50 Years of Renewal in the Holy Spirit

On the eve of Pentecost, a small group of pilgrims from across Wales kept vigil with Pope Francis. We weren’t on our own – we were with 40,000 other Catholics from around the world, who had heeded the Pope’s invitation to come to Rome especially for Pentecost. But why?

Charisms in the Life of the Church

At the first Pentecost, Our Lady, St Peter and the other Apostles experienced a powerful outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. They were filled with a new courage, enabling them to go into the public square and speak about Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that Peter and Paul laid hands on new disciples who responded by prophesying and praying in unlearned tongues. The new enthusiasm that these gifts brought caused some new Christians to be quite unruly in prayer meetings – St Paul dealt with this at length in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

For the first three hundred years of the Catholic Church, these gifts, together with various healing gifts, seem to have been quite common, but over the centuries they became rarer and were eventually seen as the hallmarks of truly exceptional saints, the likes of Catherine of Siena or Pio of Pietrelcina. At the close of the 19th century, however, an Italian nun, Blessed Elena Guerra, felt called to ask Pope Leo XIII to seek a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pope Leo not only used the Veni Creator at the opening of the new century, but wrote a number of encyclical letters on the Holy Spirit, and promoted the use of a novena of prayers on the nine days before Pentecost.

In the first decade of the 20th century, remarkable things occurred. On New Year’s Day 1901 – the very day on which Pope Leo had invoked the Holy Spirit over the worldwide church – a woman named Agnes Ozman asked her congregation to lay hands on her so she could become a missionary. There, in a tiny Protestant church in Topeka, Kansas, she was covered in the glory of the Holy Spirit, and found herself unable to speak or write English, only Chinese (which she had never learned), for three days! A world-famous revival took place in Wales in 1904, where several preachers found their words had unusual power to call people to church and turn away from sin – crime rates plummeted across our nation. Two years later, under the preaching of a minister trained in Topeka, the Azusa Street Mission in California experienced an outpouring similar to what we see described in the New Testament, and from that seed grew the networks of what we now call Pentecostal churches.

Another Pope, St John XXIII, called the world to pray anew for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in preparation for the Second Vatican Council. The Council closed in December 1965. Just over a year later, some Catholic students made a retreat in Pittsburgh, USA – and 50 years later, two of those students came to Rome to recall what happened next.

The Golden Jubilee Celebrations

David Mangan and Patti Gallagher Mansfield stand at a pulpitDavid Mangan and Patti Gallagher Mansfield were among a group of students making a retreat based on the Acts of the Apostles in February 1967. They were the most enthusiastic members when the leader proposed an act of renewing their confirmation; others were less keen. That evening, when they separately stepped into the chapel, they experienced the power of God’s presence so strongly that they were compelled to fall prostrate; soon, half the students on the retreat came to the chapel, and experienced the same powerful presence. Many prayed in tongues for the first time.

A third speaker on Friday night, Vinson Synon, represented worldwide Pentecostal churches, and spoke of his own journey of conversion from doubting that Catholics were really Christian through to being forced to accept that they had received the very same gifts known in Pentecostal churches for the past 60 years.

David, Patti and their fellow-students were not founders of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal; they were not personally responsible for spreading it to all the places where it quickly flourished. But they stood on a platform in Rome 50 years later as the first fruits of this vast current of grace poured out on Catholics around the world – and 40,000 Catholics from 128 nations rejoiced with them as representatives of what God had done.

The following afternoon, the participants gathered again at Circus Maximus – a location chosen personally by Pope Francis because so many early Christians had given their lives there as witnesses to Christ. This time, leaders from around the world spoke of how the Holy Spirit continued to change lives today – including a testimony from England’s Damian Stayne about the many healings experienced through the ministry of the Cor et Lumen Christi Community. Papal Preacher fra Raniero Cantalamessa reminded all present that Pentecost was a reversal of Babel – there, humanity rejoiced in its own creative power, but as Christians we acknowledge with gratitude the gifts that come from God. Pope Francis himself spoke of the importance of a “reconciled diversity” – the Spirit brings many gifts and we are to recognise, and rejoice, that other individuals and communities are also gifted by God for the work of the church.

The seeds of this great gathering were planted when, just a year after his election as Pope, Francis spoke to a gathering of Italian charismatics in the national stadium and said “I expect all of you, charismatics from around the world, to celebrate your great jubilee with the pope at Pentecost 2017 in St Peter’s Square!” And indeed, not only did the Pope come to the gathering at Circus Maximus, but 40,000 charismatic pilgrims went to St Peter’s for the Wednesday Audience and Mass on Pentecost Sunday.

What else should a Pentecost Jubilee event contain? We cannot require the Holy Spirit to work to our schedules, so inevitably there was a heavy focus on recognising what God has already done. The Friday evening vigil was largely recalling the history of how the Catholic Renewal began – with the pioneers now entering their 70s, this is perhaps the last major occasion where they will be able to testify in person. Saturday was an acknowledgement of our unity-in-diversity, including strong participation from non-Catholic leaders. The organisers commissioned a song contest and an art exhibition – and also offered a workshop on how to propose early pioneers of Renewal as candidates for beatification and sainthood! Many of the other workshops were filmed and can be viewed online.

The TransCambrian Pilgrims

Our small pilgrimage from Wales attended the larger events, but there was not room for all of us to attend the smaller venues, such as the first Mass at St Mary Major or the Ecumenical Congress on Friday morning. Apart from the scheduled events, we took the opportunity to visit venues that connected us with the experience of the early generations of Christian believers, to whom the power of the first Pentecost was still a living reality. On Friday morning we visited the Catacombs of St Priscilla – perhaps not the most famous catacombs in Rome, but the ones most accessible to the one member of our group who relied on a wheelchair.

We chose not to depart Rome hurriedly after Mass with Pope Francis on Pentecost Sunday; rather, on Monday morning we recalled how the first Christians met in house-churches by visiting the remains of such a church under the Basilica of Saints John and Paul (the martyrs named next to Cosmas and Damian in the First Eucharistic Prayer). Finally, we had our own experience of celebrating Mass in a small space, at the Chapel of St John in Oil – this marks the place where tradition has it that the Romans attempted to martyr St John the Apostle in boiling oil, but God miraculously preserved him. We took lunch at the Rosminian House at Porta Latina, mindful that Rosminian missionaries renewed the Catholic Church in South Wales at the end of the 19th Century, and continue to serve several Cardiff parishes today.

There are many ironies about this pilgrimage. Pope Francis invited us to join him at St Peter’s – but then sent us to Circus Maximus for the main events. We recalled St Peter’s sermon which was understood by all on the Day of Pentecost – but relied on FM radios for simultaneous translation at the two main events. We celebrated the Holy Spirit’s charisms of healing – but ensured that the pilgrimage would be accessible for anyone using a wheelchair. We were called to celebrate our “unity in diversity” – but worldwide Catholic Charismatics are still working on merging their two representative bodies, ICCRS and the Catholic Fraternity, into one. Pentecost is the third great feast of the Christian year, but unlike Easter and Christmas has no “tide” of its own. Yet the season for living out Pentecost exists! It is called “Ordinary Time” – but one where Christians are called to use extraordinary charisms for the building up of the Church. And these gifts are not meant to be brought together in Rome, but spread to the ends of the earth. Veni Sancti Spiritus! Come, Holy Spirit, come! Dewch, Ysbryd Glân, dewch!

Behold, I do a new thing!

CCRW-roundel

Homily given at morning Mass at the Revival Weekend Conference run by the National Service Committee for Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Wales. (The Gospel of the day was the Parable of the Talents.)

Today, 31st August, the Catholic Church in England has the option of celebrating “Saint Aidan and all the Saints of Lindisfarne”. I’m going to borrow that feast for use in Wales as a celebration not only of Lindisfarne but of all our Celtic saints.

Lindisfarne is an island off the coast of Northumbria, where St Aidan founded a monastery at the invitation of the local king, Oswald, in the year 635. The Celtic monks often chose islands for their monasteries; they did so in Wales, at Caldey Island in the south and Ynys Enlli – Bardsey Island – the “island of  twenty-thousand saints” in the North. In those days, the first calling of monks was to live lives set apart for prayer, and these remote locations protected the privacy, and hence the rhythm of prayer, for the monks who lived there. When not located on islands, monasteries were often placed deliberately in remote locations. Even so, people came, seeking spiritual guidance, medical advice or education; and the monks offered hospitality to those who came. Some became centres of learning, and the monastery at Llantwit Major became as renowned in Europe as Oxford and Cambridge are today.

It was part of the rhythm of Welsh life that people WENT TO monasteries. They were places of safety, learning and spirituality. Under the guidance of saints like Cadoc and Illtud, Dyfrig and David, they flourished throughout the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries. After 1066, Wales was populated by Cistercian monks, more connected to Rome than the earlier Celtic monasteries, but again, sited in remote locations like Strata Florida.

But then Wales changed. More and more people were living in towns, distant from the monasteries. Something new was needed.

That something new came in the form of the friars, religious orders whose members were called to move from place to place.

Dominicans specialised in preaching; they were present all over Wales, including Cardiff, Brecon and Bangor.

Franciscans specialised in serving the poor, and did so in Cardiff and Anglesey, and even here in Carmarthen.

Carmelites, originally hermits uprooted from their settlement in the Holy Land by the evershifting politics of the Middle East, came to Britain spreading a deep calling to a life of prayer, and founded a friary in Denbigh.

Although the houses founded by these orders were fixed locations – urban locations – different friars came and went, bringing their particular gifts. Through their ministry God’s Word, a new openness to prayer, and charity-in-action were brought to towns, and the townsfolk were blessed. Those who would never have dreamed of travelling to a rural monastery were now able to encounter the Gospel in word and in action.

We are gathered for this weekend’s conference under the title Behold, I do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). Last night Derek spoke about how the “new thing” in Isaiah’s writing differs from the old.

The old blessing given was when the Israelites passed out of Egypt and took possession of the promised land, on the safe side of the River Jordan. They were a closed-in community. Marriages with strange tribes were discouraged. If foreigners did want to join the community and worship the God of Israel, this was possible, but not something the Israelites went out of their way to promote.

But Isaiah’s new thing was a prophecy of rivers in the wilderness.

What does this tell us about charismatic renewal in Wales?

Last month, in Lampeter, I attended a gathering of about 200 church leaders, as part of the New Wine Cymru network. They were mostly Anglicans or independent church leaders, and they came from all over Wales, not just the big cities, but many of the small villages too. What they all shared in common was a hunger to see Wales blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Some New Wine leaders shared prophecies they had received about Wales. There said that in the past, there had been a season of blessings which were mainly for the churches. But God was about to release a season of blessings when God’s glory and healing power would stream out of the churches and affect people on the streets. The new wave of blessing is for the whole nation.

In our Catholic experience, we know there was a time when prayer groups were strong and the Carmarthen conference attracted around 400 people. We were like Israel, rejoicing to find ourselves in the promised land; we used the gifts to bless each other within the prayer groups, rather than taking them out to the wider community. Once we had formed groups of people who enjoyed each other’s company, newcomers could find their way in if they really wanted to, but we stopped going out of our way to invite new people in. The Spirit’s gifts were rarely used outside Prayer Groups, Conferences, or Days of Renewal. That wave of blessing has faded and now our prayer groups, where they still exist, are mostly shadows of their former selves.

Isaiah’s “new thing” is meant to be streams of water in the desert. What is the desert, if not the secularised people of Wales today? What are the streams of living water, if not the blessings which God has in store for them? Dare we hope that God is going to pour out healings and prophetic upbuilding on the whole population of Wales, those who never darken the door of a church?

Yes, God can do this!

But how will God do this?

It is not usually God’s way to appear to non-believers in a dream or a vision, to convert them unaided. Yes, God can do that – but he normally appears to them in the form of his body. That’s us!

The Bible leaves us in no doubt that as followers of Jesus, we are called to be filled with the Spirit to do the same works that he did – indeed, even greater things!

Today’s Gospel tells us that God has high expectations. If God has entrusted a gift to us, he expects us to use it. I would go so far as to say that if you’ve had the gift of tongues but hardly used it in your personal prayer, you have let God down. If you’ve known someone who is unwell, but not offered to pray with them for healing, you have let God down. If you know someone who has need of being built up, but you’ve not asked God to inspire a word to share with them, you have let God down. You do not want to find yourself keeping company with the “wicked and lazy servant” who kept God’s gift safe and unused. Yes, trading the sum entrusted to you is a risky business, but it’s what God expects us to do. If God doesn’t deliver the profit we’d like, that’s God’s responsibility. If we haven’t tried, that’s ours.

Am I not being a little harsh? If the Lord’s warning in the Bible is too much for you, try the Church’s teaching, from paragraph 3 of Apostolicam Actuositatem:

The Holy Spirit … gives the faithful special gifts also “allotting them to everyone according as He wills” …  From the acceptance of these charisms, including those which are more elementary, there arise for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church…

You have the RIGHT to use the gifts God has given you.

You have a DUTY to use the gifts God has given you.

And here’s the good news: if you haven’t been doing this – indeed, if you feel your fruitfulness in the gifts has faded because you haven’t made good use of them – no less an authority than St Thomas Aquinas teaches us that as soon as we repent through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God restores us to a place with all the gifts and graces which we had before we sinned. If we, here and now, today, truly repent of keeping the Gifts of the Spirit for ourselves in our prayer groups, God can restore all the gifts to us with the power we once knew. But God expects us to step out and start trading with them, trading our willingness to look foolish, for the healing and salvation of Wales.

(At this point I told a story about how I came to give this talk last year in its final format – I was in two minds whether to include the section on healing, but the healing miracles of Jesus were such a core part of the Gospels I felt I had to include them in any talk on the Basic Gospel Message, even though the Bishops’ brief was to focus on John 3:16. At last year’s New Wine Conference, I was called out in a prophecy workshop and was given the message – by someone who knew nothing of my dilemma about how to focus my talk – that God was saying “stand up in front of bishops and say what you know to be right”.)

Would you like to see people in your town healed by Jesus?

If they just woke up healed one morning, would they know it was Jesus who had done it?

If a Christian prayed with them for healing and it happened, would they know it was Jesus who had done it?

Ah… so which Christians in your town would be the people doing that?

How do you know if you’ve got a gift of healing or not?

Well, you could try praying with a few willing people and seeing if they get healed.

It might not work. Don’t panic! A pastor called John Wimber reached the same conclusion, that faithfulness to God required us to pray for people to be healed. He spent 6 months praying for healing at the end of all his Sunday church services, with no success. Then he got one. Then the floodgates opened! His faithfulness led to the founding of the Vineyard churches in 1982.

We are not only called to bring healing, but to bring the prophetic word.

Would you like to see people in your town receive a word from God which builds them up and restores their faith? Yes?

Who is going to speak that word to them?

Andy can’t do it – he’s in Cornwall.

Derek can’t do it – he’s in Lincoln.

What about you?

Don’t you know that Scripture says that you should “eagerly desire the gift of prophecy”?

Don’t you wake up every morning, bounce out of bed, and pray: “Lord, I’m desperate that you should give me a word today so I can bless someone else?” Don’t you? So you aren’t eagerly desiring the gift of prophecy. Hmmm… room for deeper conversion.

Two years ago, I spoke to about 200 members of the Monaghan County Prayer Group gathered at Knock. On the last day I challenged them to be open to God’s prophetic word, and asked them to pair up and pray silently for two minutes, asking God to show them what to pray for, for their random partner. Then they were asked to share with their partner what they had prayed about. At least half the people present felt God had inspired a very relevant prayer!

In preparing for this conference, our leaders have received Words were given for Wales. There are too many to read out here and now, but they accord with words that Anglican and independent Church leaders in Wales have received recently. And did you know that a charismatic church in Llanelli has just completed 7 years of prayer that God would unblock the wellsprings in Wales so the nation can experience a new outpouring?

If you have the gift of tongues, you have a duty to use it to build up worship.

If you have any prophetic gift, you have a duty to use it to bless your parish and your neighbour.

If you have any gift of healings, likewise.

Friends, the age of prayer groups is over. The age of support cells for people ministering to the lost sheep of Wales is just beginning. Today we celebrate how God blessed Celtic nations in the past with island monasteries, centres of holiness and learning. Tomorrow we must return home willing to bear God’s gifts to the streets and villages where we live.

I can’t tell you how God is going to use you. Two things I do know – that “Jesus heals today” is the most powerful part of our Gospel message, and that we are eagerly to desire the gift of prophecy. We are not worthy of the Spirit’s gifts – that’s what makes them gifts. It is because we are ordinary people, weak in the eyes of the world, that we in Wales can be used by God to bless the three million people who dwell in Wales today. We must become, for Wales, the missionaries of the Holy Spirit. Today, the Lord is going to give to you, or restore in you, many gifts which he can use to bring Revival to Wales. Make no mistake – the stakes are high! Choose to make good use of these gifts, use them to bless others, and God will say to you, “Come and share in your master’s happiness!”. You will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the word of life.