by Nikol Baldacchino
On January 23, 1959, Pope John XXIII, announcing his plans to convey the Second Vatican Council II, prayed that the windows of the Church be opened to Gods breath. He desired that a holy wind would sweep away deadness and release a new and refreshing renewal. Nearly thirty years later, in 1986, his successor Pope John Paul II issued an encyclical called, On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World, in which he urged all Christians to be attentive to the Spirit as they prepare to enter the third Christian millennium. He wrote:
"The Churchs mind and heart turn to the Holy Spirit as this twentieth century draws to a close and the third millennium since the coming of Jesus Christ into the world approaches and as we look toward the Great Jubilee with which the Church will celebrate the event."
In his document Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Pope issued a plan as a preparation for the celebration of this great jubilee. He desires that the year 1998 will be dedicated in a particular way to the Holy Spirit and to His sanctifying presence within the community of Christs disciples. This preparation includes "a renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Spirit, who acts within the Church both in the Sacraments and in the variety of charisms, roles and ministries" and "as the One who is the principal agent of the new evangelization."
I believe that during this year, the Charismatic Renewal can contribute immensely so that the Popes vision for the coming year will become a reality. In the San Francisco Archdiocese, for example, Charismatic prayer group leaders are working in the Renew 2000 program helping to establish small faith sharing communities in all parishes.
The Charismatic Renewal is in many ways much like other reform movements that took place in the long history of the Church and which are taking place today. It emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a personal piety which grows from that relationship, an emphasis on prayer, worship, a deeper sense of community, a renewed celebration of the Sacraments, and an evangelistic fervor.
Yet there is one important difference. The Charismatic Renewal has paid close attention to the Holy Spirit, His life and mission to the Christian and to the whole Church. It has helped put matters of the Holy Spirit back into the forefront in the lives of day-to-day Christians. It is a key force that is bringing back the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit to the clergy and laity alike.
One has to note regretfully that for many Christians, the Holy Spirit is still a "hidden God", the least known person of the Holy Trinity. He means next to nothing to the average Christian. Of course, we all know that there are three persons in God, but has the reality of the Holy Spirit gone beyond the realm of a mere abstraction of our Christian faith? Are we indeed aware of the Holy Spirit as a person, of His presence and actions, as were the first Christians? And what about the gifts of the Holy Spirit given by God for the upbuilding of the body of believers? Where is the manifestation of these "power tools" in the life of the parishes, Catholic associations, ministries, and the like?
Someone made the remark that "if God were to take the Holy Spirit out of our midst today, about ninety-five per cent of what we are doing in our Church would go on, and we would not know the difference. Yet if God had taken the Holy Spirit out of the midst of the first Christian community, about ninety-five per cent of what they were doing would have ceased immediately."
Unfortunately, many still regard the Church as the Body of Christ to which the Spirit is added as a helper. The fact is that Christ did not first establish the Church and then added the Spirit. The Spirits role is not a secondary role. As Jesus was conceived by the Spirit in the womb of Mary and empowered for mission in baptism, so the Church is born and empowered by the Spirit. The same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus empowers Christs disciples to be instruments of salvation. We cannot live out of our own natural and human resources. We need the power of the indwelling Spirit, which breathes, strengthens, inspires and guides.
John Paul II so often speaks about the "new evangelization". This ought to prepare the men and women of the Year 2000 for the rediscovery of Christ and help them accept Him as their personal Lord and Savior. This mission cannot stop with conventions, publications, the organization of seminars, etc. That of which the Church has absolute need is not more documents, more conferences, important as these may be, but a new Pentecost, a new effusion of the Spirit. Only if we, who are the living stones of the Church, are full of the Holy Spirit, will we be able to give Christ to others.
In this perspective it is urgent that we who have experienced this effusion through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, continue to stress His importance for the life of the Church and continue to invoke the coming of His Presence.
As we gather this Pentecost, let us say: "Welcome, Holy Spirit, come and make us aware of your blessed Nearness! Let each one be immersed in your love. Let our souls glow with your fire. Help us overcome our forgetfulness of your presence. Open our hearts to receive more and more of your abundant gifts."
Nikol Baldacchino represents Malta on the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services Council. ©1998 ICCRS Newsletter, Vatican City. Reprinted with permission May 1998,in The San Francisco Chrismatics (ISSN 1098-4046) and on sfSpirit.com