When a baptized Christian finally gives himself over to Christ fully and sincerely in faith, God is thus allowed, given permission, to work with divine love in his soul. The graces of baptism and the activities of the Holy Spirit are thus “realized.” The experience is a powerful “flourishing” or “unfolding” of the Holy Spirit in the person in which the gifts and fruits of the Spirit are unleashed.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
19 April 2018
Fr. Greg Bramlage and his team members from the Missionaries of the New Evangelization held charismatic prayer, worship, and healing services April 16–18, 2018, at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Grand Junction, CO. Each night opened with exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by healing testimony, energized praise, worship, and prayer, and closed with benediction and reposition of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. During the service each night, a number of physical and spiritual healings took place. It was an exciting and moving experience. Consequently, many people were drawn into a deeper personal union with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Although I didn’t notice anyone displaying obvious confusion, surprise or discomfort during the services, many Catholics are unfamiliar with the charismatic renewal movement in the Church and its passionate, emotionally-receptive and lively prayer, praise and worship characteristics. For some who prefer more traditional, silent and solemn worship, a charismatic spirituality can be somewhat of a surprise—shock might be the better word.
Tuesday evening focused on receiving an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The high-point of the service was when people lined up and came forward to the base of the altar where several team members laid hands on them and prayed on their behalf. The faithful were asked to repeat this prayer from the heart three times: “Lord Jesus, I surrender my life to you. Come, Holy Spirit.” After that, they were asked to simply stand, palms turned upward, and let God do his thing.
I’ve heard about these types of events, but until Tuesday evening had never witnessed one in person. People came forward. Some cried. Others shook, looking downward or upward toward the heavens. Others swooned back and forth, shifting their weight from foot to foot. Still others went numb and fell backward into the waiting arms of assistants who gently lowered them to the ground and placed a towel over their body. Some of these people laid on the floor for only a few minutes. Others stayed down for twenty or thirty. Some were smiling. All appeared to be in a state of deep peace and joy while the Holy Spirit went to work on them, filling their hearts with his incomprehensible and inexpressible love.
Everyone walked away changed.
Did I go forward? Of course. Did I go down? No. Did I experience the power of the Spirit of God? Absolutely. Praise be to Jesus Christ!
Baptism in the Spirit
People experienced what is often called “being baptized in the Spirit” or “baptism in the Spirit” or “unleashing of the Spirit” or “fresh anointing” or “fanning the flames.” While there are other descriptive terms people use, they all mean the same thing: they describe an experience characterized by a powerful, life-changing and life-renewing encounter with the Holy Spirit, who Christ sends to those who give themselves over to him in self-entrustment and love.
Many times Catholics question these kinds of activities. Others are suspicious of them. Many reject them as purely emotionally-driven fakery.
What is going on here, exactly? Here’s what’s not going on: It’s not another sacrament. It’s not another baptism. It’s not something contrived (although some people might fake it, obviously) or un-Christian or un-Catholic.
It’s not another baptism because a person can be baptized validly only once. The sacrament of baptism cannot be repeated because it’s permanent. There’s no undoing or redoing it, although some Protestants insist that a person needs to be “rebaptized” as an adult when they make a decision to “own” their faith for themselves. But that kind of thinking has never been sanctioned by the Church. It’s not biblical. It denies what the sacrament of baptism really does and is. It’s theologically incorrect.
When a person is validly baptized, he is configured to Christ, receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, and becomes a member of Christ’s physical body: the Church. It happens that way every time the sacrament is validly celebrated in faith, whether a person is an infant, teen, or an adult. In an emergency, anyone can baptize, in fact, provided they intend what the Church intends, use water (the matter of the sacrament) and the proper Trinitarian form (saying the words, “[Person’s name], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit).
This means that those people at the charismatic renewal service who experienced an unleashing of the Holy Spirit were not baptized again, nor were they baptized for the first time. These were Christians who were already baptized. But that doesn’t make what they experienced insignificant or uneventful—not by any means!
So, what’s going on?
“Baptism in the Spirit” is not a second baptism. It’s perhaps best to think of it as a “realization” or “unfolding” or “flowering” of the gift of the Spirit who has already been received into the person previously during the sacrament of baptism. It’s like a “release” of the graces of the Spirit which have lain dormant in the person since baptism due to a lack of a lively, devout, dedicated, and lived faith. Said another way, the graces of a valid baptism can remain latent, as a seed awaiting germination by virtue of love, in a person who has not made the faith their own by fully entrusting themselves to Christ. If a person is of tepid or cold faith, they can often block the living inspiration and activity of the Holy Spirit. God does not force himself on those who are uninterested in receiving his special gifts of divine love.
Here’s an explanation from Fr. Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household:
Catholic theology can help us understand how a sacrament can be valid and legal but “unreleased.” A sacrament is called “unreleased” if its fruit remains bound, or unused, because of the absence of certain conditions that further its efficacy. One extreme example would be the sacrament of marriage or of holy orders received while a person is in the state of mortal sin. In those cases, such sacraments cannot confer any grace on a person. If, however, the obstacle of sin is removed by repentance, the sacrament is said to revive (reviviscit) due to the faithfulness and irrevocability of the gift of God. God remains faithful even when we are unfaithful, because He cannot deny Himself (see 2 Timothy 2:13).
There are other cases in which a sacrament, while not being completely ineffective, is nevertheless not entirely released: It is not free to works its effects. In the case of baptism, what is it that causes the fruit of this sacrament to be held back?
Here we need to recall the classical doctrine about sacraments. Sacraments are not magic rites that act mechanically, without people’s knowledge or collaboration. Their efficacy is the result of a synergy, or collaboration, between divine omnipotence (that is, the grace of Christ and of the Holy Spirit) and free will. As Saint Augustine said, “He who created you without your consent will not save you without your cooperation.”
To put it more precisely, the fruit of the sacrament depends wholly on divine grace; however, this divine grace does not act without the “yes”—the consent and affirmation—of the person. This consent is more of a “conditio sine qua non” than a cause in its own right. God acts like the bridegroom, who does not impose his love by force but awaits the free consent of his bride….
In today’s situation, rarely, or never, do baptized people reach the point of proclaiming “in the Holy Spirit” that “Jesus is Lord!” And because they have not reached that point, everything in their Christian lives remains unfocused and immature. Miracles no longer happen. What happened with the people of Nazareth is being repeated: “Jesus was not able to do many miracles there because of their unbelief” (see Matthew 13:58) ….
The renewal in the Spirit [or baptism in the Spirit as a movement] is tied to the outpouring of the Spirit and what precedes it. Its efficacy at revivifying baptism consists in this: Finally a person is doing his or her part, making a decision of faith that is prepared through repentance. This allows the work of God to “be released” in all its power.¹
In other words, when a person finally gives himself over to Christ fully and sincerely in faith, God is thus allowed, given permission, to work in his soul. The graces of baptism and the activities of the Holy Spirit are thus “realized” or “unleashed.” The experience is a powerful “flourishing” or “firing” or “unfolding” of the Holy Spirit in the person in which the gifts and fruits of the Spirit are realized. The charismatic movement, with its associated praise, prayer and worship services, provide a receptive atmosphere in which this renewal in the Spirit can take place (which is not to relegate the supreme importance of the Mass in any way whatsoever). Everything depends on the grace of God and our free gift of self to Christ—something which is itself the work of and dependent upon God’s grace.
Charismatic renewal and Pope St. John Paul II
In his Speech for The World Congress, Pope St. John Paul II noted that the charismatic dimension of the Church constitutes one of her essential elements, and that the institutional and charismatic dimensions are co-essential. He can say this because the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, the source of her divine guidance, and the institutional structure of the Church is willed by God as necessary for governing the Church and maintaining her integrity. Each works together for the sanctification of the People of God and, in fact, the entire world:
Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history. This was the unforgettable experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council during which, under the guidance of the same Spirit, the Church rediscovered the charismatic dimension as one of her constitutive elements: “It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank…. He makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church” (Lumen gentium, n. 12).
The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church’s constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God’s People. It is from this providential rediscovery of the Church’s charismatic dimension that, before and after the Council, a remarkable pattern of growth has been established for ecclesial movements and new communities.
Today the Church rejoices at the renewed confirmation of the prophet Joel’s words which we have just heard: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17). You, present here, are the tangible proof of this “outpouring” of the Spirit. Each movement is different from the others, but they are all united in the same communion and for the same mission. Some charisms given by the Spirit burst in like an impetuous wind, which seizes people and carries them to new ways of missionary commitment to the radical service of the Gospel, by ceaslessly proclaiming the truths of faith, accepting the living stream of tradition as a gift and instilling in each person an ardent desire for holiness.
Today, I would like to cry out to all of you gathered here in St Peter’s Square and to all Christians: Open yourselves docilely to the gifts of the Spirit! Accept gratefully and obediently the charisms which the Spirit never ceases to bestow on us! Do not forget that every charism is given for the common good, that is, for the benefit of the whole Church.²
Lord Jesus, I surrender my life to you. Come, Holy Spirit.
If you’re living a life disconnected from the faith and have placed your life and faith in separate, distant categories as if one has little or nothing to do with the other, and thus lack a lively, personal and intimate relationship with Christ in which you possess the passionate love of his Spirit, it’s time to change. You’re missing out on the experience of the presence of God and his loving, life-renewing and life-changing Spirit whose delicate yet powerful embrace is to die for. Christ is waiting. His Spirit is prepared to make you into a new person.
Jesus wants to give himself to you. However, as St. Teresa of Avila noted, Christ will not give himself completely to you, unless you give yourself completely to him. This does not mean life in the ordinary or continuing on with old, familiar, sinful habits, allowing yourself to be governed by the self-deceptive and anti-gospel mindset of “I’m a good person and all good people get to go to heaven.”
Give yourself to Jesus, the Divine and Human King. Allow him to unleash the divine power of his Spirit in your soul. It’s the experience of a lifetime. Attend a charismatic renewal service with Fr. Greg and his team, if possible. If you’re open, if you’re ready to die to self and embrace uncreated Love, you’ll never be the same again. Nor would you ever want to be.
Zenit. Accessed 10 April, 2017. Available at: https://zenit.org/articles/father-cantalamessa-explains-why-baptism-in-the-spirit-is-a-gift-for-the-whole-church/
- Holy Father’s Speech for The World Congress of Ecclesial Movements And New Communities. Nos. 4-5. Available at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/laity/documents/rc_pc_laity_doc_27051998_movements-speech-hf_en.html
Photo Credit: Deacon Frederick Bartels. All rights reserved.
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This post was edited on 20 April 2018 to include information from John Paul II and Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.