Voice in the Wilderness?
Catholic Charismatic Renewal and Evangelization in Asia-Oceania
Deshi Ramadhani, SJ
(First ISAO Conference –
he title in this reflection is taken from one of the most intriguing verses in the New Testament. While the original version from Isaiah reads “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!” (NAB; Is 40:3), the Gospel version reads “A voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths! ” (NAB; Mk 1:3; Mt 3:3; Lk 3:4). It is indeed very intriguing for exegetes who sometimes pay attention even to little details like full-stops and commas. Yet, as we can tell, both versions offer different theological notions. Isaiah speaks substantially about something that needs to be done in the desert. The Synoptic Gospels tell us about someone who cries out in the desert.
For us, the question at stake here is concerning the presence of listeners or audience. It seems that this question will fit into our reflection on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) and Evangelization in Asia-Oceania. In other words, what is offered here will invite us to ask ourselves: “Is the CCR still a bold and convincing voice in the hearts of many people in Asia-Oceania, or rather, a voice in the wilderness with no audience?”
CCR in the minds of the Popes
In order to do this, we need to listen again to those authoritative voices in our Church, namely, the Popes. They have raised their voices regarding the CCR. Voices recorded in history can turn to be prophetic as history has unfolded further events. It is so inspiring therefore to listen to those voices and have a sense of the prophetic nature already present there. We simply want to make room in our hearts for the Popes and let their voices hammer our hearts one more time.
The First International Leaders Conference of the CCR was held in Grottaferrata on
We rejoice with you, dear friends, at the renewal of the spiritual life manifested in the Church today, in different forms and in various environments. Certain common features appear in this renewal: the taste for deep prayer, personal and in groups, a return to contemplation and an emphasis on praise of God, the desire to devote oneself completely to Christ, an openness to the Holy Spirit, more assiduous reading of the Scriptures, generous brotherly devotion, a willingness to serve the Church. […]
I came upon this address of Paul VI only recently. To be honest, one of my biggest concerns in the CCR is that we may have lost our grip. We may be amazed by the size of our rallies, conventions, and retreats. If in a sense we can admit that we have become simply a voice in the wilderness without anyone really cares and takes heed to what we have to say, one reason is simply that people in the CCR do not really grow through what Paul VI said to be the “assiduous reading of the Scriptures.” I sometimes ask myself these questions: How many among the people who had attended our events would come home renewed in their love and zeal to read the Scriptures? With the arrival of the high-tech improvement that makes the Scriptures available in our cell phones, that personal relationship between us and the Scriptures will slowly disappear. People do bring the Scriptures to our events, but not many will read the Scriptures as part of their daily schedules. This used to be one of the first fruits that were strongly felt at the early years of the CCR and Pope Paul VI also noticed and was highly amazed by this.
There is a saying “Life begins at forty.” If after forty years, people in the CCR do not really open themselves everyday to the Word of God in the Scriptures, we should say just the opposite, namely, “Life ends at forty.” If Pope Paul VI were still alive today, the Holy Father must be saddened by the loss of the good old day in the form of the true “assiduous reading of the Scriptures” in this Holy Mother Church. Furthermore, how can we talk about true Evangelization if we are not deeply rooted in our personal knowledge and intimate relationship with the Scriptures? We have really become a voice in the wilderness.
John Paul II
Twenty years later, the Ninth International Leaders Conference was held. During the audience in Fiuggi,
[…] The Catholic Charismatic Renewal has helped many Christians to rediscover the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, in the life of the Church and in the world; and this rediscovery has awakened in them a faith in Christ filled with you, a great love of the Church and a generous dedication to her evangelizing mission. […]
Eight years later, in
[…] The Holy Spirit is bound to enrich the testimony of each and every one of you with the “spiritual gifts which He endows the Church.” Among these gifts there are a few that are of particular importance, “the ones which serve the fullness of spiritual life,” instilling a “taste for prayer,” which does not exclude “the experience of silence.” […]
In 1998 Pope John Paul II spoke about the rediscovery of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, a rediscovery that eventually also took form as dedication to the Church s evangelizing mission. Towards the end of his life on earth, the same John Paul II spoke rather differently. It seems that one last item should be urgently mentioned, and that is “the experience of silence.” We are so easily amazed by the presence of power of the Holy Spirit with all the noisy manifestations. Some of us even believe that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit should be manifested only in such noises. For me, this is one of the last prophetic voices delivered by our dear Pope John Paul II. The CCR has taken part in the battle to keep the flock in the Catholic Church. One of the things that we have done, and we are still doing it, is simply to offer room for noise. In many cases this is still the best option. Yet, John Paul II made a very strong point on purpose. We may never lose contact with “the experience of silence.”
What is the relationship between this loss of silence and evangelization? The answer is very simple. Jesus, our model of evangelization was a busy young man involved in many activities, big gatherings, healing ministries, casting off demons, liberating people. Yet, we find in the Scriptures that Jesus left the crowds on purpose so that He could find a place where He could really have “the experience of silence.” I sometimes ask myself, how many of the people who come to our big events spend their daily lives with a conscious effort to have that silence. So, ask yourselves this pressing question: “If in the CCR there are less and less people who really read the Scriptures, and less and less people who really have that experience of silence, what kind of evangelization we still want to think that we can offer?”
Our present-day Pope, Benedict XVI, offered a deep reflection in his homily during the Pentecost Vigil at St. Peter s Square,
[...] It is only in giving life that it is found; life is not found by seeking to possess it. This is what we must learn from Christ; and the Holy Spirit teaches us that it is a pure gift, that it is God s gift of himself. The more one gives one s life for others, for goodness itself, the more abundantly the river of life flows [...]. True freedom is demonstrated in responsibility, in a way of behaving in which one takes upon oneself a shared responsibility for the world, for oneself and for others [...]. But in him [Holy Spirit] multiplicity and unity go hand in hand. He breathes where he wills. He does so unexpectedly, in unexpected places and in ways previously unheard of. And with what diversity dan corporality does he do so! And it is precisely here that diversity and unity are inseparable [...]. The Holy Spirit desires unity, he desires totality. Therefore, his presence is finally shown above all in missionary zeal. Anyone who has come across something true, beautiful and good in his life – the one true treasure, the precious pearl – hastens to share it everywhere, in the family and at work, in all the contexts of life [...].
While the first two aspects should raise our personal reflection, it is the third one that from my point of view is more pressing. Indeed, the first two are some sort of preparation before we arrive at the third aspect. In our efforts in evangelization, we are called to proclaim true life. We are called to promote the value of giving, as an urgently needed option to the world characterized very strongly by the value of taking. We are also called to convince people of the true freedom that is inseparable from responsibility.
Evangelization means that we first need to become agents of unity, not of uniformity. And wherever we go in proclaiming Jesus and the Good News, we need to have clearly in mind that we are called to prepare or even to transform people with God s grace into agents of unity, not of uniformity. In other words, evangelization means inviting people to live joyfully in tension between life and freedom without threatening the unity on the one hand, and fighting for unity without suppressing life and freedom on the other. It is this life and freedom that can give different manifestations. Yes, we are called to fight for unity, not for uniformity. However, we need to remind ourselves, that true life and true freedom that the Holy Spirit brings to the Church and humanity are never intended to disrupt the unity. The Holy Spirit is one, and the Holy Spirit is that agent, so to speak, that creates the harmonious unity in love and total self-gift in the Trinity.
If we may sum up what we can treasure from the prophetic voices of the Popes, three key points can be mentioned. First, we need to return to the good old day when the CCR was existentially characterized by “the assiduous reading of Scriptures.” Second, we need to promote hunger and thirst for “the experience of silence.” Third, we need to be agents of unity, not of uniformity, because when we fight for uniformity in the name of unity, we may kill the true life and the true freedom that we want to promote. It is still possible to dream of CCR becoming again the voice that can boldly and convincingly encourage people to prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord. That is evangelization!
Spiritual longings of John Paul II
It is now time to shift gear. We want to enter into the contexts of
If we are allowed to contemplate the mind of God, we cannot help being surprised by the timing. When God looked at the Year 2000, which we celebrated with John Paul II and the whole Church, as well as the whole humanity, as the 2000thanniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ, God seemed to plan something very specific. God led John Paul II to give a wake up call to the Church in
Exegetes are fond of finding inclusio, that is framing that will show the real content of a text. I guess, I am one of them. Yet allow me to invite you to entertain ourselves and to let ourselves be marveled by how our Good God framed the Jubilee Year of 2000, with two Apostolic Exhortations. The Church in
I do not want to make this presentation an academic and theological investigation. That is the task of my fellow theologians. Rather, for our present purpose here, I simply want to offer some thoughts for our spiritual journey together during these days.
John Paul II liked to end his Apostolic Exhortations with a prayer offered to Mary. In such prayers we can see a summary of his thoughts expressed in that spirit of longing. From my perspective, based on the Ignatian spirituality, it is this longing that can assure us the presence and the work of God s spirit. In John Paul II s prayers offered to Mary, the petitions reflect deeper mysteries of such spiritual longing. John Paul II voiced our longings to God, through the intercession of Mary. That is the place where we want to go now. [Full texts of both prayers are attached at the back of this reflection].
Before we jump to the endings, let us take a look briefly at how John Paul II introduced his Apostolic Exhortations. It is shown in the formulations of the titles. The first one was about the Church in
We turn now to ourselves. The second Apostolic Exhortation was on
If we want to ask ourselves about the final destination of all our efforts in evangelization, John Paul II already gave a clear answer. Here are the two excerpts from his prayers:
For the Church in
[…] Pray that through the Church s love and service, all the peoples of
For the Church in
[…] Our Lady of Peace, in whom all storms grow still, pray at the dawn of the new millennium, that the Church in Oceania will not cease to show forth the glorious face of your Son, full of grace and truth, so that God will reign in the hearts of the Pacific peoples and they will find peace in the world s true Savior.
Regarding the Church in
In this regard, we need to understand that this mission of “calming” serves to sum up “walking in His way, telling Hid truth, living His life” that is mentioned in the title. The same thing can be found in the prayer. The mission of “calming” should be the evident proof that the Church in
The CCR in
More pressing needs
It seems to me that both documents show a striking contrast between the Church in
The Church in
In all evangelizing work, however, it is the complete truth of Jesus Christ which must be proclaimed. Emphasizing certain aspects of the inexhaustible mystery of Jesus is both legitimate and necessary in gradually introducing Christ to a person, but this cannot be allowed to compromise the integrity of the faith. In the end, a person s acceptance of the faith must be grounded on a sure understanding of the person of Jesus Christ, as presented by the Church in every time and place, the Lord of all who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Heb 13:8).
Here we may recall that part in the closing prayer that consists of John Paul II s ultimate dream that “all the peoples of
The sense of God and of his loving
Bringing back that sense of the sacred is one of the basic challenges of the Church in
Let us sum up. The task of the CCR in the evangelization in
Facing the rapid pentecostalization
Reflecting on our experiences in evangelization, we cannot but acknowledge that we are not the only ones who feel called for this effort. If we open our eyes to look around, we will immediately realize that along the road there are our brothers and sisters from the Pentecostal/Charismatic traditions who also give themselves for the evangelization. We may sometimes feel threatened by their zeal. Yes, they are really serious in evangelization. For our present purpose here, it seems appropriate to take a look on this phenomenon and try to learn something for our evangelization.
Vatican II concluded in 1965. That is, two years prior to the famous Duquesne Weekend that gave official birth to the CCR. Pentecostal David du Plessis was also invited as an observer in Vatican II. Since 1972 there have been dialogues between the Roman Catholic Church and Pentecostalism. The dialogues have gone through several stages (1972-1977, 1978-1982, 1985-1989, 1990-1997; the fifth stage began in 1998 and unfortunately resources on that stage are not yet available to me). It is the fourth stage which I want to focus on, since it deals precisely with the issues related to evangelization. The following topics were treated during that stage: Mission and Evangelization (1990), The Biblical and Systematic Foundation of Evangelization (1991), Evangelization and Culture (1992), Evangelization and Social Justice (1993), Proselytism (1994), and Common Witness (1995).
This is certainly not the place to talk about those highly theological discussions. However, it will be helpful if we just take a look on the issue of proselytism. In daily language we can talk about this in terms of “stealing sheep from other flock.”
For Roman Catholic Church, proselytism is always “a disrepectful, insensitive and uncharitable effort to transfer the allegiance of a Christian from one ecclesial body to another.” In this sense, proselytism includes “inappropriate attempts at conversion which violate the infividual s right to religious freedom and prevent him or her from making decision in freedom.” Therefore the Roman Catholic stresses that “witness must proceed from the Spirit of love, it must be concerned for the good of God and human beings, not for that of a single community, and it must leave the addressee with full freedom to make personal decision and so on.” In a stronger way everyone is invited to avoid at all costs “every kind of violence, moral constraint, pressure, using of material benefits, other kinds of inducements and so on.”
Our Pentecostal/Charismatic brothers and sisters understand themselves as inseparable from evangelization. For them, “evangelization is the self-understood raison d être of the Pentecostal Movement.” They act because they have sincere and holy desire for the salvation of other people, including the Roman Catholics. Their zeal for evangelization is “a result of Pentecostal understandings of ecclesiology, of spiritual discipline, of Christian discipleship, of fruit in the Christian life which points to the transformation which has taken place or is taking place in the one who claims to be Christian.” What can be suspected by the non-Pentecostals as proselytism is actually rooted in their sincere willingness to be faithful to the mission of evangelization entrusted by God.
For Pentecostals, baptism does not guarantee a person to live faithfully to God. It is only the road of discipleship and a conscious decision for Christ which will bring fruits. From this point of view, any baptized Christian who does not live up to their faith still needs to arrive at that commitment to Christ. Catholics who live unfaithfully to Christ is a right target for Pentecostal evangelization. More specifically, this is what they say about their evangelization:
Pentecostals have exchanged the initial message of renewal and power to the historic churches for a message of evangelization, in part, because the older churches have failed to recognize their original message of renewal and power as having any real legitimacy. The result is misunderstanding, ecclesial animosity, proselytism, frustration, and a compromised witness before the world.
I want to look at this as an invitation to look honestly at ourselves. The CCR does have a tremendous responsibility and special calling to respond to this global phenomenon. We need to thank God because the CCR was born yesterday, is living today, and growing to face what tomorrow can promise. The CCR needs to return humbly to the true “renewal” and “power” that can only come from God. We really need to look at the way we bring forward our evangelization. Do we still give the same truth that God has revealed and continues to reveal to us, or we simply powerlessly offer “a compromised witness before the world.”
Of course, we are not eager to steal each other s flock. Yet, this is a global phenomenanon and if we do not really pay attention to it, we will become like the rich man who ignores Lazarus. In this sense, Roman Catholics whose hearts or families have been torn apart by the departure of some of us to join the Pentecostals are also the poor of our time. This, I think, is true, for Asia, Oceania, and anywhere in the world. Furthermore, looking more closely, it is our young people who can be affected. To this point we need to turn now.