Document planned on baptism in the Spirit


associate professor of Scripture
Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit

Three years ago the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services council commissioned Bishop Joe Grech, Fr. Peter Hocken and myself to create a theological document reflecting on baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The document would have a twofold purpose. First, it would serve as a reference point within the renewal by clearly articulating the grace of baptism in the Holy Spirit in light of scripture and tradition. Second, it would be a resource for ecclesial authorities, including bishops and priests, who have pastoral responsibility for renewal groups and the more than 120 million Catholics worldwide who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Our first step was to create a draft document, which was completed in 2009 and sent to about thirty theologians and Renewal leaders worldwide for comment. We received detailed feedback and incorporated much of it into the revised document. In the middle of this process our beloved Bishop Joe was unexpectedly called home to the Lord, and I am convinced his prayers are supporting us in this work even now.

In March 2011 the document was presented at an international colloquium in Rome, organized by ICCRS and attended by theologians and Renewal leaders from 44 countries. The participants discussed baptism in the Spirit in depth and offered further input on the document. Afterward the document was again revised, and it has now been submitted to the ICCRS Council for final review and publication.

In preparing this document and conversing with many people on this topic over the last several years, I find in my own heart a renewed excitement to understand, live out and share with others the amazing, transforming grace of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

As the Catholic charismatic renewal fast approaches our jubilee anniversary in 2017, I believe the document is especially needed for three reasons:

First, there is a need to continually foster and deepen the reception of baptism in the Spirit within the renewal, especially through good formation. Unlike other movements in the Church, the renewal has no human founder, no centralized structure and no unified process of formation. This is part of its uniqueness, a gift of God, but it also means that we have to strive to ensure that solid formation occurs wherever the renewal exists, so that the flame of Pentecostal fire is kept burning and baptism in the Spirit is deeply integrated into the whole of Christian life.

Good formation also helps avoid pastoral mistakes, which over the years have given the renewal a bad reputation in some parts of the world. Thus there is need for teaching materials that can serve as a foundation to be used and adapted by different groups around the world.

Second, theological reflection is part of the ongoing process of growth in ecclesial maturity. Like Christians in every age, we are called to reflect on what God is doing in our time in the light of the deposit of Catholic faith. The beautiful diversity of the renewal, in all its rich variety of expressions around the world, also means there is ongoing need for theological dialogue with one another and for resources that express a basic consensus.

Finally, part of God’s purpose in raising up the renewal is to spread the “culture of Pentecost” and the “spirituality of Pentecost” throughout the Church. Indeed, Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II have given us this mandate. This is already being done to some degree, but there is much more to be done. There are many misunderstandings in the Church about baptism in the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. There is a resistance to the renewal in some parts of the world. At the same time, in some areas there is a new openness and interest where previously we found only closed doors. The time is ripe for us to develop a clear, unified and well-thought-out strategy of communication, so that doors may be opened even wider to the Holy Spirit and his gifts.

The document has four parts which cover the following key areas.

Part I: Characteristics and Fruits

This section answers the question: What are the visible, concrete fruits of baptism in the Spirit as it is experienced today? How has this grace changed the lives of individuals and the Church? Our answer was aided in part by the many encouraging statements on the renewal published by bishops’ conferences around the world, which are remarkably consistent in their description of baptism in the Spirit and its effects.

The section begins with a definition of baptism in the Spirit, which we refined on the basis of input received at the colloquium: Baptism in the Spirit is a life-transforming experience of the love of God the Father poured into one’s heart by the Holy Spirit, and received through a total surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ. This grace brings alive sacramental baptism and confirmation, deepens communion with God and with fellow Christians, enkindles evangelistic fervour and equips a person with charisms for service and mission.

Part II: Biblical and Patristic Foundations

One of the most important tasks of the renewal is to help others in the Church recognize that baptism in the Spirit is not a marginal phenomenon —a group of Catholics over in a corner who happen to like Pentecostal styles of worship. Rather, it is a ‘coming to life’ of what is already at the heart of Christian life as presented in scripture and tradition, but which, over time, has sometimes become obscured and forgotten. Part II of the document shows this by presenting the biblical and patristic foundations of baptism in the Spirit.

The biblical section explains the background and meaning of the term “baptism in the Spirit,” the significance of the Pentecost event as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, and St Paul’s teaching on the Christian life, as life in the Spirit.

The patristic section shows the ways in which baptism in the Spirit today corresponds to the experience of the early Church, especially in connection with the sacraments of initiation.

Part III: Theological Reflection

Part III was perhaps the most challenging part of the document to write, because here we sought to bring together diverse views that have been expressed since the early days of the renewal. As we worked on this part, I found myself more and more appreciating the different views by which theologians have sought to explain baptism in the Spirit. The reality is richer and deeper than any one explanation, and each contributes something significant. So, rather than choosing one view and discarding others, we sought to incorporate some aspects of each.

I like to use this analogy: Is light a wave or is it a particle? As physicists know, the answer is… yes! It is irreducibly both. We cannot reduce light to either a wave or a particle, because otherwise we leave some of its behaviour unexplained. Part of the richness of our faith is the Catholic ‘both-and’. Is Jesus God or man? Is our faith based on scripture or tradition? Is the Bible the word of God, or the words of men? Is the kingdom of heaven now or not yet? Both!

I think we can apply this principle fruitfully to baptism in the Spirit and the renewal. For example, some theologians describe baptism in the Spirit as a revitalization of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation; others describe it as a new sending of the Spirit into one’s life. Both views express something important. Similarly, some see the charismatic renewal as a current of grace meant for the whole Church; others see it as a movement among other movements. Again, these views are complementary and each contributes something important.

Part IV: Pastoral Issues

This section offers some basic pastoral principles that can be adapted by various groups according to their own local needs. The document does not impose a specific program for baptizing people in the Spirit (such as the Life in the Spirit Seminar), since part of the mission of ICCRS is to maintain great respect for the principle of subsidiarity. That is, it allows as much freedom as possible for initiatives at the local level.

The pastoral oversight of the renewal is not without its challenges. Fr. Peter Hocken mentioned the danger of turning baptism in the Spirit into a kind of quasi-sacrament and of making the preparations quasi-liturgical.

To over-institutionalize the work of the Spirit —to subtly place it under our control— would be to betray the very grace we have been given. Yet, as Pope Benedict has said, the charismatic must to a certain degree be “institutionalized” (that is, develop stable forms and structures) if it is to remain and bear fruit over time.

At the same time, the institutional must always be charismatic (that is, dependent on the Spirit). There is a delicate balance between creating programs that foster the work of the Spirit, and yet allowing the wind of the Spirit to blow freely, to surprise us and even sometimes upset our plans.

The document places a strong emphasis on formation. Some of the problems in the renewal —for instance, people leaving the Church, immature people establishing ministries of healing and deliverance, misplaced emphasis

on resting in the Spirit and other phenomena— can be minimized by good formation.

As Cardinal Rylko has noted, one of the outstanding features of the new ecclesial movements is their capacity to provide a solid and deep formation in which the Christian faith is not a veneer placed over an essentially secular interior life, but a transformation of the deepest core of the personality, impacting all a person’s choices and behaviour.

There is a great need for charismatic saints —people who live the grace of baptism in the Spirit fully and allow it to mature into heroic holiness. We should pray that God would raise up such saints in our midst to model for us what charismatic renewal holiness looks like. These saints will be men and women who love both the charismatic and institutional aspects of the Church, who experience, understand, and communicate to all the grace of God found in baptism in the Holy Spirit.

To be sure, one document will not completely answer all questions about baptism in the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as the document was being created, I grew more aware of the enormity of the subject we were considering. One cannot fit the ocean into a single jar! Yet it is a beginning, one that we hope will lead to further reflection and dialogue.

—reprinted from ICCRS newsletter

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