The call for Evangelisation: Role of the Charismatic Renewal …Part 2

By Elizabeth Elive

This Essay is a continuation of the first part with the same title.

Continued from Part 1…
…Cardinal Suenen’s statement that “we were never supposed to live a Christian life without the full presence and power of the Holy Spirit” is apt (cited in Whitehead 2003: 6).

Life in the Spirit Seminar
The Life in the Spirit Seminar (LSS) prepares people for BHS. There are no conditions for participation, since its immediate aim is not the reception of a Sacrament. BHS initiates a new relationship with God by which the Holy Spirit continues to lead the individual according to God’s will. Clerk also holds that this Seminar is essential to introduce one to the “Life in the Spirit” which, he understood as “a life which is formed by the Holy Spirit” (1 974: 14). He explains:

“Our lives can only be formed by the Spirit when he guides us and we follow him… The more
we receive the guidance he wants to give us and let our lives be formed by what he shows
us, the more we will be living in the Spirit” (1974: 14)

People who come to the seminars experience a spiritual hunger. They want to explore their faith more deeply, or to be spiritually energised. According to Martin’s, many people suffer from feelings of inadequacy in relating to God (1 975: 61). While this can prevent commitment to God, it can also be the means by which people recognise their need for the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. God’s response is always “l want you, I love you, I desire to pour out my Spirit upon you” (Martin 1975: 61). This sums up the theme for the first talk given to the participants at LSS – God’s personal unconditional love for everyone (see Boucher 2000: 83).

Characteristics of LSS as a Tool of Evangelisation

a. Personal Testimony
Looking back at Peter’s kerygmatic preaching (see Acts 2), some points which have relevance to LSS stand out. Peter testified to the Father’s action in Jesus and the sending the Holy Spirit; he then called for repentance and promised forgiveness of sins and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit because, “The promise of God was made for you” (Acts 2: 39). This, briefly, is the message of LSS. Having “experienced the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit (Whitehead and Moran 2000:7), the leaders of the seminar are called upon to proclaim it. LSS is rooted in personal testimony in accordance with JPll’s observation that:

“Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him” (Novo Millenio Ineunte (NMI) 40)

Whitehead endorses this statement by saying:

“Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a grace that can only really be evaluated by looking for changes in the lives of those who claim to have received it — fruit is always eloquent” (Whitehead 2008:

According to Bouche, faith in the action of the Holy Spirit, is a gift that bears eloquent witness to the Life in the Spirit (See Boucher 2000: 36-37). Even though the leaders of LSS acknowledge that this work is not theirs but God’s (see 2 Cor 3:4-6), they exhibit an expectant faith in the Holy Spirit’s will to intervene and change peoples’ life through their instrumentality. The need for a living faith in the evangeliser, preacher or catechist is indisputable, as is that of the participants. Faith issues from a life of prayer, hence Pope Benedict XVI insists that for evangelisers “the word of the announcement must be drenched in an intense life of prayer” because like Jesus, we must acquire people “by God and for God”.

Even though BHS effects a transforming experience, Clark holds that it does not encompass all that is needed for one’s spiritual life (1976:25). The experience is open to growth and, facilitates that growth. It provides a new impetus for ongoing Christian formation: catechesis, teaching, the sacraments and every spiritual exercise within the Church. The power has been given; the means must be sought. The Holy Spirit empowers so that one can be dedicated more fully to the mission of the Church. LSS, therefore, is an initial evangelisation programme which effectively leads to ongoing formation and discipleship.

The Free Encyclopaedia defines a disciple as “one who learns from a teacher” (Wikipedia wpl 1). However, the concept is generally understood in terms of a follower of Jesus, as in Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” (see wpl 2). Real dedication as a follower of Jesus presupposes the will to learn from him and to bear witness to Him. The evangelised becomes the evangeliser (See Case wp4).

Structure of the Life in the Spirit Seminar (LSS)
LSS has a specific structure, which enables the Seminar to meet the various needs of the participants during a period of seven weeks. It is run by a team made up of a coordinator, a music leader (group), leaders of faith sharing groups, a hospitality group and individuals who give talks each week. Each of these serves the Seminar in a specific way (See Boucher 2000: 18, Whitehead and Moran, 2004: 7). According to Boucher, during the LSS, there is need to care for each individual person (2000: 49). The Holy Spirit waits for us to invite Him to the innermost recesses of our lives, and this demands openness to oneself. For some people, this needs time. Hixon asserts that the “ultimate goal” of trying to be aware of one’s story “is to sensitively interpret that story and experience in the light of the Gospel story” (1 997: 1 8). Reflecting, sharing and praying together enable people to do just that; and a new dimension of Church as loving community also emerges. The support that people receive in each faith-sharing group is adequate “to address many personal and spiritual needs” says Boucher, but particular problems must be attended to in a more personal level (2000: 49-50). Huesbsch’s appraisal of the structure of LSS is clear when he says:

The single factor which makes renewal movements to work well is that the people involved in
these movements share their lives of faith together” (2004: 23)

LSS Teaching and Benefits
Each talk during LSS develops a particular theme that participants are expected to reflect upon during the course of the week. The first talks cover God’s unconditional love (Jn 3:1 6) from creation through salvation and the sending of the Holy Spirit. These themes are drawn mainly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and Scripture (See Whitehead and Moran 2000: 26,). LSS provides an atmosphere in which reflection on the talks can be applied to concrete life situations. With the support of the whole group, people are enabled to grapple with issues in their life in the light of what they have heard, shared and prayed about. It is observed that Catholics and non-Catholics can make this journey in the Spirit together. BHS takes place during the fifth week and, the sixth and seventh weeks are dedicated to explaining how to maintain this grace and to grow in the Christian life. Many people go forth with eagerness to know more about God. They listen to the Scriptures and participate in the Sacraments and liturgy with greater fervour. The Spirit is at work in a new way.

Diverse Views
In spite of its fast growth, there has been a lot of resistance to the Charismatic Renewal over the years. According to Charles Whitehead, some people find the movement “interesting and yet disturbing” (2000: 64). Its claims and manifestations seem to “give scope for diverse hypothesis” (Elive: 2010 unpublished essay). A very strong word against the LSS can be found in a blog entitled “Charismatic Heresy” (CH). The author’s main concern is the doctrine contained in the LSS guidebook entitled “Finding New Life in the Spirit”. He holds that the doctrine does not represent Catholic Doctrine. He states:

“The guidebook is so not Catholic that it has been used for Protestant seminars! Naturally it contains
no Catholic doctrinal statements, there is no reference to the Eucharist, to Mary, to the Rosary, or to
the saints. In fact, there is no reference in the guidebook to being Catholic at all” (CH wp6).

Interestingly the writer of the blog above, quoted Pope Paul VI as having referred to CCR as “The smoke of Satan (which) has entered the Church”. Houser totally disagrees with this claim. According to him, Paul VI used that phrase to refer to Modernism and not to the Charismatic Renewal (Houser 2006: wpl 3)

Charles Whitehead (and others like Cardinal Suenens) clearly argue that the Charismatic Renewal is a gift to the Church with the specific purpose of assisting the Church in her mission to “seek the conversion, salvation and sanctification of all people, and their unification into an effective assembly of God’s people” (Whitehead 2003: 9). For this author the renewal must concentrate on the essential issues regarding the faith (see 2003: 9), “on new or particular devotional practices” (2003:9-10). According to themFor them then, contrary views are confusing and distracting the renewal from offering its primary gift to the

Houser also mentions people who regard the Renewal as a form of fundamentalism (2006 wpl 3). According to this author the Renewal does indeed share some qualities attributed to fundamentalism such but, it might be lack of guidance. In some countries, anti-fundamentalism in the renewal itself is being accused of contributing to the diminished support of some bishops who had hoped the movement would provide a forum for ecumenism (see wp14).

The emphasis of CCR on the Holy Spirit has also had to be defended. Mongoven explains that just as Jesus reveals the truth about God, the Holy Spirit reveals the truth about the Father and the Son (2000: 93). The renewal is therefore Trinitarian. Those in the Charismatic Renewal recognize that, “the Holy Spirit does not only set on fire but equips (people) with his gifts for service and mission” (Whitehead 2003: 5: See also Clerk 1970: 45). Another aspect of the Renewal that falls under constant scrutiny is the exercise of charismatic gifts, so necessary for evangelization (see Lumen Gentium 12). Donovan makes this point,

“It is easier to dismiss a phenomenon as NOT from God than it is to determine its other possible
sources (human or divine spirit)” (Donovan wp7)

However, for him, the golden rule here is discernment (See Donovan wp7).

This essay analysed the Life in the Spirit Seminar as a programme of evangelisation. It studied the concept of evangelisation portrayed by Peter’s kerygmatic preaching on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and proposed it as the model of proclamation of LSS.

Personal witnessing was seen to be an important aspect of this method of evangelisation in accordance with JPll’s statement that “What is needed (for evangelisation today) are candid, personal and communal testimonies of new life in Christ”, because today people listen more to witnesses than to teachers except when these too are witnesses (Ecclesia in Europa 49). Repentance and conversion were highlighted as enabling the total openness to the Holy Spirit for a veritable life in the Spirit. From this discussion LSS emerged as an initial evangelisation programme which efficiently leads people to ongoing Christian formation, thus establishing a link between this powerful mode of initial evangelisation and other forms of the same mission. Its power rests in enabling a total openness to the Holy Spirit who makes people share in God’s holiness “the essential prerequisite for an authentic evangelisation (Ecclesia in Europa 49).

Although CCR organises Charismatic assemblies to foster prayer and Christian formation, there is still a need for a research into ways of making LSS a vital part of parish life. Working hand in hand with other groups, it can greatly enhance catechesis and evangelisation



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