Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Life in the Spirit, Part III: First Things Last

Continuing from Parts I and II...

One of the best ways of discerning the workings of the Holy Spirit is in conjunction with others. This is part of the reason why Rome supports the Charismatic Renewal through the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships, an organization under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. I mentioned the Catholic Fraternity in my first post, but did not elaborate on its significance. This is not just an organizational matter. Discerning the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not something one learns overnight. Some people attend a single prayer meeting, are told they have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and are then released out into the world, without explanation, without formation and without the support of a community. This is at odds with natural common sense and with God's revelation in the Church, which unites its many members in a single body. Thus, charismatic prayer ought not be separated from community life and the guidance of holy and mature leaders.

Like all aspects of our faith, we should remember that the charismatic life does not happen in a vacuum. As mentioned above, we must be faithful to reading the Scriptures and listening to God's voice there if we also want to hear Him in our hearts. We must be striving to grow in virtue: in patience, generosity, humility, self-control. These and the other virtues orient us to truth and goodness, disposing us to the Lord's will and giving us the continence to act upon it. Moreover, if we are to grow and flourish in the charismatic life we need to be receiving the sacraments, sources of grace and mercy.

I shall conclude this discussion with a point which I probably ought to have made explicit from the beginning. The Holy Spirit is not a force or an idea or a feeling. The Holy Spirit is a person, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, one in being with the Father and Son, but also distinct from them. Thus, we should not think about charismatic prayer as a mechanistic process, whereby we can expect experiences X, Y and Z if we engage in actions A, B and C. No, charismatic prayer is primarily a relationship, a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, Whom Christ sent to us after His ascension. If we recall that the Holy Spirit is a person and our prayer is a relationship, many things fall into their proper place. Of course we cannot "master" charismatic prayer in a day; relationships take time to grow and develop. Moreover, just as I relate to some friends differently than others, so different people will have different relationships with the Spirit. This is not a deficiency in anyone's prayer, but a sign of intimacy, that the Spirit knows and loves us in unique ways.

These are but a few thoughts that came to me over the course of a couple evenings. I hope they have elucidated a few dimensions of the charismatic life. But if you really want to meet the Holy Spirit, it will not on a blog. Rich Mullins once explained, "If you really want spiritual nourishment, read your Bible, go to church." And if you want to encounter the Holy Spirit, it will be in prayer. So go meet Him there.

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