CHARISMATIC RENEWAL AND CHRISTIAN UNITY

By Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM. Cap (now Cardinal)

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal has a specific vocation and responsibility in regard to the unity of Christians. Its ecumenical vocation appears even more evident if we think back to what happened at the beginning of the Church. What did the Risen One do to prompt the apostles to welcome the Gentiles into the Church? God sent the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household in the same way and with the same manifestations with which he had sent the Spirit on the apostles at the beginning. Peter could therefore only draw the conclusion that “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). At the Council of Jerusalem Peter repeated this same argument: God “made no distinction between us and them” (Acts 15:9).

Now we have seen this marvel repeated before our very eyes, this time on a worldwide scale. God has poured out his Holy Spirit on millions of believers who belong to almost all the Christian denominations and, lest there be any doubt about his intentions, he has poured out his Spirit with the identical manifestations, including the most striking one of speaking in tongues. We too are left to draw the same conclusion that Peter did: “If God then has given them the same gift he gave us, who are we to continue to say that other Christian believers do not belong to the body of Christ and are not true disciples of Christ?”

I have always been struck by the similarity between the experience that brought the Pentecostal leader Vincent Synan, who recently went to the Lord, to welcome Catholics into his communion and the experience that brought me to welcome Pentecostals into mine, namely, the discovery that the same Spirit operating in us was also operating in them.

We need to look at what the charismatic path to unity involves. St. Paul outlined this plan for the Church: “speak the truth in love” (see Eph 4:15). What we must not do is bypass the issues of faith and of doctrine in order to be united in the sphere of shared action in evangelization and social issues. Ecumenism experimented with this path at its beginning early in the past Century, and experienced its failure. Divisions inevitably resurface quite soon, even in the sphere of action. We must not substitute charity for truth but rather aim for truth with charity. In other words, we need to begin to love one another in order to understand each other better.

The extraordinary thing about this ecumenical path based on love is that it is possible at once; the way is completely open before us. We cannot “cut corners” concerning doctrine because there are indeed differences that are to be resolved with patience in the appropriate settings. However, we can skip some steps concerning love and be united right now.

It is the only “debt” that we have toward others (see Rom 13:8). We can welcome and love one another despite our differences. Christ did not command us to love only those who think the way we do and who fully share our creed. If we love only those people, he warned us, what is special about that since the pagans also do that? (see Mt 5:46).

We can love each other because what already unites us is infinitely more important than what divides us. What unites us is the same faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Lord Jesus, true God and true man; the shared hope of eternal life; the common commitment to evangelization; the shared love for the body of Christ, the Church.

Another important thing also unites us: the shared suffering and shared martyrdom for Christ. In so many parts of the world, believers from different churches are sharing the same sufferings and enduring the same martyrdom for Christ. They are not being persecuted and killed because they are Catholic, or Anglicans, or Pentecostals or from some other denomination, but because they are “Christians.” In the eyes of the world we are already one single group, and it is a shame if we are not also that in reality.

How do we concretely put into practice this message of unity of love? Let us recall St. Paul’s hymn of charity. Each of his phrases acquires a new significance when applied to love among the members of the various Christian churches in ecumenical relationships:

Love is patient. . . .

Love is not boastful. . . .

Loves is not rude. . . .

Love does not seek its own interest (but seeks the interests of other churches as well). Love keeps no record of wrongs (keeps no record of wrongs suffered from other Christians, but rather  of the wrongs done to them) (see 1 Cor 13:4ff).

St. Francis in one of his Admonitions says, “Blessed is the servant who rejoices in the good that God does through others as if he had done it through him.” We can say, “Blessed is that Christian who is able to rejoice at the good that God does through other churches just as he is for the good that God does through his own church.”

We should always remember however that Christian unity, before being a duty to be accomplished, it’s gift to be implored. The unity of the Church comes about in the same way that unity in the Trinity does: “The Father and Son,” St. Augustine writes, “have willed us to be in communion among ourselves and with them by the same bond that unites them, namely, the love that is the Holy Spirit” (Sermon 71,12, 18).

It’s the shared experience of the Holy Spirit that explains why the liveliest and most constructive ecumenical dialogue is currently the one between two Christian groupings that are the farthest apart in terms of signs, structures, and ministries but closer in their common experience of the Holy Spirit, that is, between the Charismatic movements of the traditional churches on one side and the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches on the other.

 Let us conclude with some famous words of St. Augustine: “Just as at that time the languages of all nations indicated the presence of the Holy Spirit, in the same way, he is now indicated by the love of the unity of all nations. The time you can be sure you have the Holy Spirit is when you consent through sincere charity firmly to attach your minds to the unity” (Sermon 269, 2, 4).

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM.Cap is Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980 and Ecclesiastical Assistant of CHARIS. He is a ten-year member of the Catholic delegation for the Dialogue with the Pentecostal Churches. He is frequently invited to speak at International and ecumenical conferences and rallies.

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