Charismatic! Part VII

 

THE point of this entire series on the charismatic gifts and movement is to encourage the reader to not be afraid of the extraordinary in God! To not be afraid to “open wide your hearts” to the gift of the Holy Spirit whom the Lord wishes to pour out in a special and powerful way in our times. As I read the letters sent to me, it is clear that the Charismatic Renewal has not been without its sorrows and failures, its human deficiencies and weaknesses. And yet, this is precisely what occurred in the early Church after Pentecost. Saints Peter and Paul devoted much space to correcting the various churches, moderating the charisms, and refocusing the budding communities over and over again upon the oral and written tradition that was being handed on to them. What the Apostles did not do is deny the often dramatic experiences of believers, try to stifle the charisms, or silence the zeal of thriving communities. Rather, they said:

Do not quench the Spirit… pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy… above all, let your love for one another be intense… (1 Thess 5:19; 1 Cor 14:1; 1 Pet 4:8)

I want to devote the last part of this series to sharing my own experiences and reflections since I first experienced the charismatic movement in 1975. Rather than give my entire testimony here, I will restrict it to those experiences one might call “charismatic.”

 

TODAY

Today, I do not belong to a prayer group or to the Charismatic Renewal as a member, but I am occasionally invited to speak at conferences sponsored by the movement. I write and record praise and worship songs, but when I listen to music, it is usually Gregorian Chant or Sacred Russian Choral. While I attend the Roman Catholic Mass with my family each weekend, for years I went to the daily Ukrainian Divine Liturgy, the ancient rite of St. John Chrysostom. When I pray, I join the universal Church each day in the Liturgy of the Hours, but I also close my eyes throughout the day and quietly pray in the gift of tongues I received as a child. My favorite place of worship is not in an auditorium filled with clapping and singing Christians, as beautiful as that can be… but in that holy space before the Blessed Sacrament where I sometimes raise my hands and whisper His precious Name. When people ask me to pray for them, I carry them in my daily Rosary or in the prayers of the Church; other times, I am moved to lay my hands upon their heads with their permission, and pray over them, which has brought both spiritual and physical healings to some. And when I write my blogs, I carefully follow the teachings of our Catholic Faith to the best of my ability, while also speaking from the heart the prophetic words I sense the Lord saying to His Church today.

I am opening my personal life to you on this page, not because I consider myself a role model. Rather, it is to relax those readers who equate the “baptism in the Spirit” with having to act in a “Pentecostal” or “charismatic” kind of way. I certainly understand the joy of many Christians who readily express their faith in outward expressions. What I have learned over the years in the gentle school of the Holy Spirit is that it is the interior life He comes to cultivate above all else…

 

FAMILY PENTECOST

It was 1975 when my parents joined the Charismatic Renewal as both participants and leaders. I was seven years old at the time. I can remember standing there, often the only child among a group of adults, who were singing and praising Jesus with a love and passion I hadn’t seen before. When either they or the parish priest, who fully embraced the Renewal, gave talks, I felt a great anointing and grace as I too began to fall in love deeper and deeper with Jesus.

But in school, I was a bit of a rascal. I was known as the “class clown,” and by grade five, my teacher was quite fed up with me. True, I was pretty hyper and would rather be in the playground than behind a desk. In fact, as a toddler, my mother said she would come into my bedroom to find me bouncing on the bed… and still bouncing on the bed an hour later.

In the summer between grades 5 and 6, my parents felt it was time that my brother, sister, and I should receive the “baptism in the Spirit” as it was commonly called [1]see Part II for an explanation of “baptism in the Holy Spirit. In reality, I was already receiving many graces at the prayer meetings. But just as the Apostles received not just one but several outpourings of the Holy Spirit, [2]cf. Acts 4:31 my parents felt it was wise to pray for a new outpouring of grace upon their children. After seven weeks of preparation (what was called “The Life in the Spirit Seminars”), we gathered at the lake in our cabin, and there mom and dad laid their hands upon us and prayed.

Then I put on my bathing suit and went for a swim.

I don’t recall anything extraordinary happening that day. But something did happen. When I returned to school in the Fall, I suddenly had a hunger for the Holy Eucharist. Instead of watching cartoons during lunch hour, I would often skip dinner and go serve at the daily Mass next door. I began to attend Confession more frequently. I lost any desire for the partying activities of my junior high peers. I became a quieter student, suddenly aware of the stress that disobedience and noise caused my teachers. I had a thirst to read the Word of God and to discuss spiritual things with my parents. And the desire to become a priest welled up in my being… a desire that, strangely, has not entirely faded with a wife and eight children.

In a word, I had a strong desire for Jesus. That was the “first gift” I received from the Holy Spirit.

 

CALLED TO MINISTRY

In grade 10, some of my teammates and I were sexually violated by our football trainer. I know it awakened in me feelings that should have remained latent. After my only sister died in a car accident when I was 19 years old, I went back to university confused and broken. While I did not abandon the Lord, I began to struggle with powerful temptations to lust and sin. During a five year period, despite my attendance at daily Mass and my private prayers, I was attacked frequently by this spirit of lust. My desire to be faithful to the Lord prevented me from falling into very grave sin, and yet, I was not the man I should have been. To this day, I do penance and pray for those young women who deserved a better Christian witness than this man gave.

Shortly after my marriage, it was in the midst of this stronghold that the Lord called me into ministry. I can only think of St. Mary Magdalene or Matthew, St. Paul or St. Augustine, and how the Lord does not always choose holy souls, but often great sinners to tend His vineyard. The Lord was calling me to begin using “music as a doorway to evangelize” (watch My Testimony).

Shortly after, our group of leaders met to pray and plan our ministry events. That week, I had fallen into the sin of lust again. I felt like the black sheep in that room of other men who were there to serve God. That after all I had experienced in my life, all I knew about the Lord, His gifts, His graces… I still sinned against Him. I felt I was a great disappointment and a disgrace to the Father. I felt I shouldn’t be there….

Someone handed out song sheets. I didn’t feel like singing. And yet, I knew, as a praise and worship leader, that singing to God is an act of faith (and Jesus said that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains). And so, despite myself, I began to sing because He deserved to be praised. Suddenly, I felt a wave of power shooting through my body, as if I were being electrocuted, but without the pain. I felt this incredible love for me, so deep, so tender. How could this be?!

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” So [the prodigal son] got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:18-20)

That night when I left, the power of that sin that I had been struggling with for years, that bound me like a slave, was broken. I cannot tell you how the Lord did it. All I know is that the Father poured His Spirit of love into my soul and set me free. (Read also my encounter with this spirit again in A Miracle of Mercy. Also, for those really struggling in serious sin right now, read:  To Those in Mortal Sin)

 

NEW CHARISMS

I don’t exactly remember when I started speaking in tongues. I just remember using the charism, even as a child. It flowed naturally and with an instinctual sense that I was not babbling but praying. After all, this is what Jesus said would happen:

These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18)

But God had more to give. In the second year of my ministry, we planned a Life in the Spirit Seminar [3]a planned format and talks for evangelizing and preparing participants to receive the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” for about 80 teens. During the course of the weekend, we shared the Gospel, testimonies, and teachings to prepare them for the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” On the final evening, as teams laid hands on and prayed over the young people, the Spirit fell powerfully upon nearly everyone gathered. The young began to laugh and cry and sing in tongues. That timid group of teens was suddenly turned into a living flame of love, dancing in the Heart of God. [4]Several youth and leaders went on to form ministries. Some went on to study theology, as well as enter the religious life or priesthood. Some of those ministries are now international in scale, with regular appearances on EWTN and other Catholic media.

Up until that time, I had never written a praise and worship song, drawing instead upon the large collection of evangelical praise and worship songs that were available. As the teams began to wrap up their prayers with the youth, some leaders came over to me and asked if I wanted to be “prayed over” (I had been singing music in the background until then.) I said “Sure,” since I knew that the Spirit can fill us over and over again. As the prayer leader extended his hands over me, I suddenly fell backward on the floor, my body cruciform. [5]Falling down or “resting in the Spirit” is a common manifestation of “baptism in the Spirit.” For reasons not entirely known, the Holy Spirit often brings a soul into a place of total rest and surrender as He continues to minister deep within. It is one of those ways that God works that often leaves the soul much more humble and docile as they realize more deeply that He is Lord. I had a strong desire rise up from deep within my soul to give my entire life to Jesus, to be martyred for Him. When I stood up, I felt the same power from my previous experience coursing through my body, this time through my fingertips and my mouth. From that day forward, I wrote hundreds of praise songs, sometimes two or three in an hour. It flowed like living waters! I also felt an irresistible need to speak the truth to a generation drowning in falsehoods…

 

CALLED TO THE RAMPART

In August of 2006, I was sitting at the piano singing a version of the Mass part “Sanctus,” which I had written: “Holy, Holy, Holy…” Suddenly, I felt a powerful urge to go and pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

At the church, I began to pray the Office. I noticed immediately that the “Hymn” was the same words I’d just been singing: “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty…” My spirit began to quicken. I continued, praying the words of the Psalmist, “Burnt offering I bring to your house; to you I will pay my vows…” Within my heart welled up a great longing to give myself completely to God, in a new way, on a deeper level. Once again, I felt my soul becoming cruciform. I was experiencing the prayer of the Holy Spirit who “intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Rom 8:26).

During the course of the next hour, I was led through the texts of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Catechism that were essentially the words that I had just been crying out. [6]To read the entire encounter, go to About Mark on this website. I read in the book of Isaiah how the Seraphim flew to him, touching his lips with an ember, sanctifying his mouth for the mission ahead. “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah responded, “Here I am, send me!” In hindsight, it would seem that the charism to operate in the prophetic was given to me years before at that youth retreat when I felt my lips tingling with the power of the Holy Spirit. It seemed now that it was being released in a greater way. [7]Of course, all “The faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, 897

This experience seemed to be confirmed while I was in my spiritual director’s chapel during a visit with him in the United States. I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament when I heard the words in my heart, “I am giving you the ministry of John the Baptist.” The next morning, an elderly man showed up at the rectory door saying he felt compelled to give me something. He placed in my hand a first class relic of St. John the Baptist. [8]A first class relic means it is a part of a saint’s body, such as a bone fragment. As I was praying again before the Blessed Sacrament, I sensed in my heart the words, “Lay hands on the sick and I will heal them.” My first response was one of grief. I thought of how people can clamor toward souls who have been given the charism of healing, and I did not want that. I enjoyed my obscurity! So I said, “Lord, if this is a word from you, then please confirm it.” I sensed at that moment the “order” to pick up my bible. I opened it randomly and my eyes fell directly upon Mark 16:

These signs will accompany those who believe… They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18)

At that moment, as quick as lightning, I felt for a third distinct and unexpected time the power of the Spirit coursing through my trembling hands… Since then, I have been waiting for the Lord to show me how and when He wants me to use that charism. I recently learned, however, that a woman with symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis whom I prayed over, has not experienced those symptoms now in nearly two years since that day… How mysterious are the ways of God!

 

OPEN TO THE SPIRIT

As I look back on all those moments when the Lord poured out His Spirit, they were often meant to equip me to respond in my own particular calling to serve the Kingdom. Sometimes, the graces came by the laying on of hands, other times simply in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament… but always from the Heart of Jesus. He is the one who sends the Paraclete upon His Bride, to anoint her and equip her to carry out her sacred mission.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit” of our faith. [9]cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1324 In Part IV, I spoke about how we, in order to be fully Catholic, should always embrace the very center of our Catholic Faith, that is, all that our Sacred Tradition gives us.

The very center is the Holy Eucharist, “the source and summit” of our Faith. From this efficacious Gift we have been reconciled to the Father. From the Eucharist, which is the Sacred Heart, gushes forth the living water of the Holy Spirit to renew, sanctify, and empower the children of God.

Thus, the Charismatic Renewal is a gift, too, of the Eucharist. And thus, it should lead us back to the Eucharist. When I began my music ministry nearly 20 years ago, we led people “where two or three are gathered” [10]cf. Matt 18:20 into the presence of God through song and word.  But today, I now conclude my ministry wherever possible by bringing the congregation into the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus for a time of Adoration. My role is to decrease that He may increase as I point to the source of Mercy: “Behold the Lamb of God!”

The Charismatic Renewal should also lead us then to contemplative prayer with a distinctively Marian character and inclusion, since she was the first contemplative, model of prayer, and mother of the Church. There is a time and a season for praise and worship, an outward song of the heart. As it says in Psalm 100:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, his courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4)

This is a reference to the Temple of Solomon. The gates led into the courts, which then lead to the Holy of holies. There, in the intimate presence of God, we must learn to,

Be still and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10)

And there,

All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)

If we are being transformed more and more into Jesus, then the Charismatic Renewal should lead us from contemplation into action, to a deeper service in the body of Christ through the charisms of the Holy Spirit. It should lead each of us to become witnesses in the marketplace, in the home, in the school, wherever God places us. It should lead us to love and serve Jesus in the poor and lonely. It should lead us to lay down our lives for our brothers. However, the agent of our evangelization is the Holy Spirit, and thus, the Charismatic Renewal should lead us back again to that wellspring of grace so that our words and actions are always filled with His divine power:

Techniques of evangelization are good, but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect preparation of the evangelizer has no effect without the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, the most convincing dialect has no power over the heart of man. —POPE PAUL VI, Hearts Aflame: The Holy Spirit at the Heart of Christian Life Today by Alan Schreck

That is to say that the Charismatic Renewal is more a “filling station” than a “parking lot.” It is a grace to renew the Church as she passes through her ministry. I don’t believe it was ever meant to be a club, per se. Even then, through prayer, frequenting the Sacraments, and the incredible mediation of Mary in our lives, that ember of faith that has been stirred into flame should remain burning brightly in so far as we are sincere and “seek first the Kingdom.”

A musician came up to me after an event and asked me what he should do to get his music out there. I looked him in the eyes and said, “My brother, you can sing the song, or you can become the song. Jesus wants you to become the song.” Likewise, the Charismatic Renewal was not given to the Church to maintain the honeymoon that follows conversion, but to help souls enter more fully into the marriage, which is to lay down one’s life for his or her spouse, in this case, Christ and our neighbour. There is no other way but the Way of the Cross.

In these times, the Renewal has a special character. And that is to equip and prepare a remnant for a new evangelization that is here and coming as we face “the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, of the Gospel and the anti-gospel…”: [11]POPE JOHN PAUL II cf. Understanding the Final Confrontation Let us not be afraid of this great Gift that will soon fall upon all of humanity, as we pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate us in a New Pentecost!

 

[The Church] must inspire the cultural currents that are about to be born along this path toward the Third Millennium. We cannot arrive late with the liberating announcement of Jesus Christ to a society that struggles, in a dramatic and exciting moment, between deep needs and enormous hopes. —POPE JOHN PAUL II; Vatican City, 1996

I wish to invite young people to open their hearts to the Gospel and become Christ’s witnesses; if necessary, his martyr-witnesses, at the threshold of the Third Millennium. —POPE JOHN PAUL II; Spain, 1989

The New Testament communities, [John Paul II] said, were marked by a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit “at essential moments,” attentive listening to the Word of God through the teaching of the Apostles, sharing the Eucharist, living in community and ministering to the poor. —Western Catholic Reporter, June 5th, 1995

 

 


 

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1. see Part II for an explanation of “baptism in the Holy Spirit
2. cf. Acts 4:31
3. a planned format and talks for evangelizing and preparing participants to receive the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
4. Several youth and leaders went on to form ministries. Some went on to study theology, as well as enter the religious life or priesthood. Some of those ministries are now international in scale, with regular appearances on EWTN and other Catholic media.
5. Falling down or “resting in the Spirit” is a common manifestation of “baptism in the Spirit.” For reasons not entirely known, the Holy Spirit often brings a soul into a place of total rest and surrender as He continues to minister deep within. It is one of those ways that God works that often leaves the soul much more humble and docile as they realize more deeply that He is Lord.
6. To read the entire encounter, go to About Mark on this website.
7. Of course, all “The faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, 897
8. A first class relic means it is a part of a saint’s body, such as a bone fragment.
9. cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1324
10. cf. Matt 18:20
11. POPE JOHN PAUL II cf. Understanding the Final Confrontation
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