Monday, February 19, 2007

Testing the spirit

Oswald Sobrino rightly points to the important principle in Church life--"do not stifle the Spirit!" God doesn't always work in the old ways and the new ways may seem suspect. Some people resist anything that doesn't appear like what they've known up to this time. They are closed to new movements of the Spirit in their own lives and in the Church. He rightly suggests that we not overreact to enthusiastic movements simply because they do not do things the way we think they ought to be done or have been done in the past.

On the other hand, I would not be too quick to be critical of the Church's important task of testing the spirit so as to retain that which is good, nor the role of the people of God "in the pew" in assisting in that discerment. The Church's testing is essential for keeping the movements from spinning out of control or going off the deep end. The devotees of a movement will always experience the Church's testing as a persecution. And sometimes the enthusiastic resistence of the faithful will be unspiritual persecution. Yet, in order to remain in communion with the Church members of a movement has to remain patient, trusting and interiorly docile to the legitimate pastoral guidance of the Church. One only needs to read Ronald Knox's Enthusiasm to see why the testing is so important. The history of the Church is littered with movements that have put their own understanding of the Gospel and its particular demands ahead of the Church's, thus stressing or splitting the Church. Anyone familiar with the history of even the approved movements in the Church, such as Franciscanism or the Charismatic Renewal, knows that not everything that happened in those movements was "from God," and that some members of the movement were presumptuously unable to submit to the guidance of the Church, except perhaps externally, or accept the legitimate questioning and criticism from outside the movement by other members of the Church, thus causing great spiritual harm to individuals in the movements. For more in this see Adrian J. Reimer's Charismatic Covenant Communities: A Failed Promise.

I have not been involved in things charismatic for decades, so I can't evaluate its current state of the movement. I certainly am not trying to deny the legitimacy or value of Sobrino's experience or the goodness of his particular group or the overall importance of his reminders to the Church of the value of the Charismatic Renewal. Awareness of the charismatic seems to have been eclipsed in the Church the past couple of decades. But I can assure you that when I was involved not all was sweetness and light and not all the leaders were willing to interiorly correspond their thinking to the mind of the Church even if they conformed exeriorly.

The Church has had 2000 years of checkered experience with charismatic movements. We can certainly be patient while the Church discerns whether this crop of movements are really bearing fruit for the kingdom. And we can be open to the perhaps sometimes too strongly worded questioning of other members of the Church who want communion to be retained but are not sure whether a given idea or practice of a movement is consistent with communion. A community that will not allow exterior critique are bound to stray from the true path. Unfortunately some charismatic groups, both in the CR and other types of movements, have succombed to such a temptation. Also, many church members and leaders have been "stung" by participation in unhealthy charismatic movements. They are right to be cautious.


Oswald Sobrino said...

Response from Oswald Sobrino:

I read your post quickly, but I think carefully, and find nothing with which I disagree at all. My criticism of those who attack the Charismatic Renewal is certainly not aimed at the Church herself or at the magisterium precisely because the Church in her official capacity and magisterium has endorsed, embraced, and encouraged the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. My comments are aimed, rather, at individuals, on and off the web, who make wild accusations against the Catholic Charismatic Renewal reminiscent of the harassment the Pharisees (not all) meted out to our Savior in the Gospels. I myself came recently to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal through an authorized fellowship led by a tenured Scripture professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. I am a member of a highly orthodox, Marian, Eucharistic, very papist Charismatic personal parish set up by the Bishop of Lansing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. So you can see that my own experience is very different from the experiences of those who saw real errors and excesses in the past, experiences which I do not doubt or question. In the "charismatic" parish that I attend, there are about 750 registered households. The pastor recently told me that we will shortly have a total of 17 men in the seminary studying for the priesthood. The fruit is good.

Robert said...

Of course, there are always those who do not understand authentic Christian freedom before God and we do have to suffer their "interventions." For instance, was the Franciscan effort to suppress the ministry of Jesuit Matteo Ricci in China a proper discernment of spirits?

On the other hand, although "the Church in her official capacity and magisterium has endorsed, embraced, and encouraged the Catholic Charismatic Renewal," she has not done so without significant monita and correction, which has not always been graciously received, even when formal compliance followed.

Like I said, I'm completely out of the loop as far as the current CCR and covenant communities.