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).