Sunday, May 07, 2017

Fr. Perrone: Why I am not a charismatic (November 18, 2001)

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, November 18, 2001):

One might rightly ask why I would devote so much ink to the subject of the charismatic Movement when there are so many other aberrations in the Church today. The answer is that most of them are clearly false because they vie in a conspicuous manner with the doctrines of the Church or its norms of worship. The charismatic movement on the other hand seems to have taken hold among many who are devoted to Catholic truth. This is precisely why there is a danger of being misled into this movement which is largely a spiritual counterfeit. As I have said, there are surely those whose spiritual lives have enjoyed a true renewal by the working of the Holy Spirit. This is in the order of the ordinary working of God who sanctifies through the sacraments, prayer, the many graces that are available to all. One of many difficulties with the CM (charismatic movement) is that its experiences are reserved only for the initiates: a precarious posture of exclusivity to the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. My pastoral then worry is well-founded: if the CM is true, then I ought to do everything possible so that my parishioners will not lack this unique relationship with the Holy Spirit. But if it is fraudulent, I must be assiduous in identifying its fallacies.

Today I want to say something about the often-made claim that the CM must be OK because the bible clearly mentions the experience of “baptism in the spirit.” For charismatics this is the necessary inaugural event that separates a charismatic practitioner from the rest of us. The idea is the essentially non-Catholic one that the sacrament of baptism by water is insufficient or at least that there remains a second “blessing” conferred by the laying on of hands in which one receives the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The consequence of this is that the initiate usually is enabled to speak in tongues, prophesy, heal, exorcise demons, etc. We find these unusual abilities mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and at the end of St. Mark’s Gospel.

Now, we know that the apostles received the promised Gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in a distinct experience. If not for them, why not a separate bestowal of the Holy Spirit for everyone? The answer is that the apostles were in a unique situation. They were “washed clean” by Jesus at the last super but lacked the Personal Gift of the Holy Spirit until Pentecost. But for all of us who have become Christians since the time of the Lord’s passion and death and since Pentecost, all that is needed is to “be baptized … and you too will receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Like the apostles, we would not have been able to receive the Holy Spirit before Pentecost, because Jesus had not yet been glorified (cf. John 7:39). Saint Paul, like the rest of us who became Christians after Pentecost, was baptized. There is the unusual case of Cornelius in the Acts of the Apostles who appears to have received the Holy Spirit apart from baptism. But the conclusion of his Christian conversion story (not the beginning) is that he and his household is baptized – an event that took place to show how God wanted not only Jews but Gentiles also to be baptized.

Note that although the biblical term baptism has many uses (the ‘baptism’ of Saint John the Baptist; the ‘baptism’ of Jesus’ passion and death; the “baptism on behalf of the dead”; as well as the “baptism in the Spirit”), the Church’s tradition has always applied the texts about being baptized in the Spirit to the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, or even, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, Confession. Thus, apart from schismatics and heretical sects, the true Church of Christ has always understood this expression to refer to the baptism of water that all of us in Church received, usually as infants. It is the work of God and it perfectly suffices apart from any quasi-sacramental rituals or religious experiences. This fact does not deny the need for what we often hear phrased as “on-going” conversion or the ever-deepening growth in grace and holiness by the ordinary means of prayer, spiritual reading, retreats, spiritual direction, the use of sacramental, the various religious confraternities and pious associations of the laity, etc.

As for the claim of Catholic ‘pentecostals’ that we need to get something more after our baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, I am compelled to say that centuries of the Church’s orthodox theologians and Catholic tradition is against it. Yes, there is yet more that should be said on this topic: the matter of “tongues” and some of the strange associations of those involved in the Catholic CM … another time.

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.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Fr. Perrone: Why I'm not a charismatic (Sept. 2, 2001)

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, September 2, 2001):

I'm not a charismatic. That will not come as a surprise to most of my parishioners. I have never said anything commendatory of the Catholic Charismatic Movement nor do I act or pray according to its fashions. It's also true to say that I have upheld traditional Catholic beliefs and forms of prayer and have resisted the introduction of anything bizarre in our parish worship.

The Catholic Charismatic Movement appears to be an ever growing phenomenon and I find that there are few theologians willing to tackle it. Our late friend, Fr. Hardon, is said to have made the remark that there are "volumes" that could be written about the errors of the charismatic movement. I count it as a great disadvantage to the Church in the USA that Fr. Hardon did not live long enough to write them. I want to say a few words about this here, with the full realization that most of the details and even most of the fundamental problems with the charismatic movement cannot even be mentioned in this space. My concern is not to write a thesis or even to compose a syllabus of errors on the subject, but to act pastorally for the good of my parishioners.

The first thing that should be known is that the charismatic movement is not a Catholic thing. It is an attempt to bring into the Catholic Church what is known outside of it as (Protestant) Pentecostalism. Although its devotees may claim their lineage to the biblical Christian Pentecost when the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in unfamiliar languages, the movement actually began in the US around 1900 A.D. The claim is that the charisms (special gifts of the Holy Spirit) have been either dormant or unrecognized in the Church since the time of the apostles but that the Holy Spirit is now leading the Church to revive these gifts in ecstatic prayer, in healings, by speaking in tongues, and through similar phenomena. This claim of theirs, however, is most assuredly false. The Church has in fact known many saints who have had extraordinary gifts with the ability to heal, or to "read souls," or to experience mystical states of prayer, etc. But it is also true that the Church has known and continued to face aberrant and sometimes weird doctrines and practices of splinter groups throughout its history; and the Church has condemned them. (The interested reader should consult Ronald Knox's magisterial treatment of this subject in his Enthusiasm. From that evidence one may see immediately that the charismatic phenomenon is nothing new in the Church.)

For me and for many Catholics, the sheer strangeness of charismatic practices is sufficiently repulsive to deter any interest in it. But it is not only for esthetic reasons that one should be wary. The necessary pre-condition for becoming a "Spirit-filled" (i.e. charismatic) person is to undergo an experience known as being "baptized in the Spirit," a sufficiently vague biblical expression that has been interpreted as an emotional moment in which one senses that something has seized him and transformed him. This event is one's personal entry into the world of the Spirit and is often accompanied by fainting (being "slain" by the Spirit), or the sensation of warmth or ecstatic joy. Once having been initiated into the movement everything in the spiritual life is different.

What are my concerns? First, that this is not a movement that springs from our tradition. The Holy Spirit has been at work for 2000 years in the one true Catholic Church that Christ founded. To expect a Catholic to believe that The Holy Spirit inspired a manner of belief and prayer in a Protestant movement that began at the beginning of the last century and which is particularly anti-Catholic and that this is how Catholics now should pray after the same Holy Spirit's influence has been kept under wraps by the Catholic Church for many centuries is asking the impossible and the ridiculous. I am particularly concerned about our young people who are often naively attracted to charismatic-sponsored events because of the otherwise doctrinal orthodoxy that may be espoused by them. This is especially so in Ann Arbor, a real center of pentecostal activity. My other worry (among others) is that many initiation ceremonies which very much like the so-called "baptism in the Spirit" experience are actually initiations into the occult and the demonic.

You can recognize charismatics by their chanting of slogans such as "Praise the Lord!" "Alleluia!" "Praise God!" "Amen!" etc. or by the way they raise or open their hands while praying. While the appearance of this may seem silly to the non-initiated outsider he should not fail to see in it the far more serious deception of participating in a manner of prayer and belief that is far from the Catholic faith and its long tradition of prayer. Saint Paul warned the proverbially wanton Corinthians to seek the "higher gifts" (especially charity) rather than to pursue the extraordinary in their religious practices. We should heed him and try to live soberly and uprightly as we await the coming of Christ (cf. Tit. 2:12-13).