Sunday, May 07, 2017

Fr. Perrone: Why I am not a charismatic (November 11, 2001)

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, November 11, 2001):

I had promised to treat again the subject of the Catholic Charismatic Movement. This is the first of a mini-series on this subject.

The first thing I want to make clear is that the Holy Spirit certainly can grant extraordinary spiritual gifts to certain individuals. These are those special endowments that are completely distinct from the usual working of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual life of the Christian. We all received sanctifying grace and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit at Baptism; had them increased in Confirmation; and had them restored, if lost through mortal sin, in Confession. The extraordinary gifts (charisms) that are claimed to be bestowed by the Holy Spirit to charismatics include such external things as speaking in tongues, praying in tongues, healings, and prophecies.

Now, the church has always known that there are charisms given to certain souls. Padre Pio, like St. John Vianney, could “read souls,” that is, could know a person’s secret sins. Several saints have had the gift of infused contemplation. A few have been able to foretell future events. Yet others could bilocate; a few had their bodies raised from the ground in an ecstatic rapture of prayer.

The claims of the charismatics of today are either internal or external gifts. They external ones are mentioned in the second paragraph above. The internal ones include a feeling of peace, religious fervor, and an especially intimate union with God. These last are also known in Catholic tradition, but with a difference: it is known that these spiritual graces cannot be induced, nor are they to be sought after. The Holy Spirit grants them only to whomever He wishes.

The Charismatic Movement, as the title indicates, involves phenomena that are available to many, a “movement,” and not the special prerogative of a few elect souls. Even more than in the apostolic days, thousands are claiming today to have been championed by the Holy Spirit and favored with His extraordinary gifts.

There is not doubt that God can do all He pleases. Yet it is entirely possible – perhaps, better, probable – that these claims are false and are either self-induced or the work of an evil spirit. (Demons can simulate many mystical experiences.) These possible alternative explanations are not of my own formulation. They are the teaching of the Church’s history: St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. These Carmelite saints teach us that charismatic gifts cannot be acquired, nor should they be sought after. The dangers of self-deception and pride; the dangers of diabolic influence are ever-present. Charismatics like to think that they can impart to others these special graces through a “baptism in the Spirit.” This is a kind of ritual that includes the laying on of hands by one who is already spirit-filled. The result is usually an experience of ecstatic joy, of fainting, and the capability of speaking in strange languages (“tongues”). These abilities can be had merely for the asking. Those not “spirit-filled” are thought to lack this intimacy with the Holy Spirit. The Charismatic Movement then easily becomes a sort of exclusive club; a spiritual elitism, the “full gospel” Christianity, as opposed to the one that most Catholics know and practice. The resulting pride can be sufficient (and has actually been so) as to cause charismatics to depart from the true Church. The reason is not hard to discern: they believe that they enjoy and advantageous subjective relationship with the Holy Spirit that is apart from the offerings of [an] authoritarian, hierarchical Church. Moreover, the “group” of charismatics forms its own sort of hierarchy, its leaders. These can be laymen (who often “preach,” become spiritual directors of souls, and give retreats) or priests. The dangers here for Church unity and authority are very grave.

I intend to say more on this topic and address particular aspects of the Charismatic Movement in the near future, especially those things that have been asserted by my critics.