Charismatic? Part II



THERE is perhaps no movement in the Church that has been so widely accepted—and readily rejected—as the “Charismatic Renewal.” Boundaries were broken, comfort zones moved, and the status quo shattered. Like Pentecost, it has been anything but a neat and tidy movement, fitting nicely into our preconceived boxes of just how the Spirit should move among us. Nothing has been perhaps as polarizing either… just as it was then. When the Jews heard and saw the Apostles burst from the upper room, speaking in tongues, and boldly proclaiming the Gospel…

They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine. (Acts 2:12-13)

Such is the division in my letter bag as well…

The Charismatic movement is a load of gibberish, NONSENSE! The Bible speaks of the gift of tongues. This referred to the ability to communicate in the spoken languages of that time! It did not mean idiotic gibberish… I will have nothing to do with it. —T.S.

It saddens me to see this lady speak this way about the movement that brought me back to Church… —M.G.

As my daughter and I walked along the Island coast of Western Canada this week, she pointed to the rugged shoreline noting that “beauty is often the combination of chaos and order. On the one hand, the shoreline is random and chaotic… on the other hand, the waters have their limit, and they do not go beyond their appointed boundaries…” That is a fitting description of the Charismatic Renewal. When the Spirit fell upon the Duquesne weekend, the usual silence of the Eucharistic chapel was broken by weeping, laughter, and the sudden gift of tongues among some of the participants. The waves of the Spirit were breaking upon the rocks of ritual and Tradition. The rocks remain standing, for they too are a work of the Spirit; but the force of this Divine wave has shaken loose the stones of apathy; it has hewn away hard-heartedness, and stirred into action sleeping members of the body. And yet, as St. Paul preached time and again, the gifts all have their place within the body and a proper order to their use and purpose.

Before I discuss the charisms of the Spirit, what exactly is this so-called “baptism in the Spirit” that has revived the charisms in our times—and countless souls?



The terminology comes from the Gospels where St. John distinguishes between the “baptism of repentance” with water, and a new baptism:

I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:16)

Within this text lies the seedling of the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. In fact, Jesus was the first, as head of His body, the Church, to be “baptized in the Spirit”, and through another man (John the Baptist) at that:

…the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove… Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power. (Luke 3:22; Luke 4:1; Acts 10:38)

Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa has had, since 1980, the distinguished role of preaching to the papal household, including the Pope himself. He raises a crucial historical fact about the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism in the early Church:

At the beginning of the Church, Baptism was such a powerful event and so rich in grace that there was no need normally of a new effusion of the Spirit like we have today. Baptism was ministered to adults who converted from paganism and who, properly instructed, were in the position to make, on the occasion of baptism, an act of faith and a free and mature choice. It is sufficient to read the mistagogic catechesis on baptism attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem to become aware of the depth of faith to which those waiting for baptism were led. In substance, they arrived at baptism through a true and real conversion, and thus for them baptism was a real washing, a personal renewal, and a rebirth in the Holy Spirit. —Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa, OFMCap, (papal household preacher since 1980); Baptism in the Spirit,

But he points out that, today, that synchronization of grace has been broken as infant Baptism is most common. Still, if children were raised in homes to live a Christian life (as the parents and godparents pledge), then true conversion would be a normal process, though at a slower rate, with moments of grace or release of the Holy Spirit throughout that individiual’s life. But Catholic culture today has been greatly paganized; Baptism is treated often like a cultural habit, something parents “do” because that’s simply what you “do” when you’re a Catholic. Many of these parents rarely attend Mass, let alone catechize their children to live a life in the Spirit, raising them instead in a secular environment. Thus, adds Fr. Raneiro…

Catholic theology recognizes the concept of a valid but “tied” sacrament. A sacrament is called tied if the fruit that should accompany it remains bound because of certain blocks that prevent its effectiveness. —ibid.

That block in a soul could be something as basic as, again, a lack of faith or knowledge in God or what it means to be a Christian. Another block would be mortal sin. In my experience, the block of the movement of grace in many souls is simply the absence of evangelization and catechesis.

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? (Romans 10:14)

For example, both my sister and my eldest daughter received the gift of tongues immediately after receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. That was because they were taught the proper understanding of the charisms as well as the expectation to receive them. So it was in the early Church. The Sacraments of Christian initiation—Baptism and Confirmation—were commonly accompanied by a manifestation of the charisms of the Holy Spirit (prophecy, words of knowledge, healing, tongues, etc.) precisely because this was the expectation of the early Church: it was normative. [1]cf. Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Spirit—Evidence from the First Eight Centuries, Fr. Kilian McDonnell & Fr. George Montague

If the baptism in the Holy Spirit is integral to Christian initiation, to the constitutive sacraments, then it belongs not to private piety but to public liturgy, to the official worship of the church. Therefore the baptism in the Spirit is not special grace for some but common grace for all. —Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Spirit—Evidence from the First Eight Centuries, Fr. Kilian McDonnell & Fr. George Montague, Second Edition, p. 370

Thus, “baptism in the Spirit,” that is, praying for a “release” or “outpouring” or “in-filling” of the Spirit in a soul is really God’s way today to “unblock” the graces of the Sacraments that should normally flow like “living water”. [2]cf. John 7:38  Thus, we see in the lives of the Saints and many mystics, for example, this “baptism of the Spirit” as a natural growth in grace, accompanied by the release of charisms, as they gave themselves wholly over to God in their own “fiat.” As Cardinal Leo Suenens pointed out…

…although these manifestations were no longer evident on a large scale, they were still to be found wherever faith was lived intensely….A New Pentecost, p. 28

Indeed, Our Blessed Mother was the first “charismatic,” so to speak. Through her “fiat,” Scripture recounts that she was “overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.” [3]cf. Luke 1:35

What does the Baptism of the Spirit consist of and how does it work? In the Baptism of the Spirit there is a secret, mysterious move of God that is His way of becoming present, in a way that is different for each one because only He knows us in our inner part and how to act upon our unique personality… theologians look for an explanation and responsible people for moderation, but simple souls touch with their hands the power of Christ in the Baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:1-24). —Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa, OFMCap, (papal household preacher since 1980); Baptism in the Spirit,



The Holy Spirit is not limited to how He comes, when or where. Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind that “blows where it wills.” [4]cf. John 3:8 However, we see in Scripture three common modes in which individuals have been baptized in the Spirit in the history of the Church.


I. Prayer

The Catechism teaches:

Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2010

Pentecost was merely a cenacle where they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.”  [5]cf. Acts 1:14 So too, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who came to simply pray before the Blessed Sacrament at the Duquesne weekend that birthed the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. If Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches, the Holy Spirit is the “sap” that flows when we enter into communion with God through prayer.

As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….” (Acts 4:31)

Individuals can and should expect to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to one degree or another according to God’s providential designs, when they pray.


II. Laying on of Hands

Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands… (Acts 8:18)

The laying on of hands is an essential Catholic Doctrine [6]cf.; Heb 6:1 whereby grace is communicated by the imposition of hands upon the recipient, for example in the Sacraments of Ordination or Confirmation. So too, God clearly communicates the “baptism in the Spirit” through this very human and intimate interaction:

…I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1:6-7; see also Acts 9:17)

The lay faithful, by virtue of their sharing in the “royal priesthood” of Christ, [7]cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1268 can also be used as vessels of grace through the laying on of their hands. This is also the case in healing prayer. However, the difference between “sacramental” grace and “special” grace must be carefully understood, a delineation that pivots upon authority. The imposition of hands in the Sacrament of the Sick, Confirmation, Ordination, the rite of absolution, the prayer of Consecration, etc. belong exclusively to the sacramental priesthood and cannot be substituted by the lay, since it was Christ who instituted the priesthood; that is to say that the effects are different in that they achieve their sacramental end.

However, in the order of grace, the spiritual priesthood of the lay faithful is a participation in the Godhead according to Christ’s own words to all believers:

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)


III. The Proclaimed Word

St. Paul compared the Word of God to a two-edged sword:

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

Baptism in the Spirit or a new in-filling of the Spirit can also occur when the Word is preached.

While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. (Acts 10:44)

Indeed, how often has a “word” stirred our souls into flame when it comes from the Lord?



The term “charismatic” comes from the Greek word charisma, which is ‘any good gift that comes from God’s benevolent love (charis).’ [8]Catholic Encyclopedia, With Pentecost also came extraordinary gifts or charisms. Hence, the term “Charismatic Renewal” refers to the renewal of these charisms in modern times, but also, and especially, the interior renewal of souls. 

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit… To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. (1 Cor 12:4-10)

As I wrote in Part I, the popes have recognized and welcomed the renewal of the charisms in modern times, contrary to the error some theologians propound that the charisms were no longer necessary after the first centuries of the Church. The Catechism reaffirms not only the perpetual existence of these gifts, but the necessity of the charisms for the entire Church—not just certain individuals or prayer groups.

There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning “favor,” “gratuitous gift,” “benefit.” Whatever their character — sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues — charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church. —CCC, 2003; cf. 799-800

The existence and need of the charisms were reaffirmed in Vatican II, not insignificantly, before the Catholic Charismatic Renewal was born:

For the exercise of the apostolate he gives the faithful special gifts….  From the reception of these charisms or gifts, including those which are less dramatic, there arises for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of mankind and for the upbuilding of the Church.Lumen Gentium, par. 12 (Vatican II Documents)

While I will not treat every charism in this series, I will address the gift of tongues here, often the most widely misunderstood of all.



…we do also hear many brethren in the Church who possess prophetic gifts and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages and who bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God. —St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:6:1 (A.D. 189)

One of the common signs that accompanied Pentecost and other moments when the Spirit fell upon believers in the Acts of the Apostles, was the gift whereby the recipient began to speak in another, usually unknown language. This has also been the case throughout the history of the Church as well as in the Charismatic Renewal. Some theologians, in an attempt to explain this phenomena, have erroneously claimed that Acts 2 was merely a symbolic literary device to suggest that the Gospel was now being proclaimed to the Gentiles, to all the nations. However, it is clear that something mystical in nature not only occurred, but continues to occur to this very day. The Apostles, all Galileans, could not speak foreign languages. So they were obviously speaking in a “different tongues” [9]cf. Acts 2:4 that they themselves likely did not recognize. However, those who heard the Apostles were from various regions and understood what was being said.

American priest, Fr. Tim Deeter, in a public testimony, relays how while at a Mass in Medjugorje, he began to suddenly understand the homily that was being given in Croatian. [10]from the CD In Medjugorje, he told me the Secret, This is a similar experience of those in Jerusalem who began to understand the Apostles. However, this is more so the gift of understanding given to the hearer.

The gift of tongues is a real language, even if it is not of this earth. Fr. Denis Phaneuf, a family friend and long-time leader in the Canadian Charismatic Renewal, recounted how on one occasion, he prayed over a woman in the Spirit in tongues (he did not understand what he was saying). Afterwards, she looked up at the French priest and exclaimed, “My, you speak perfect Ukrainian!”

Just like any language that is foreign to the hearer, tongues may sound like “gibberish.” But there is another charism St. Paul calls the “interpretation of tongues” whereby another person is given to understand what was said through an interior understanding. This “understanding” or word is then subject to the discernment of the body. St. Paul is careful to point out that tongues is a gift that builds up the individual person; however, when accompanied by the gift of interpretation, it can build up the whole body.

Now I should like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be built up… If anyone speaks in a tongue, let it be two or at most three, and each in turn, and one should interpret. But if there is no interpreter, the person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Cor 14:5, 27-28)

The point here is one of order in the assembly.  (Indeed, speaking in tongues occurred in the context of the Mass in the early Church.)

Some people reject the gift of tongues because to them it sounds like mere babble. [11]cf. 1 Cor 14:23 However, it is a sound and language that is not gibberish to the Holy Spirit.

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. (Rom 8:26)

Because one does not understand something does not thereby invalidate that which is not understood. Those who reject the charism of tongues and its mysterious character are, not surprisingly, those who do not have the gift. They have often, too readily, grasped on to the anemic explanation of some theologians who impart intellectual knowledge and theories, but have little experience in the mystical charisms. It is akin to someone who has never swam standing on the shore telling swimmers what it is like to tread water—or that it is not possible at all.

After being prayed over for a new outpouring of the Spirit in her life, my wife had asked the Lord for the gift of tongues. After all, St. Paul encouraged us to do so:

Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts… I should like all of you to speak in tongues… (1 Cor 14:1, 5)

One day, several weeks later, she was kneeling beside her bed praying. Suddenly, as she tells it,

…my heart began to pound in my chest. Then just as suddenly, words began to rise from the depth of my being, and I couldn’t stop them! They poured out of my soul as I began to speak in tongues!

After that intitial experience, which mirrors that of Pentecost, she continues to speak in tongues to this day, using the gift under her own will-power and as the Spirit leads.

A fellow Catholic missionary I know found an old Gregorian Chant hymnal. Inside the cover, it said that the hymns therein were the codification of the “language of angels.” If one listens to an assembly singing in tongues—something that is truly beautiful—it resembles the flowing cadence of chant. Could Gregorian Chant, that holds a prized place in the Liturgy, in fact, be the offspring of the charism of tongues?

Lastly, Fr. Raneiro Cantalemessa recounted at a Steubenville conference, where priests I personally know were present, how Pope John Paul II came to speak in tongues, emerging from his chapel in joy that he had received the gift! John Paul II was also heard to speak in tongues while in private prayer. [12]Fr. Bob Bedard, the late founder of the Companions of the Cross, was also one of the priests present to hear this testimony.

The gift of tongues is, as the Catechism teaches, ‘extraordinary.’ However, among those I know who have the gift, it has become an ordinary part of their daily lives—including my own. Likewise, “baptism in the Spirit” was a normative part of Christianity that has been lost through many factors, not the least, an apostasy within the Church that has bloomed over the past few centuries. But thanks be to God, the Lord continues to pour out His Spirit when, and wherever He wills to blow.

I want to share more of my personal experiences with you in Part III, as well as answering some of the objections and concerns raised in that first letter in Part I.





Your donation at this time is greatly appreciated!

Click below to translate this page into a different language:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


1 cf. Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Spirit—Evidence from the First Eight Centuries, Fr. Kilian McDonnell & Fr. George Montague
2 cf. John 7:38
3 cf. Luke 1:35
4 cf. John 3:8
5 cf. Acts 1:14
6 cf.; Heb 6:1
7 cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1268
8 Catholic Encyclopedia,
9 cf. Acts 2:4
10 from the CD In Medjugorje, he told me the Secret,
11 cf. 1 Cor 14:23
12 Fr. Bob Bedard, the late founder of the Companions of the Cross, was also one of the priests present to hear this testimony.
Posted in HOME, CHARISMATIC? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Comments are closed.