, also called charisms. However, the stories I had heard about charismatic services made it seem more like just another worship style, and one I wanted no part of. I heard about dancing and clapping during two hour long Masses and preachers singling out anyone holding back and shouting things like "If you're not clapping then you don't love Jesus!" I had heard about healing services with people jumping from their wheelchairs and running around the room. Healing is good. But the image in my mind was described well by a friend: "I kept picturing those evangelical shows that would come on Sundays with those preachers that would scream and be sweating with the people with cancer, or in wheelchairs, walking on stage and falling down, and then being whisked away." But, worst of all, it all sounded so.... extroverted! Cue humiliating memories of high school dances and gym classes.

Shocked and appalled, I adamantly refused to go to anything labeled charismatic. In fact, I had told my friend Jeremy, who was very excited about the charismatic renewal, that my preferred style of worship involves neither clapping nor gibberish! But eventually, feeling guilty for being such a grumpy jerk over a trivial thing, I broke down and attended what is called a Burning Bush Adoration.

Compared to the spectacle I had imagined, this charismatic adoration was surprisingly tame, although I did hear some speaking in tongues. Here was one of the suspicious charismatic practices I'd heard about! However, the priest leading the worship service gave a good explanation of the phenomenon. He described it as having a prayer formed in the heart and being able to express that prayer in the language of the Spirit, which I had termed gibberish, without having to consciously formulate it into words. And I think I understood what he meant. Sometimes I have a prayer in my heart but it feels like such a burden to put it into words. Surely secular people have experienced this with thoughts in general. On some occasions, I've felt like I can express it in a different way, silently, like my soul singing in some heavenly language. Maybe that's like speaking in tongues.

Note: The charism of speaking in tongues refers to a person, by the grace of God, speaking in a language that he or she does not know. Without the additional grace of understanding that language, the person may not even know the meaning of what he or she just said. Therefore, another charism is the gift of understanding tongues. If I have this gift, then God may not give me the grace of speaking in languages I don't know, but through the grace of God I am inspired to know the meaning of words spoken in languages I've never known. St. Paul says the gift of tongues is worthless unless someone in the community has this gift of interpretation. However, there's another phenomenon that is often referred to as speaking in tongues, and might be more appropriately called praying in tongues or speaking the language of the Spirit, and this is what I had qualms about.

After reading "The Power of the Kingdom" by Fr. Matthew Swizdor, I've come to think that many people have a knee jerk reaction against the charismatic renewal for reasons like this: "There are many 'charismatic' circles today, especially in certain areas, who insist that one has not received the Holy Spirit unless one is 'making funny noises.' This leads some people to imitate and pretend, lest they be left out, instead of praying and searching for the quiet, transforming presence of the Holy Spirit in their souls, which is the only thing that really matters."

To me, another troubling aspect of charismatic prayer services was witnessing resting in the Spirit. This is when a person's body relaxes and falls to the ground while being prayed over. Like speaking in tongues, initially I saw no benefit to it and certainly didn't want this to happen to me. However, shortly after my introduction to charismatic events through the Burning Bush Adoration, I went to a healing prayer service with a friend. The healing service happened after Mass during a period of Eucharistic Adoration. I was praying while my friend went forward to be anointed. When I looked up I saw people helping her up from the floor! Afterward she told me about resting in the Spirit and how sometimes when she gets prayed over she feels it coming and can either fight it or let herself go. She said, when she lets herself go, she feels completely relaxed and just rests in God's presence for a while until He releases her.

Even Fr. Matthew Swizdor started out with a negative opinion of resting in the Spirit, which many people unfortunately term slain in the Spirit. He said: "The fact that people fall to the ground when touched by the Power doesn't mean they are like dead. They are enjoying a beautiful repose in the Lord, an ecstasy, a 'floating on a cloud,' and that is why I like to call it 'resting in the Spirit'. When I first saw it happen in Pennsylvania, I felt rather negative about it. I thought they were 'passing out', and that had never appealed to me as something positive. But, actually, these people were falling into an ecstatic state, an altered state of consciousness."

I've come to the conclusion that these can be genuine experiences and I've lost my aversion to all things charismatic. It was actually quite humbling since I had been so determined to maintain my dislike. But little did I know I'd end up attending a weekend long charismatic conference on power in prayer and developing the spiritual gifts of prophecy, healing, and deliverance! That's right, private exorcism! That just goes to show that things can always get weirder.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

If God is not one, he is not God.

October 2, 2012

Archbishop Fulton Sheen felt that because Christianity is the ultimate truth, one sees shades of it in other religions, both those existing before and those coming after, because each theology seeks for truth. So he would say that Christianity is the fulfillment of all other genuine attempts at theology. In an episode of his television show Life is Worth Living, entitled "The Yearnings of the Pre-Christian World", the Archbishop explains how the ancient world foreshadowed the coming of Christianity. Two years ago my knee jerk reaction would have been to think, "how arrogant!" Now, in addition to agreeing with him, I realize how silly it was to be offended that a Catholic Archbishop thinks Christianity is true.

Anyway, one such near-truth is Polytheism. Of course, this is the belief in many gods, for example, the Greek and Roman gods. The Monotheist asks, "how can there be order in the Universe with these competing gods?" Perhaps the Polytheist answers, "one god has more power than the others." Otherwise, how can their be any stability? What happens if the lesser gods work together to overpower the greater god? That would be a disaster. Others may believe that all of the gods are in harmony with each other in a New Age sort of Pantheism. The near-truth of Pantheism will have to be pondered on another day.

GK Chesterton claimed that Hinduism is not a religion at all, but rather a mythology with little expectation to be taken literally. It reminds me of the ancient Greeks who sacrificed to the many gods while their philosophers referred to God in the singular. Maybe the answer is that a working Polytheism isn't actually Polytheism. If we conclude that there needs to be a supreme God of the gods, Polytheism looks more like Monotheism. As Tertullian wrote in the second century AD: "The supreme being must be unique, without equal... If God is not one, he is not God."

Maybe it's a matter of semantics? If God means supreme being, then how can there be more than one?

In Judaism and Christianity, there exists one God with multitudes of spiritual beings, far more intelligent and advanced than we are, with the ability to interact with the material world. In fact, I've heard more about spirits, both good and bad, since becoming Catholic than I ever had before. We worship the one God rather than interacting with spirits directly by, for example, conjuring or fortune telling. I may ask the Angels and Saints to intercede for me by the Divine Power, but I don't call upon spirits directly. Because just like the Greek gods, some spirits have better intentions than others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2113) says: "Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc."

And really, why not make friends with the One who has ultimate power? Because who am I to discern whether a spirit, especially an angel or demon who is far more intelligent than I am, is good or bad? genuine or manipulative? This is part of why the Church canonizes Saints. If I mistakenly ask St. Anthony of Padua to heal me, rather than asking for his prayerful intercession, then I am assured that I have not accidentally sent an open invitation to some antagonistic spirit (like a dangerous, sparkly vampire).

However, when acting in obedience to God in response to our prayers, the good angels fulfill their primary role as God's messengers. "They are all ministering spirits, sent to care for those on the way to salvation."--Feast of the Guardian Angels (Morning Prayer, antiphon)

On the Feast of the Guardian Angels we thank them for their intercession, venerate them on account of their virtue and obedience, and marvel at their intellect which is so superior to ours. This glorifies God through our appreciation, rather than worship, of His creatures. And yet, the existence of such creatures does remind us of the radical strangeness of God becoming man, an event that so dumbfounded and outraged some of the angels that they were moved to disobedience.