How much Catholic is “Charismatic”?

Moroto praying women

(Published in New Vision newspaper in Uganda on 6 December 2016, page 16)

“Charismatic” ideology, the ways of worshiping and believing have always been a bit of controversy in the Catholic Church. It has been so from the apostolic times. St. Paul could be termed as the first class charismatic leader and preacher in the Church. Often he stepped in to solve leadership wrangles and misunderstandings in the community related to charismatic beliefs and ways of thinking and behaving.

In his letter to the Church in Corinth he lists various charismatic gifts that were active in the Church. While some of them were ordinary abilities such as teaching and leading, while others were spectacular such as prophesying, working miracles and speaking in tongues. St. Paul recognized all the gifts, abilities and talents as charisms (special gifts of the Spirit) given to individual Christians for the good of the Church, rather than for individuals who possessed them.

He also insisted that all the members of the Church have one charism or another and we are all able to contribute something to the community. And community ought to recognize them as such. But he himself hardly worked miracles, prophesied or spoke in tongues. Perhaps he was not endowed with such charisms in an exordinary way.

In the recent months the Catholic Church in Uganda has gone through difficult times with issues related to Charismatic movement, especially with errant priests and few lay Christians who call themselves as members of Charismatic movements and possessing special charismatic gifts directly God. But often the personal behaviour of some of these “Charismatic” leaders does not reflect the true gifts of the Spirit. It this moment, to safeguard the unity of the Church and to maintain theological and personal disciple these errant priests have been suspended from pastoral duties and later they self-excommunicated themselves from the Church, by involving in activities opposed to canonical disciple of the Church.

What is the origin of this Charismatic Movement? It is largely of Pentecostal churches in the early 1950s who claimed to have direct contact with God and has a special mandate from God to do certain special tasks employing miraculous powers directly given to them by God. They believed that they do not need any hierarchy or structures to operate their faith practices. They believed that they don’t need to answer to anyone, but give direct account to God and Him alone.

This type of freelance church and loose faith activities gained immediate acceptance among people who also valued ideas democracy and personal freedom. They believe that faith is something very personal between them and God. These Pentecostals leave issues of morality to personal judgement governed by one’s own heart. This certainly suits modern men and women. This environment looks tussle free avoiding every unnecessary mêlée. Certainly this attracted people in large numbers, mostly from protestant churches but including Catholics who wanted more “freedom” from stringent rules and control.

To keep within the Church several Catholics who were developing “Charismatic” tendencies and wish to leave for Pentecostal churches a similar movement was started (or rather allowed) within the Catholic Church. But it was largely spurned upon as unCatholic and divergent. These Charismatic people too sometimes prided themselves having more “Spirit” than the others. It was also difficult for them be with the mainline policies and traditional ways of doing things.

But what is unfortunate is the regular members who are already having some problems of faith and behaviour take refugee within the Charismatic movement and take solace in the new ways of worshipping. They often neglect their assigned duties and alienate themselves from the mainstream church members. To survive within the charismatic movement they ought to fake charismatic gifts, which they really do not possess.

These following criteria should be followed in the discernment and practice of Charismatic gifts: Not to crave for Charismatic gifts, but rather seek the Giver of the gifts. Gift by its very nature does not give the person any infallibility or sanctity, rather using that gift the person should strive to make oneself holy. Charismatic gifts should lead them to love the church more and be more faithful to church’s basic teachings and practices such as sacraments, various devotions and liturgy. The possessor of the gift should guard the purity of their faith, detest from pride, self-seeking and emotionalism that could lead themselves  and others astray.

When properly used, the gifts will bring immense good to the individual and to the whole church. While some gifts were purely from the Lord, others are built upon nature—on the natural talents of the individuals. They are gratuitous gift from the Lord, whomever He chooses.

Should believe that charity (love) is the greatest of all gifts, because charity unites our mind to the will of God. Only by charity we can understand the mind of God and be able do His will. Hence charity can be developed by all and hence all of us can possess Charismatic gifts– of love. It is only the divine power of the Holy Spirit that turns our gifts of nature into Charisms. If we use of gifts for our personal gains we merely become agents of the world or even the evil one. Because many evil men possessed great gifts, that led to destruction.

There is a need for regular/daily renewal in the Spirit. The discernment of the Holy Spirit’s action is an ongoing necessity within the Church and within the Charismatic Renewal. When we are not in communion with the Spirit of God, the devil will use us and use our gifts for his own evil acts misleading us and misleading the Faithful through us.

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