Pope Francis went to a Football Stadium in Rome last week, and met 50,000 Italians. You might think they were all there to watch a game of football; after all, the Pope along with most Italians does love the game – although he will be supporting a different team from them in the World Cup. But no, those 50,000 Italian Catholics were actually all there to pray, and specifically to be open to the power of God the Holy Spirit in their lives. They are part of a movement in the Church called Charismatic Renewal.
“Oh dear” I hear some of you say, “Those are the happy-clappies, aren’t they – waving their hands in the air and getting all emotional – embarrassing!” Yes in speaking to them, the Pope said that at first he too was deeply suspicious of ‘charismatics”, as they are called, but that he came to realize their value to the Church, because the movement they belong to, at is best and guided by the teaching of the Church, concentrates on reminding the Church of how powerfully the Holy Spirit can work in us if we open ourselves to that power.
The word “charismatic” comes from our 2nd Reading today. (1 Cor 12:3-13) Paul writes in Greek, of course, and in Greek our word “Gift” – “There are a variety of gifts.” – is the word “charism”. Like the Pope, and maybe some of you, I too got involved in this Renewal many years ago, because I recognized that we all need to discover, or rediscover, the truth, that when the Holy Spirit works in us, we must realize that it may enable us to do or say things that take us beyond where we are in our ordinary lives. A bit of me remains deeply sceptical of something that encourages too much emotion in people; but like the apostles at Pentecost as in our 1st Reading (Acts 2:1-11), we may all find times in our lives when the right amount of power applied by God more to our emotional side than our rational side, can be, as St Paul says, “for a good purpose”
For me, the Charisms, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that I have been most aware of, are the Gift of Healing, and the Gift of Knowledge. I have quite often shared with you the few moments in my life when my very ordinary and everyday work as a priest, of praying for someone who is ill, has produced amazing and unexpected results. You too may have heard of such things happening, not least at places of pilgrimage like Lourdes.
This is why I offer times of healing after Sunday Mass in Eynsham twice a year, and why, I assume, so many come forward. Mostly, this just brings a sense of comfort and support, but sometimes it can do something more spectacular. The way healing works in us humans is never just physical, as all the best doctors and nurses realize. So the healing power of God works not just through all the great medical advances of the last 100 years, but is also partly a less understood work in our hearts and minds. It is important to realize that God is at work in all aspects of the healing process, and to be open to this.
The other Gift is what is called the Gift of Knowledge. This is knowledge of God, of his presence and power and guidance in our lives. Again, this is something that I used to be very sceptical about, thinking that I should work out what to do next with the rational part of my mind, but again I have gradually become aware that using my intuition in a God-inspired way must be part of that process.
Both these things can attract people who just want to impress others and/or make money out of us. This was true in biblical times and is also true today. That’s why St Paul says it must all be done “for a good purpose.” The ways God as Holy Spirit works in us can be very mysterious, but the fruits of the Spirit must be there too – as St Paul says (Gal 5:22-23) they are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Let us always – “Think on these things.” (Phil 4:8)