The Catholic Charismatic Renewal and the spirit of Synodality – Catholic Church News


By Fr. Tryvis Moyo C.Ss.R

A synodal Church has to be a listening and a discerning Church.

Recently the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Zimbabwe celebrated its Golden Jubilee. The celebrations were held at a school in Harare. The theme for the Golden Jubilee was: “Resume your journey, you have overstayed on this mountain.” (Deut. 1: 6). Though not connected, a few weeks in the same month of April the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference celebrated its Plenary Meeting under the theme: “Enlarge the space of your tent.” (Is. 54:2): Pastoral Opportunities and Challenges of Synodality for the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe.

The plenary meeting’s theme was drawn from the Continental Synodal Document (CSD). Reflecting on the theme, most speakers spoke of the need for conversion within the Church. They spoke of synodality as a way of being Church in the twenty-first century. The Church of this century was envisioned as a virtuous Church; One characterized by the virtues of inclusion, tolerance, respect, compassion, love among many others.  A Church that is all embracing and yet always rooted in Christ, its all time tutor. This virtuous Church has practical implications for the Church today. It says we are constantly at work expanding the space of our tent to welcome those who have been on the peripheries. I wonder whether in considering those on the peripheries the term ‘charismatics’ features!

Bishop Bayemi Sosthenes explaining the role of Charismatic in the Church.

Listening to the speakers at the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) conference one could almost underline the renewal character of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that all renewal takes place. Yet, when it comes to those who have a devotion to the Holy Spirit, the ‘charismatics, one hardly thinks of the Holy Spirit and its efficacy, if anything, the ‘charismatics.’ People who are perceived by some as sources of confusion and chaos. Let’s face it, in many circles mentioning the name of the group sends many shudders down the spine.

Over the course of the past week I have been wondering whether these two great meetings could be brought to a conversation. If so, what will the conversation be like?

That Synodality is a way of being Church today is a truism. We all need to journey together. We are a pilgrim Church. However, in synodality the journey is as important as the destination. The journey like that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is a transformative one. The stranger comes and joins us, he breaks the word and will break the bread with us. As pilgrims we are engaged in a dialogue. This is where the crux of the matter is. Are we listening to everyone, yes even the charismatics? If so what is the Holy Spirit saying to the Church?

A synodal Church has to be a listening and a discerning Church. One wonders how good we are as the Church in listening? As Pope Francis has so often reminded us that listening calls for an open mind. At times we fail in listening because we have a closed mind and we hear things from our own perceptions. Listening is a sacred act. It says we honour the one we are listening to, we are actively present to them and we are open to receive what they are telling us.

Going back to the two meetings, ‘expanding the space of our tent’ and ‘renewal’ are not two diametrically opposed terms. If anything they are complimentary. An understanding of the two leads to the birth of a synodal Church.

Since a lot has been said about synodality, I will try and reflect on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement with the hope that once we put things in perspective we can appreciate its role in the Church. A thorough reading of the history of the Church tells us that the early Church was a charismatic Church. With the expansion and challenges that the Church went through, the Church of necessity emerged as a hierarchical Church. Though not lost the charismatic dimension of the Church went ‘on a sleeping mode.’

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal as a Movement is a new kid in the block. It has to be acknowledged that it has its roots in the Pentecostals in America in 1967. Catholics on a retreat at a university had the same experience as their Pentecostal colleagues: They felt Pentecost as a lived reality. Right from the start the movement was looked at with suspicion by the Church hierarchy. One only has to recall Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens’ visit to the members of the renewal in America, he did so incognito to investigate their meetings.

Catholic Charismatics can as well contribute to the wellbeing of the Church.

It was Cardinal Suenens who after his experience with the American groups persuaded Pope Paul VI, to embrace the group leading to the first Papal address of the Charismatic Conference in 1975. In his address the Pope thanked the members of the Renewal ‘for bringing the Charismatic Renewal to the heart of the church.’

Today the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has grown to a movement with an international character. It is a well-recognized group in the Church and therefore is not seeking ‘recognition’ from local pastors. The CCR has as its four pillars, prayer groups, centrality of the Scriptures, testimonies and exercising of the charisms. The Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium spoke of charisms and divided them into two categories. There are ordinary charisms and there are extra-ordinary charisms. Members of the CCR are exercising charisms. Some of them God gifts with extra-ordinary charisms.

Theologically, many people have problems with the term “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Maybe rightly so, for in the Church there is only one sacramental baptism and that baptism is also of the Holy Spirit as all sacraments are. This term has to be understood in context. Having its roots among the Pentecostals, CCR members adopted some of the Pentecostal terminology. Today many Catholic theologians will shy away from using the term “Baptism by the Holy Spirit.” Rather they will use terms like ‘an infusion of the Holy Spirit’ or ‘a personal encounter.’ Interestingly, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invited all Christians to have “a Personal Encounter” with the Lord. The Holy Father said, “I invite all Christians anywhere, at this very moment to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness of letting him encounter them, I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” (EG. No. 3).

Charismatics are Catholics and they need to be supported by the Church.

If CCR groups are well nurtured and accompanied by pastors who have taken time to understand the group’s history, they can be a great source of renewal within the Church. From their four pillars they bring from the Church’s treasuries things both old and new. They can easily contribute to the emergence of a synodal Church. It goes without saying that charisms are for use within the Church.

Like all vocations, God calls some not everyone. This is a truth that has to be borne by all. There is no expectation that all members of the Church be ‘charismatics,’ though it is also true that all Christians must have a devotion to the third person of the Most Holy Trinity. People within the CCR tell of their different treatments in parishes across the country. Some are forced to make a choice between being in the CCR and in the Church. As was shared at the Jubilee conferences is not either or, one can be fully Catholic and fully charismatic. There is no contradiction in that.

A word to the pastors in the parishes.

Since the fourth Sunday of Easter we have been hearing of the Good Shepherd. As pastors we are shepherds. We have a duty to tend the flock. A good shepherd knows his sheep, he smells the smell of the Sheep. Is there room that we can be good shepherds to the flock of God, not only the charismatics but all groups within the Church. Admittedly, some ‘charismatics,’ as individuals or groups have like Alexander the Coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14) caused us much pain, but can be distinguished between individuals and groups? How well do we know about the CCR from the Church’s teachings? How well do we know the groups that are entrusted to our care? Is being with the people not a synodal way of being a Church.

To the brothers and sisters in the renewal we have a duty to work with our pastors and to be rooted in the Catholic faith. Before we can even speak of the extra-ordinary charisms we ought to be living the three theological virtues namely, Faith, Hope and Charity. These and moral virtues precede the charisms. In the inculcation of these virtues a rooting in the Scriptures and the Catechism and the Magisterium of the Church is necessary. Celebrate the sacraments and be nourished by them, so that the charisms that God may choose to bless you with may be used for the growth of the Church. Ultimately, “Praise and Worship brings a true charismatic to adoration of the One who is worth all Praise.”

The Church, like a big tent, has room for everyone. The ‘charismatics’ may do things differently, we need not judge them. In the words of Bishop Sosthenes, “If they are not worshiping the Devil we can co-exist.” The question is whether we all believe in the dignity of difference? As I conclude my week’s ruminations, I wonder if in the spirit of the Continental Synodal Document the space in our tent is big enough, to shelter those who do things differently? Can they be free to be who they are without being told to behave themselves and be like the rest of us?

Fr Tryvis S. Moyo C.Ss.R. is the Secretary General of the Bishop’s Conference and the National Spiritual Director of CCR, but is writing here in his personal capacity.

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