Questions and answers
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
Let me begin with my personal anecdote. At first, my amazing encounter with Jesus and his outpouring of the Spirit brought a great blessing into our marriage. For the two prior years, my wife had been deeply saddened by my insistence upon using contraception. When that era of our life was suddenly ended, it brought her real joy. But many new developments—my all-day fascination with God, reading Scripture long into the night, preoccupation with prayer that often left chores undone, and absorption with prayer meetings—upset the balance in our way of life. At one point, my wife backed me up against the refrigerator and cried, “I don’t even know you anymore!”
Clearly, our marriage had lost its priority in my mind and in our home… and nobody was happy about it. In my dismay, I complained to God, “You started this, Lord; you’ve got to bring us through it.” And because He is faithful, He did.
Since baptism in the Holy Spirit often comes abruptly, it can bring great stress into a marriage. One person is euphoric for beginning to know “spiritual realities in spiritual terms” (1 Cor 2:13), while the other may feel only the dismay of a new kind of estrangement. The charismatic spouse can feel that a whole new journey has opened up, but the other cannot see it or join in it.
The vows of marriage are solemn and call for a deep sense of its “indissoluble unity” (CCC 1641). In regard to wedding promises that were made “for better or for worse,” baptism in the Holy Spirit ranks among the very best of all the “better” things that could ever have happened. Let there be no ambiguity as to whether one spouse’s baptism in the Holy Spirit is intrinsically good. It absolutely is! And yet there is potential for “division” such as Jesus prophesied in Luke 12:51, which will only be reconciled through great grace and docility.
St. Francis de Sales taught in his Introduction to the Devout Life that one’s pattern of personal devotion must always accord with one’s “station and calling” in life. In fact, he warns that if a form of devotion “ever works against or is inimical to anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.” Charismatic devotion must avoid forms of falsity that could harm a marriage by being unwise, out of proportion, or ill-timed in relation to the progress of grace in the other spouse. Here are some considerations for the charismatic spouse:
Let there be reverence for the awesome gift of having been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Through only one spouse, God has accessed the home in a premium way. The hope of glory for the marriage and the family has gained stunning new potential!
At the same time, this gift calls for great kindness toward the other spouse who may sincerely believe that something has gone wrong rather than right. (Recall that some of the bystanders on Pentecost thought that the apostles were drunk.) There must be deep spousal empathy, since a powerful new layer of mystery has come upon the home.
When the Holy Spirit begins to expose areas of marital and family sin, the charismatic spouse should seek the counsel of a wise confessor or spiritual director. St. Peter addresses one dimension of this issue, teaching that wives can win over their husbands by their conduct, without a word, “when they observe your reverent and chaste behavior” (1 Pet 3:1). The most winning behavior comes as the natural fruit of one’s own growth in holiness. But sometimes the “reverent and chaste behavior” requires a change in the mutual life of the spouses (contraception is a perfect example). The resolution of such a matter calls for prayer, love, courage, faith and counsel. A great drama may arise, exposing our ultimate dependence upon the action of the Holy Spirit who must be the agent of our transformation. It calls for bedrock faith that “He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thes 5:24).
We should not act as if our happiness is held hostage until the other spouse “comes around.” Instead, rejoice! With boundless love, Jesus delights in being inside the marriage. Notice the sweetness of Jesus’s self-invitation: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Lk 19:5). Jesus is the Emmanuel-master at being with us as we are, always proceeding from this earthly day toward a glorious future.
Finally, the lone charismatic spouse is called to have great confidence in St. Paul’s principle: “love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8). The love of God that has been lavishly poured out by the Spirit into one spouse’s heart (Rom 5:5) is purposeful—it is a rising tide that will lift all boats in the home. Throughout this drama, faith, hope and love are essential; but especially since we are talking about marriage, “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).
Answered by Deacon Bob Ervin, Michigan, USA