Questions and Responses
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
This question reveals a thirst. Perhaps it is the thirst of those who have been baptized as infants but who, in the words of Pope Francis, “lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no longer experience the consolation born of faith” (Evangelii Gaudium, 14). Or perhaps it is the thirst of those who have been seeking fulfillment in spiritual “alternatives” apart from Christ. Or finally, it may be the thirst of those who are active in their faith and who even received baptism in the Spirit in the past, but now find themselves in a season where the Lord seems distant.
In John’s Gospel Jesus proclaims, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Jesus himself is the answer to the deepest thirst of the human heart.
The vast landscape of Scripture, from beginning to end, is centered on a relationship between God and man through Jesus Christ. The purpose of the thirst God has placed in the human heart is this very thing—to draw us to Jesus. Pope Francis has emphasized the centrality of the encounter with Jesus: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3).
Our spiritual seeking, then, must not be for spiritual experiences or a “spiritual high” in a generic sense, but for a renewed encounter with Jesus and a deeper awareness of the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. There is no limit to how much we should seek for that! As St. Augustine wrote, God “has awakened in us a great longing for that sweet experience of his presence within; it is by daily growth that we acquire it”. And St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote of the love of the heavenly Bridegroom that we experience only by the touch of the Holy Spirit: “Let those without experience burn with desire so that they will not so much know as experience”.
In Psalm 36:7-8 the psalmist sings of God’s love, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. You give them drink from the river of your delights”. Commenting on this passage, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “This is the love of the Holy Spirit which causes a force in the soul like a torrent. And it is a torrent of delight because it causes delight and sweetness in the soul. And good people drink from it”.
It is clear from Scripture that God wants us to experience his presence and love more deeply. However, we cannot expect that this experience will necessarily occur right away when we ask for it, or that it will occur constantly, since there is much that God needs to heal and purify in our fallen human hearts. Our desire must be for God himself, not for feelings about God. Emotions come and go. Feelings are not reliable, but God himself is reliable.
We also must avoid the temptation to compare ourselves with others and assume our own relationship with the Lord is lacking because it is less emotional or less dramatic than that of someone else. God created each of us with a unique personality, and no two people will react exactly the same way when they encounter the Lord.
Thus in settings where we are seeking to bring people into an encounter with the Lord, such as the Life in the Spirit Seminar, it is helpful to encourage people to open themselves up fully to a new encounter with the Lord, yet balance this with a reminder that no two people will respond exactly the same way when the Lord draws near. Our emotions are not a measure of how near the Lord is.
Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). He sees our thirst, he offers an invitation, and to those who respond he offers his very self. Then from our innermost being rivers of living water will flow forth, so that we ourselves may become effective in drawing other thirsty people to the Lord.
An underground source of water will only become a spring when it breaks forth from beneath the rock that confines it, as water flowed from the rock that Moses struck in the desert. This is an image of the need for every baptized person to enter into a life of ongoing conversion, to allow the Lord to break whatever is stony, closed up, and unbelieving in our hearts, so that his living waters will flow forth in us and through us.