29 October 2008

Beware of Spiritual Arrogance

Those of us who take our Christian faith seriously can easily fall into elitism. That is, an attitude that we are somehow more enlightened or holier than the "average" Christian.

During Apostolic times the Jewish Christians looked down on the gentile believers. When new religious orders appeared on the scene they met resistance: consider the opposition faced by St. Francis, St. John of the Cross, or the Jesuits. Though these are examples of the establishment opposing change, our saints could easily have judged others as being less spiritual for not understanding them. But they didn't.

I bring up all this because I occasionally run across folks in the Charismatic Renewal who consider the "regular" Catholic to be inferior. They often ignore anything that doesn't come from a Charismatic source. "How could someone who hasn't been 'baptized in the Holy Spirit' have anything worthwhile to say?"

This attitude was common in the early days of the Renewal, not just among Catholics, but Protestant Charismatics as well. Prayer groups became islands where the "enlightened" gathered. Some left their churches and ended up in established Pentecostal congregations. I think that this attitude contributed to the stagnation of many prayer groups and the disappearance of others.

If we tell people that they need the baptism in the Holy Spirit because their current experience with God isn't good enough they'll close themselves off. Just because someone is uncomfortable with the gift of tongues, prefers traditional forms of worship, or quiet prayer does not make them inferior. The pious little old lady sitting quietly in Mass every day may have more of the Spirit in her big toe than my entire prayer group put together!

An emotional experience like the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not required in order to have spiritual gifts. A confessor can have the gifts of knowledge or wisdom even if he doesn't speak in tongues. God supplies each of us with gifts for the building up of the Church and the only requirement is our openness to the Holy Spirit.

At confirmation every Catholic experiences their personal Pentecost. Wouldn't it be cool if those being confirmed spoke in tongues when the Bishop blessed them! But, alas, they don't. Does this mean nothing happened? Of course not.

I am thankful to be in a parish that is officially Charismatic with an active prayer group. We sing in the Spirit during portions of the Mass. Our worship is upbeat and lively. Our prayer group is active and attended by young and old. I wish that all Catholic parishes were like mine, but that doesn't mean mine is "better".

We must love our brothers and sisters and appreciate their gifts. We must recognize that the Holy Spirit dwells in all Catholics and pray that they open themselves to more and more of His blessings. And finally, we must humble ourselves and admit that there is still more that we lack no matter how Charismatic we happen to be.

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