The Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a Current of Grace
Pope Francis repeatedly insisted that the Charismatic Renewal is a current of grace and not a movement. What does this mean specifically? How does this shed light on the work of CHARIS, the new and unique service desired by the Pope?
We met with Jean-Luc Moens, CHARIS moderator, to find out more.
What is the difference between a current of grace and an ecclesial movement?
The concept of an ecclesial movement is quite well known. It is a group of people who share a specific charism within the Church. The movement has a founder or group of founders. It also has a government that looks after the life of the movement and members who are often linked by a commitment within the movement. Thus, a movement constitutes a particular call in the Church: not everyone is called to be part of it, it is a specific call from the Lord.
A current of grace in the Church is a less widely known reality. It is broader than a movement, because it is not limited to a group of members: it is destined to touch the whole Church. This is what Cardinal Suenens was referring to when he said that the Renewal is destined to disappear when it reaches the whole Church.
In the case of Renewal, it is characterized by the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. There is no founder, there is no government and there is a great diversity of expressions that, with their differences, are integrated into the same current of grace. All who have received the baptism in the Spirit are in the current of grace. The purpose of the current of grace is to allow all the baptized – Catholics and non-Catholics – to receive baptism in the Spirit, because this experience is for everyone. And this is precisely the essential difference compared to a movement: a current of grace within the Church aims to reach all the baptized because it’sproposal is a key aspect of the normal Christian life: to fully live the sacrament of baptism itself.
For the Charismatic Renewal, what are the concrete consequences of being a current of grace?
I believe that for many of us it involves a true conversion. In fact, in many countries we have long thought of Charismatic Renewal as a movement. Some even said a few years ago that the maturity of the Renewal was to be structured as a movement. This is not the belief of Pope Francis. Nor is it what the Holy Spirit has been manifesting for more than 50 years, giving rise to such different and original expressions within the same current of grace.
The fact that the Renewal is a current of grace will therefore have very concrete consequences. Here are some of them:
– The Catholic Charismatic Renewal does not have a leader, as movements do. The person responsible for the current of grace is Jesus – as the Pope said – and the Holy Spirit. This implies, for example, that as a CHARIS moderator, I am not responsible for the Renewal. I am only responsible for the service that the Pope wants to offer to the Renewal through CHARIS. The same is true in all countries. There is no national leader of the Renewal. That is why we wanted to call those responsible for the CHARIS National Communion Services “coordinators” to make it clear that they are only servants of a reality that surpasses them.
– The Catholic Charismatic Renewal does not have a government either. All the realities of the Renewal are independent of each other, without ceasing to be interdependent on the Holy Spirit, each with equal dignity. The authority that watches over these realities is the competent ecclesial authority, almost always the diocesan bishop. We must be cautious when certain structures of the Renewal prohibit a preacher, impose a prayer plan, or mandatory rules to receive the baptism in the Spirit. Too often in the Renewal we have built a kind of “customs office” (cf. the Pope’s homily, May 25, 2013).
– All who have experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit participate in the current of grace – you see that I am “cautions, as I am not referring to membership” It is not necessary – albeit highly desirable – to participate in a prayer group or other charismatic reality. The Holy Spirit is free to bestow his gifts: if He wants to allow a person experience the baptism in the Spirit outside of any “recognized” structure, who are we to stop him?
Some may object that the baptism in the Spirit is only the initial experience. It is therefore necessary to persevere in the grace received and for this, participation in a group is a great help. This is absolutely true. A Christian who remains alone is a Christian in danger. But the group doesn’t necessarily have to be officially recognized as charismatic. Thus, for example, if a person who is part of the Focolari receives baptism in the Spirit, they can fully live their spiritual life supported by a movement without participating in a Renewal group.
Accepting that the Charismatic Renewal is a current of grace also means accepting that it overflows from the structures we have created. The Holy Spirit is free to give his gifts!
– The current of grace of the Charismatic Renewal includes all the realities born of the Holy Spirit that share the baptism in the Spirit. Among them are prayer groups, charismatic communities, evangelization schools, ministries, publishing houses, retreat centers, radio and television stations, numerous social works, etc. However, in many countries a structure with the name of Catholic Charismatic Renewal was created, directed only to the reality of prayer groups. It is clear that, in the spirit of the current of grace promoted by the Pope, these structures should change their name, because the part (that is, the prayer groups) cannot take the name of the whole (that is, the multiform set of the realities raised by the Holy Spirit). In many cases, this change is difficult because it involves changing something that has a long history.
How does all this shed light on the identity of CHARIS?
CHARIS is in line with what I have previously explained.
First of all, it is important to understand that CHARIS is a service. CHARIS is not the same as with the current of grace that is the Charismatic Renewal. It is simple and humbly at your service.
This explains why CHARIS is not an association of the faithful in the sense of canon law because it is a service. To turn CHARIS into an association would be to recognize it as an association that has members and thus turn it into a movement. However, as a service, CHARIS has no members.
It is important that this distinction be taken into account in all countries where the statutes of the CHARIS National Communion Service are being drafted. Turning it into an association of the faithful goes against the very spirit of what makes CHARIS new.
The Statutes also affirm that “as a service organization, CHARIS does not have authority over the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, since all expressions of CCR are directly under the jurisdiction of the competent ecclesiastical authorities” (Art. 1 § 3). This clearly expresses what I have previously stated that is, that the authority over all the realities of the Renewal belongs to the bishops and not to other intermediate bodies. CHARIS can give an opinion on certain points if the bishops wish to consult us, but they are the ones who exercise this authority.
How is this established in different countries?
This is done through the constitution of the CHARIS National Services of Communion (CNSC), as established in the statutes. There are two keywords: service and fellowship.
In all countries, people who have received baptism in the Spirit are called to live in communion. That is why the statutes require that all expressions or realities of the Renewal be represented in the NCS. The word communion itself indicates that it is not a government, that there is no obligation, that there is no leader to direct the flow of grace in the country. There is only one coordinator of the NSC who is a servant of the communion.
The NSC are also at the service of all the realities of the Charismatic Renewal of the country to be served. They should not impose their service, but simply offer it to those who want to take advantage of it freely … or prefer not to.
As you can see, the NSC are humble structures that do not impose anything. The objective of all this is to give first place to the Holy Spirit, to let him blow where He wants, not to hinder his action with rigid structures. Let’s not forget that the Spirit is the leader of the Charismatic Renewal. He continues to blow and is far from finished!