Questions and Responses
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the love of the Father poured into one’s heart. For the human heart to be rightly disposed to receiving this divine love, the person must be able to declare like the psalmist: “My heart is ready, O God; my heart is ready!” (Ps 57:8). But what happens when someone who desires to receive baptism in the Spirit also wishes to persist in a “situation of sin”? In such a case we are facing a heart in crisis—a heart in conflict over readiness, since the key to readiness is repentance.
For example, what if a man and woman who are living together outside of marriage come to a Life in the Spirit Seminar and want to receive prayer for baptism in the Spirit? Those responsible for the Seminar must firmly but lovingly invite the couple to repentance and to the concrete action that manifests repentance—in this case, either marrying or ceasing to live together. If they are not willing to do so, then to pray over them for baptism in the Spirit would not be consonant with the requirement of a “ready heart.”
The fact that repentance is necessary to dispose people for baptism in the Holy Spirit is revealed in God’s own providential sequence: John-before-Jesus. To prepare for the mission of his Son, our heavenly Father set up a prerequisite. The Gospel of Luke portrays the coming of John the Baptist, the precursor, in preparation for the coming of Jesus (Lk 1:5-80; 3:1-22). John, whose mission was the baptism of repentance, was sent ahead of Jesus whose mission (as John described it) was baptism in the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11). John was sent to ensure that the soil of Israel’s heart would be plowed through repentance, so as to prepare the way for Jesus, the source of new life in the Holy Spirit. John-before- Jesus is an unmistakable principle in God’s plan of salvation.
Peter did not hesitate to apply this principle on Pentecost morning, as the Spirit was poured forth in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, exhorted the crowd to “repent and be baptised” so as to receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Save yourselves,” he said to the multitude, confirming that the handle to the door of one’s heart is on the inside, and each individual must freely choose to open it (see Rev 3:20). Three thousand in the crowd “accepted his message and were baptised,” while apparently others did not (Acts 2:41).
Peter thus established a timeless pastoral principle for ministering to the work of the Spirit. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal follows this principle by having the fourth session of the Life in the Spirit Seminar focus on metanoia —repentance or “turning away” from anything that may block our relationship with God. This has been the pattern ever since the first publication on the Seminar more than forty years ago (Life in the Spirit Seminar Team Manual, 1971). The strategic placement of the call to repentance —just before the session in which people are prayed with to receive baptism in the Holy Spirit— reflects a foundational understanding in the Renewal.
Thus, from a pastoral point of view, we always seek to lead people to repentance before praying over them for the outpouring of the Spirit. It is also common to offer the sacrament of Reconciliation during
the fourth session of the Seminar. Priests often report that those confessions are among the most fervently repentant and grace-filled that they ever hear. To avoid calling people to repentance in this context would be bad pastoral practice, since it leaves the sinful situation intact, thereby grieving the Holy Spirit rather than receiving him, while at the same time implicitly opening a path for disruption of the charismatic community or prayer group.
Some of the “situations of sin” that we may encounter are very difficult—for example, the case of someone who has divorced and remarried without an annulment. Nevertheless, those who would wish to pray for baptism in the Holy Spirit must hold back their hands and lift up their own hearts to the Lord, once this circumstance is disclosed. Clearly it is a conundrum that only Christ can solve… only the One who has received “all power in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18).
The Lord sometimes removes barriers to repentance in surprising ways, especially through intercessory prayer. Solutions can come from we know not where. We do know, however, that our own role in these matters must be humble and circumscribed. It remains wise pastoral practice to lead people to authentic repentance before praying over them for baptism in the Holy Spirit.