I recently read Alan Schreck’s A Mighty Current of Grace, The Story of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. This history is something that all Catholics should be made aware of. It was very different from what I expected.
Did you know that Pope XIII wrote an encyclical on the Holy Spirit and began the Pentecost novena we say between the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost in the late 1890’s. January 1, 1901, he said a votive mass to the Holy Spirit. The response of the Holy Spirit was to pour out on a Bible class led by Charles Parham in Topeka, Kansas, the very same day. What does that say about the opposition of many Catholics to ecumenism?
The Popes following Leo XIII had to focus on World War I and II and the struggle against modernism. However, Pope Pius XII, led by the Spirit, encouraged Catholics to study the Bible and worked towards ecumenism.
It was John XXIII who really got the ball rolling when he called the Second Vatican Council. His opening prayer said with all the bishops there called for a new Pentecost. The documents of Vatican II talked about charisms and said the laity should be encouraged by pastors to grow in their use of charisms. This was before the beginning of the Charismatic Renewal at Duquesne University.
In January 1967, Ralph Kiefer and William Storey, the professors who led the retreat at Duquesne attended a prayer meeting at a neo-Pentecostal church where they were baptized in the Holy Spirit. A month later they led the retreat of the Chi Rho society at Duquesne where the Holy Spirit fell upon the students as they prayed for the gifts they received in Baptism and Confirmation be activated.
From there the movement spread to Notre Dame and Michigan State where the students had friends. Prayer groups were established and the one at Notre Dame became a key player in the spread of the Renewal. Many teachers went to Notre Dame for summer school to work on advance degrees, were exposed to the Renewal and brought it back home.
Because the Renewal spread so rapidly many prayer groups turned to Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches for help praying for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and teachings on charisms. This was totally new to Catholics but not to Pentecostals. Many of the first prayer groups were ecumenical.
It is important to note the ecumenical roots of the Renewal. This was the direction the Holy Spirit was leading us. You can see this by His response to Leo XIII’s votive mass. He wants the Church to reach out to other Christians, to pray together and work together to save His people. It is also important to understand that the Holy Spirit is not limited to Life in the Spirit Seminars. The Pentecostals and early members of the Renewal never went through a Life in the Spirit seminar. The first edition of the manual didn’t come out before 1971. The Holy Spirit can do whatever He wants, come however He wants.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit was questioned by many Catholics. Why would we need this if we received the Holy Spirit through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation? There was a commission established by the Vatican, the Malines commission to investigate. One of the key members was Joseph Ratzinger. They proclaimed the Baptism to be real and often necessary. Unfortunately, many who received the Sacrament of Confirmation were too immature or not taught adequately about the Holy Spirit to really understand the magnitude of the gifts they were receiving. They were not conscious of the power of the Holy Spirit so that they could respond to the direction of the Holy Spirit. We need to made a conscious decision to accept the Lord and surrender to His will.
Joseph Ratzinger, of course later became Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI. He was very supportive of the Renewal. In 2008 the Pope prayed in New York for “the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America” when he visited New York. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II also supported the Renewal and met frequently with the leaders of the Renewal.
Pope Francis is again calling for a new Pentecost and has said the only hope for the world is the Holy Spirit. In meetings with charismatic leaders he calls for everyone to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and for leaders of prayer groups not to withhold the Baptism from those who seek it. He challenges us to be open to the Spirit and new ways of doing things. He urges us to reach out to our Christian brethren and pray with them.
We are being called to something totally new. The Popes have been praying for the Holy Spirit for over a century. They want everyone to experience the touch of the Holy Spirit. It is our job to reach out to bring people into a new deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit. We are called to be the Spirit’s instruments in bringing about the New Pentecost Vatican II prayed for. How will you respond?