The late Cardinal Suenens, one of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, said the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is not a “movement” in the usual sense of the word, but it is a “current of grace.” Cardinal Suenens saw the Charismatic Renewal as a rekindling of the Holy Spirit for all members of the Church. In his view, it wasn’t so much that people become a part of the ‘Renewal’ movement, as much as that renewal becomes a part of them, if they accept the grace it offers them.
That grace has come to be known in many parts of the world as ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit.’ While some people are skeptical of this phenomenon, this grace has demonstrated how it has been playing a powerful role in the revival and new evangelization efforts of the Catholic Church.
Regardless of what some critics may say, I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t gone through the experience to get out there and seek it wholeheartedly. To say it transforms your life is an understatement. Despite being baptized in the Holy Spirit over a decade ago, I continue to drink deeply of its graces. It has led me to discover the richness and beauty of my Catholic faith in a whole new way and has ignited an ever-growing passion deep in my soul to serve the Lord.
But don’t take my word for it. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the foundation and common thread of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which in the 50 years of its existence, has touched the lives of over 120 million Catholics in more than 200 countries. Back in 2004, Pope John Paul II said, “Thanks to the Charismatic Movement, a multitude of Christians, men and women, young people and adults have rediscovered Pentecost as a living reality in their daily lives.” Baptism in the Holy Spirit is offering hope to many parts of the world where the Church has been declining, in particular since the experience draws many young people back to the Church by giving them a zeal for holiness in their lives.
To be clear, baptism in the Holy Spirit is not a sacrament, but is believed to be related to the sacraments. It is a sovereign action of God, which usually occurs when someone with a disposition of surrender and docility, prays for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in his or her life. Many Catholic scholars have attempted to explain the baptism in the Holy Spirit and have come up with different theological interpretations. The predominant one is that a baptism in the Holy Spirit unleashes the Holy Spirit that is already present within us, by revitalizing the graces we received in the sacrament of Baptism.
This is how Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal Household explains it: Catholic theology recognizes the concept of a valid, but ‘bound’ sacrament. A sacrament is called “bound” if the fruits that accompany it remain bound on account of certain blocks that hinder its effectiveness. The effectiveness of the sacrament is the result of a cooperation between the grace of the Holy Spirit and human freedom. God pours out the grace of the sacrament in our lives, but the full actualization of our Baptism comes about only through our own personal “yes,” our response of faith, to His divine grace.
Yet, many people remain skeptical of this phenomenon, mostly because they (rightly) believe they have already received the Holy Spirit on the day of their Baptism. Any allusion that seems to take away from that isn’t received well. However, baptism in the Holy Spirit doesn’t oppose or dilute any Catholic teaching on the sacraments.
There is no dispute about the effects of receiving the sacrament of Baptism, in particular the forgiveness of sins, the conferring of divine sonship, and becoming a member of the Body of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. Yet, through ways we may not fully understand, these spiritual realities are manifested in a powerful way in our day-to-day lived realities following a baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is as though the gifts from God that we receive in the sacrament of Baptism are ‘unbound’ through a baptism in the Holy Spirit, allowing the Holy Spirit to burst forth and flow throughout our lives.
In order that we recall the beauty of our Baptism, Pope Benedict XVI urged all Christians to be open to the gifts of the Spirit: “Let us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit; let us be aware again of our Baptism and of our Confirmation, sources of grace that are always present.”
And Christian lives are indeed being renewed by giving the Holy Spirit permission to flow freely. Following a baptism in the Holy Spirit, people are moved from just knowing about Jesus, to actually knowing Him more personally and intimately. All who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit testify that the experience brought them to a new awareness of the reality and presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. They felt a new hunger for the Word of God, the Sacraments and were filled with a renewed desire for holiness. The baptism in the Holy Spirit also plays a huge role in the New Evangelization because it leads to people falling deeper in love with the Church. It fosters in them a desire to witness to their faith and to testify about the way the Lord is changing their lives.
So, if you’re looking to recharge your spiritual batteries, don’t be afraid to open your mind and heart to being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Though not necessarily the only way, this experience is often attained at programs called ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminars. If you don’t find one at your local parish, ask around. Or simply ask members at a local charismatic prayer group to pray for you to receive this grace. This usually involves people laying their hands on you and praying for the Holy Spirit to come alive in you.
As renowned Catholic scholar Fr. Kilian McDonnell once said, “Whether the release of the Spirit is due to an awakening of sacramental grace or merely the fruit of prayer, the important thing is to let it happen.”
And that is perhaps the key to overcoming any doubts or obstacles one may feel towards asking for a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Let it happen. In the words of Fr. Cantalamessa, “I had two lives; one before the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and one after.”