Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Life in the Spirit: Addendum


Since writing three earlier posts, a whole host of unaddressed issues have come to mind or been brought to my attention. One of them is this:

Many Catholics (or other Christians), while acknowledging the authenticity of charismatic prayer, will argue that it is simply not for them. Some such people may be out of touch with their emotions, afraid to be the person God has made them to be, afraid of what others may think. But others are simply quiet, interior, introverted people, whose faith does not manifest itself it loud cries of praise. Is charismatic prayer not for them?

Here we must be intellectually rigorous. If the Holy Spirit acts through our whole person - intellect, emotions, passions, imagination - then we must accept the manifestations of those actions (within the bounds of orthodoxy, of course). So if one person is moved in an emotive way to shout the Lord's praises, so long as it be in the right context [cf. Paul], this is not to be discouraged. But, likewise, if another person has a very active, though interior imagination, we ought not discourage their spiritual odyssey within the quiet of their heart. Indeed, it was in the quiet that Elijah encountered God.

I think some charismatics, particularly those who are zealous and well-meaning but immature in their faith, sometimes miss this second possibility. Three quarters of the human population is extroverted, so for them the Spirit may indeed manifest Himself in song and laughter and tears and thunderous words of exhortation. But for those of another disposition, such worship might be inauthentic. We must not forget that the life of quiet contemplation can be intensely charismatic as well.

Let me suggest an analogy which may help clarify the point. (Or may not; you tell me.) The Franciscans have a charism of poverty, about which we can make an important distinction. On the one hand, this is a universal charism, something for all members of the Church. On the other hand, this is a particular charism for the Franciscans and those like them who are called to lives of austere poverty. For most of us, such radicalism is not compatible with our vocation - I am thinking here especially of parents - but we are nevertheless called to lead lives of simplicity and detachment, something the Franciscan adherence to more radical poverty helps reveal to us. But for those who are called to such a life, radical poverty is not simply a sign to others but also the means of their own sanctification. Perhaps a similar distinction can be made between the concept of charismatic prayer - an authentic and vibrant openness to the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to which all Christians are called - and a particular kind of worship which generally goes under the name "charismatic" and is characterized by a highly-charged, extroverted and public expression of the Spirit at work in the lives of the faithful.
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