I posted the first as an audio podcast back in May of 2008, and I posted the second in November of that year.
Today, in honor of Pentecost, I’m posting a transcript of most of the second talk.
Cantalamessa’s words about divisions in the body of Christ, each person seeking the good of the other, and the importance of loving the Church and sharing her shame, seem particularly timely.
I’ve divided the talk into thirteen sections:
the grace of repentance
weeping for the divisions in the body of Christ
being convinced of sin
the grace of surrendering to the Lordship of Christ
the joy of proclaiming the Gospel
union with the suffering of Christ
experiencing Scripture as a living word
in prayer, the Spirit draws us into Trinitarian communion: each eager for the good of the other
a noticeable change
the vocation to be an itinerant preacher
the importance of obedience in discernment and submission to the word of God
the grace of a new Pentecost
loving the Church and sharing in her shame
Veni, Sancte Spiritus!
I want to speak about the charismatic renewal being an authentic way of living Christian and Catholic life, but not in a theoretical way, more in a practical way. Just telling my own experience: how I experienced the charismatic renewal, what blessings it brought to my life… because in doing that, you can recognize maybe blessings the charismatic renewal has brought to your life, and people who are here for the first time maybe can be encouraged to receive this blessing, to open themselves to this blessing.
In 1975, I started hearing about a new way of praying. A lady who I accompanied in her journey went back from a retreat house in Milan, and said to me, “I have met there strange people. They raise hands, they pray in a very joyful way, they even speak about miracles happening among them.” As a traditional and wise spiritual director, I said to this lady, “You never go again to this retreat house.” But women don’t give up easily, you know. So she obeyed, but she kept inviting me to some prayer meetings of the charismatic renewal. And I remember one day, I was in Rome, there was a prayer meeting in a religious house, and I was there, very critical. I was somehow scandalized the way they spoke about the charisms… “The Lord gives you this charism. The Lord gives you this other charism.” This seemed to me to be quite an inappropriate way of speaking of the Holy Spirit. The leaders of the group knew my position, so secretly, they said to the people, “Don’t go to this particular priest. He’s an enemy of the charismatic renewal.” But seeing a priest among them, people would approach me and ask for confession. And listening to these confessions was a big stroke, because I had never seen such a deep and pure repentance in my life. These people showed what Jesus meant when he said, “When the Holy Spirit comes, He will convince the world of sin.” They were really convinced of sin, in such a way that I had the impression that sins fell down, like stones, and at the end there were tears and joy. And I said to myself, “This must be the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no other explanation.” I was shaken. I remember this moment as the first time when I felt shaken, as when somebody shakes a tree. But somehow – I’m ashamed to admit it – I resisted. I started being curious, being interested. I gave a course at the University on the first charismatic and prophetic movements in the Church, trying to understand something of what was going on.
In 1977, again a lady – a different lady – there are many ladies in my life! – all have played a positive and wonderful role as instruments of God – a lady offered four tickets to come to the United States – all included – to attend a charismatic ecumenical rally in Kansas City, in July 1977…. So I came to Kansas City. There were 40,000 people there – 20,000 Catholics and 20,000 from many other Christian denominations. In the morning, we met separately, each church, and in the evening, together in the stadium. I always remember – I have mentioned it time and again – a detail of this meeting. One evening, one of the leaders took the microphone and started saying, “You bishops. You pastors. Moan and weep because of the body of my Son is broken. You people, you men and women, moan and weep because the body of my Son is broken.” And little by little I saw people start falling on their knees around me, until almost all this huge crowd was a single people sobbing out of repentance for the divisions in the body of Christ. And all this while there was a phrase written electronically against the sky: “Jesus is Lord.” It was a prophetic vision. I had the opportunity of mentioning this vision while preaching to the Papal household, because I said, “If one day all Christians shall be united, it will be like this: when we are all on our knees, repenting under the lordship of Christ….
I remember one day we were praying… there was a prayer meeting, and I still had objections: “What am I looking for here? What can these people give me that I don’t possess? I am already a Franciscan, I have a beautiful spirituality in my order.” Especially the phrase, “I have already Saint Francis of Assisi as my spiritual father.” At that moment, again, a lady… opened a Bible, and without knowing anything, of course, and it was the passage where Saint John the Baptist says to the Pharisees, “Don’t tell in your heart, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” I understood that the Lord was speaking to me, so I stood up – I didn’t speak any English, I spoke Italian, but everybody seemed to understand – and said, “Lord, I will never say again that I am a son of Saint Francis of Assisi, because I realize that I am not. And if it is necessary to receive this grace to become a true son of Saint Francis, I accept.”
Allow me to share another detail. One evening I was walking in the park of this religious house, and the Lord spoke to me through an image, as He does very frequently. And the image was this: I saw myself (mentally) as a man upon a chariot, holding the reins of the horses. And I understood that this an image of me in my life as a man wanting to be in control of his life, and decide himself where to go. At a certain point, it was as if Jesus stood up beside me and very gently said to me, “Do you want to give me the reins of your life?” There was a moment of panic, because I understood that this was quite serious! But by the grace of God, I understood that I could not be in control of my life: nobody can. We don’t know what tomorrow we shall be. So I said, “Yes, Lord, take the reins of my life.” I share this detail because I am convinced that it is very important to receive for the first time, to receive again, the Holy Spirit, to surrender in this way, to give the Lord the reins of our life…. Making the Lordship of Christ effective, real.
So when I received the baptism in the Spirit, all of the prophecies were about a new ministry of preaching the Gospel. Somebody said while they were praying, “You will experience a new joy in proclaiming my word.” Now by nature I am not a joyful person. Not being that. On the contrary! Quite on the contrary. But when I proclaim the word of God, there seems to be a joy going out. I have a program on the Italian state television each week, on Saturday evening, on the Gospel, and they say that more than what I say, they are interested in the joy I share with them.
Well, nothing special happened during my baptism in the Spirit except that, when they said to me, “Now choose Jesus as your personal Lord,” I lifted up my eyes, and I met the crucifix which hung above the altar, and in a flash it was as if Jesus said to me, “Be careful. The Jesus you are choosing as your Lord is not an easy Jesus. It’s me on the crucifix.” Now this helped me, because still I harbored some feelings that the charismatic renewal might be something superficial, emotional. At that moment, I understood that the work of the Spirit takes us straight to the core of the Gospel, which is the cross of Jesus. And how many times later on, I had to confirm the truth of this.
The day after, I left the place to reach my friary in Washington, and on the plane I started seeing or realizing that something had happened. When I opened my breviary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Psalms seemed to be written the day before for me. And I understood that one of the first results of the coming of the Spirit is that the Bible becomes a living book, not just a book full of beautiful stories and truth, but a living book, where you can listen to the voice of God. How many times later on I could verify this among very simple people. I like to share the story – some of you may have heard because I have given my testimony many times – to confirm this: how the Bible becomes precious for those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit. I was in Australia – preaching a mission in Australia – and the last day, a simple man, a worker, came to me, saying “Father, I have a problem in my family. We have a boy of eleven years who has not yet been baptized, and the reason is that my wife has become a witness of Jehovah, and doesn’t want baptism to be mentioned. So if I don’t baptize him, I am not at ease with my conscience because, when we married, both Catholics, we promised to raise our children in the faith. But if I baptize the boy, there will be crisis in my family.” I said, “Leave me time… give me tonight to reflect. Come tomorrow and we shall decide.” The day after, this man came to me. I could see that he was very relaxed, very radiant, and said, “Father, I have found the solution.” I was relieved because I hadn’t found one. “Yesterday, after speaking with you, I came home, and I prayed for a while, then I opened the Bible. And I happened to fall upon the story, the passage where Abraham takes his son Isaac to the immolation. And I have seen that when Abraham takes his son Isaac to the immolation, he doesn’t mention anything to his wife.” It was a perfect discernment, because it’s true! I baptized the boy myself.
Then when I arrived at my friary in Washington, a second sign: I was attracted to the chapel. So prayer had been rather difficult for me, but now I was attracted to the chapel and the prayer acquired a new dimension – the Trinitarian dimension – which is the real sign of Christian prayer. It means that it’s not just a creature speaking to his Creator. Christian prayer – prayer in the Spirit – means that God is bringing you… you are praying with God… the Holy Spirit is praying in you. And I understood, without any theological inquiry, how the Father is eager to speak [and] reveal things about his Son, Jesus. How Jesus is eager to reveal to us the Father. Each person being concerned about revealing the other, not himself. If you pay attention, Jesus always reveals the Father. And the Holy Spirit doesn’t proclaim his name – his name is ruah – but never in the New Testament does the Spirit say, “I am ruah.” He always teaches us to say, “Abba” or “Maranatha.” So each person is eager to reveal the other, which is the Trinitarian law. And if this law would be applied in the family, the wife speaking always good to the children of the father, the father defending the wife… If this law was applied even in our religious communities, oh, what a difference! Everybody being eager to speak good, not evil, for the other.
Well, after three months, I came back to Italy. This was my three-month honeymoon. I came back to Italy, and the people who had known me were very surprised. Some said, “Oh, what a miracle! We have sent to America Saul, and they have sent us back Paul!” I started to join people when I was able in these prayer meetings, sharing in their enthusiasm. This was a wonder, because when you discover this new world in the Spirit… you may have been baptized, ordained, even consecrated bishop, but nevertheless it is always a new discovery. It’s discovering a new world of freedom, joy, enthusiasm, spontaneity… I started to join these people.
One day I was praying in my friary, my room, and the Lord again spoke to me through an image. Nothing miraculous or exterior, but something which has changed my life. And the image was this: While I was praying with closed eyes, it was as if Jesus passed in front of me. It was precisely the same Jesus as when he came back from the Jordan, right after his baptism, radiating the power of the Spirit and ready to start preaching the Kingdom. And passing in front of me in my heart, I felt he was saying, “If you want to help me in proclaiming the Kingdom of God, leave everything and follow me.” Now as a Franciscan, I was supposed to have already left everything… but the Lord knew very well I was very rich – rich in honor, in culture… Now I understood what he meant. He meant, “Leave your teaching position, your chair, and become an itinerant preacher in the style of your father Francis of Assisi.” I remember, I don’t know why, that I was afraid because Jesus seemed to be in a hurry. He invited me but didn’t stop. I was afraid of not being ready to give an answer. But by the grace of God, at that moment I understood what grace means… how grace can work with your freedom, without oppressing your freedom, but nevertheless, doing everything. By the grace of God, at the end of this prayer, I found in my heart a full “Yes, Lord. Yes.” Everything I had striven for fell down.
I started making a retreat to prepare myself. I was in a friary in Switzerland, and then I came to Rome to ask the permission of my superior, because as a religious, I couldn’t act on my inspiration. This is quite important: you can’t act on your own inspiration. You need confirmation somehow from your superior, spiritual director, confessor, your bishop, because you will never know if this was just your feeling or the call of God. At that moment I discovered what obedience means, what a gift it is in the Catholic Church to have a clear authority that can confirm you and make you sure that this is it. So I went to my superior, and he said to me exactly what any bishop or any provincial superior would say in that case: “Let us wait one year.” This is a very wise answer. I waited one year, I came back, we prayed together, and he said, “Yes, it is the will of God. Go.” So I started preparing myself, and when a phone call came from Rome it was my General Superior again, who said to me, “John Paul II has appointed you as papal preacher. Have you any serious reasons to say no?” I tried. I tried honestly to find some reasons, but apart from a certain nervousness, I didn’t find serious reasons, so I had to accept. This was back in 1980, twenty-eight years ago. So I started preaching Lent. So this ministry means that I must give a meditation to the Holy Father, the cardinals of the Roman Curia, the bishops and prelates working there – about sixty or seventy people – to the Pope… the Pope is always present. Every week in Lent and Advent…. So I started this strange ministry, which is very meaningful not because of me, the preacher, but because of what the Pope says to the whole Church with this practice. He gives an example of submission to the word of God. With all he has to do, he never misses a sermon. Sometimes going out after preaching, I see heads of state waiting to be received by the Pope, and he is there listening to a simple priest of the Catholic Church….
Now this is an occasion to say something about the Church. I think the Lord has used me, this poor instrument, to let resound on the very heart of the Church the grace of a new Pentecost going on in the Church, because the second year I preached to the Pope, I had to speak about the baptism in the Spirit. And now, last Advent, after twenty-eight years, I felt again the need of addressing this issue – baptism in the Spirit – speaking about the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus as a relationship between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit. I spoke about the baptism in the Spirit, because it is in the New Testament. It is not just something which belongs to the charismatic renewal. Jesus says, “You will be baptized in the Holy Spirit in a few days.” What did he mean by that?! Sometimes I raise my voice because some members of the clergy seem to consider baptism in the Spirit to be something strange, invented I don’t know by whom – Pentecost or some Protestants. It is there! When Jesus says, “You will be baptized in a few days,” what did he mean? You shall be baptized in water? What happened a few days later? Pentecost! So he meant Pentecost. So there is a perennial Pentecost and this grace maybe is received not always in the same way, not necessarily belongs to the charismatic renewal, but certainly it would be tragic if the leaders of the Church should decide while millions of people are experiencing this grace and have been empowered. So I spoke like this, very strongly. If you want to read the sermon, it is on the Internet, in English…. It’s the second meditation I gave to the Pope last Advent.
It has been an opportunity to let the institutional Church know and listen about this, but this has also been an occasion for me to convey to my brothers and sisters in the charismatic renewal the concerns of the institutional Church, the desires, the hope they have of the charismatic renewal and all the other ecclesial movements. And I feel the duty also to achieve this task of conveying to my brothers and sisters in the charismatic renewal what are the desires of the Church, even sometimes unexpressed… implicit. I think that the charismatic renewal should remain sane. Sane means focusing on the essential – sanctification and serving others with the charisms. So the charismatic renewal should not go astray in some very strange directions, focusing only on exorcisms or healings. These are a part of, but are not the essential. The essential is to let the Holy Spirit take away the heart of stone and give us the heart of flesh. Instruct us to bear the fruits of the Spirit. And one of the desires of the Church is certainly that we love the Church. Now the charismatic renewal has been perceived by the hierarchical Church as faithful. This has certainly been a mark which has helped the charismatic renewal being accepted in the Church, because already Paul VI said, “This is a chance for the Church.” And John Paul II, ten years later, said, “My predecessor, ten years ago, said this was a chance for the Church, and now I can confirm the truth of this word. It has been a chance for the Church.” So the charismatic renewal has begun with a strong connection with the institutional Church. There are usually no tensions about that, but something more is required: love of the Church. Solidarity with the Church. Especially moments like this, when because of the scandals, because of the uproar in the world, many Catholics feel ashamed to belong to the Catholic Church. Now, as in a family, we must share the honors and also responsibility of the Church. We should not consider ourselves outside and pointing the finger. We are members of the Church! A French writer, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, in a moment when his homeland, France, was in a humiliating position, subjected to the Germans and collaborating with the Germans, he said, “Because they are my people, I will not speak against them. I will not go around saying evil about them. A man doesn’t go around telling people that his wife is nothing good, is a prostitute. No! Once in the house, he will give vent to his rage, but he defends, because he feels part of her.” And the same applies to the Church. We should feel part of the Church, and pray, and atone for the other. I remember reading this passage from Erasmus of Rotterdam, the humanist of the sixteenth century. He was in relation with Luther, and Luther, in a letter, reproached him, saying, “Why do you remain in the Catholic Church, knowing how corrupt it is?” And he answered, “I endure this Church, in the hope that she will become better. Because she must also endure me in the hope that I become better.”
The Church is not defiled only because of sins of pedophilia. In the eyes of the media, yes, this sin seems to be the only relevant sin. But the body of Christ is defiled by any sin of pride, of lust, of avarice, of hatred… and who can say, “I am innocent”?…. So we must acknowledge what is evil, but not consider ourselves outside. I am very impressed by this phrase from the letter to the Ephesians: “Christ loved… loved… loved… the Church. Christ loved the Church.” Didn’t Jesus know what the Church was like? He knows that one of the apostles was betraying him, that others were quarrelling among themselves… he knew! He knew the real Church. But he loved the Church! And who are we to judge the Church and not love the Church?
In this moment it is particularly important that you Catholics in the United States show solidarity and suffering – suffering in your heart – but not abandoning the Church, not sitting outside and pointing the finger to the Church. And I think there is a secret, a spiritual riches in this, if in this moment we share in the shame of the Church… we share in the ignominy of the Church. There is a blessing. Then the Lord will use this opportunity as a purification: not as a punishment, but as a purification.