Voices Online Edition
Volume XIII, No. 4
A Renewed Pentecost
Catholic Movements called to "A New Dynamism"
By Sheila Gribben Liaugminas
"It is as though what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago were being repeated this evening in this square, the heart of the Christian world."
Pope John Paul II , May 30, 1998 - Eve of Pentecost
It was stunning. Peter and the Apostles in the upper room, awaiting the Holy Spirit. Pope John Paul II, the Vicar of Christ, and modern day apostles, half a million strong, gathered in St. Peter's Square on the Vigil of Pentecost 1998, the year of the Holy Spirit.
Half a million faithful, zealous Catholics singing, chanting, clapping. From the rooftop of St. Peter's, my family beheld with awe this sea of humanity as they joyfully waved thousands of colorful scarves and waited for the Successor of Peter to speak, and to call down upon them the fire of the Holy Spirit that they obviously were already receiving. The air was both still and charged. "The Holy Spirit is here with us!" the Holy Father exclaimed. "It is He who is the soul of this marvelous event of ecclesial communion."
This event was historic in its plan and scope. The pope had called the many Church movements and ecclesiastical communities to come together for the first time in Rome for Pentecost in the year of the Holy Spirit.
Why? Because he sees their existence as a manifestation of the Spirit's work of renewal begun in the Second Vatican Council, and the time has come for them to reach maturity under the direction of the Church. These groups are, individually, already faithful to Church teachings and traditions, and they have a strong love for and commitment to serving the Holy Father. But they have always operated independently of one another, and sometimes in tension, adding unfortunately (and unnecessarily, as the pope sees it) to the divisiveness already plaguing the Church.
Much of that division is the result of the misinterpretation, distortion and abuse of what Vatican II actually said. But the Holy Father believes that, through the Spirit, the Council also spawned these new movements, for nothing less than to "renew the face of the earth", and now it's time to send them forth on the mission to which they were called.
My family just happened to be there at this event, on our own, by the sheer hand of Providence. Never in my twenty-some year career as a journalist have I witnessed anything like this. It felt like the rebirth of the Church. All day, all over Rome, from all directions, the multitudes just swarmed toward St. Peter's Square in great masses, usually singing and waving flags. By late afternoon, the world had come to the Vatican, and the very sight and sound and energy of it was glorious. At one point, I thought of the Transfiguration, and like Saint Peter, I wanted to just pitch a tent and stay there forever. This was the Church the way she should be, the way she probably was in her first days, and who wanted to go back to the trenches after this?
But that was exactly the mission Pope John Paul gave this gathering. And he wanted them to understand what renewal Vatican II had actually called for, so they could be agents for such change, witnesses to such truths, in their own countries and towns and parishes. This day would be the start of this new missionary effort, because the Holy Spirit "bursts out at Pentecost to extend the mission of Christ the Lord in time and space," the pope told a hushed and fervent audience. "With the Second Vatican Council, the Comforter recently gave the Church ... a renewed Pentecost, instilling a new and unforeseen dynamism".
Dynamism. How many lay Catholics would have chosen that word to describe the "fruits of Vatican II" we so often hear invoked (usually as an excuse for some questionable departure from traditional worship)? How many people in the Square that day, I wondered, realized that Vatican II brought the Church a new dynamism?! But they would learn that from the pope's instruction that day, and they were as rapt an assembly of "students" as one imagines the crowd on the mount was while listening to Christ's sermon. Everywhere I looked, the mostly young people were deeply engrossed in the address of the pope, gazing intently at him or leaning over transistor radios to hear a translation of his words. They were riveted.
"Whenever the Spirit intervenes, He leaves people astonished", the Holy Father continued. "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 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".
More than 50 groups were represented at this event, among them L'Arche Communities, Communion and Liberation, Neocatechumenal Way, Regnum Christi, Focolare, Charismatic Renewal. And in their relatively young existence, many or most of them have been involved, somehow at some point, in "uneasiness and tensions ... presumptions and excesses ... numerous prejudices and reservations" in the Church, the Holy Father acknowledged. But he called that a "testing period" for their fidelity, and challenged them to be united in faith and purpose.
"The Church expects from you", he declared, "the mature fruits of communion and commitment". And then he gave them their mission.
The world, said Pope John Paul, is dominated by "a secularized culture which encourages and promotes models of life without God", returning to one of his most persistent issues in preparing for the millennium. "Thus we see an urgent need for powerful proclamation and solid, in-depth Christian formation".
He acknowledged that these members of movements and ecclesial communities represented "wonderful Christian families ... true domestic churches", and said that "many vocations to the ministerial priesthood and the religious life have blossomed" as a result of their charisms and faithfulness. So they are the natural missionaries to send out, "ceaselessly proclaiming the truths of faith, accepting the living stream of tradition as a gift and instilling in each person an ardent desire for holiness".
Perhaps the best place to start (as one assumes they already have) is in each local parish, where the "living stream of tradition" is not always seen as a gift, and the "truths of faith" may be seen by some as negotiable, or relative. This, in spite of the fact that the Vatican II fathers repeatedly referred to the need for faithful obedience to tradition in bringing about reforms, and that they extensively examined the call to holiness and detailed the means for anyone in any state in life to achieve it.
But Vatican II also spawned the renewal of the Church by the lay faithful, and Pope John Paul called these groups before him at Pentecost to assign them that work. "There is great need for living Christian communities!" he told them. "And here are the movements and the new ecclesial communities: they are the response, given by the Holy Spirit to this critical challenge at the end of the millennium".
In recognizing that these movements reflect the charisms given by the Holy Spirit, the pope pointed out that "true charisms cannot but aim at the encounter with Christ in the sacraments". And this is the vital point not to be missed in this discussion of the movements, because it brings it all back to the liturgy.
"Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church's whole apostolate", states the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People. "Clearly then, the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ... This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the liturgy" (AA §4).
Indeed, not only does participation in the liturgy nourish and prepare the laity spiritually for their apostolate, but participation in good apostolic works strengthens the sacramental life as well, as Pope John Paul noted. "The ecclesial realities to which you belong have helped you to rediscover your baptismal vocation, to appreciate the gifts of the Spirit received at Confirmation, to entrust yourselves to God's forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation and to recognize the Eucharist as the source and summit of all Christian life", he told the throng.
Here, again, he reinforces the Vatican II decree on lay apostolate, which states: "Charity, which is, as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate, is given to them and nourished in them by the sacraments, the Eucharist above all" (AA no. 3). And in the Vatican II document Eucharisticum Mysterium, or the Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, the Council fathers decreed that "no Christian community can be built up unless it has as its basis and pivot the celebration of the holy Eucharist. It is from this therefore that any attempt to form a community must begin".
So it is no wonder that Eucharistic Adoration and Celebration are so central to the life of these apostolates. And that, as a result, they are gathered here in a monumental, historical show of unity and missionary zeal before the pope, having grown in number, strength and maturity. These are the real fruits of Vatican II. And they are virtually promised by that Council in -- among other places -- Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. "The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows", states this decree on the restoration of the sacred liturgy. "The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ's insistent love".
And this was a crowd aflame. It is a fire that will be sustained within the movements by their individual leaders, no doubt, but one that nonetheless must be contained and directed by the hierarchy of the Church. Vatican II re-established and decreed in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, that "the Church is hierarchical" and as such will preside over all matters that affect the faithful.
"In the confusion that reigns in the world today, it is so easy to err, to give in to illusions", Pope John Paul instructed the movements, guiding their zeal toward safe shepherding. He then invoked Lumen Gentium in calling these movements to submission to the Church's authority and direction. "The Council wrote in clear words: 'Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good,' (LG §12). This is the necessary guarantee that you are taking the right road!"
He asked the movements to faithfully follow the guidance of the Church "with generosity and humility" in practicing their particular charisms in their local Churches and parishes. "May this element of trusting obedience to the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, in communion with the Successor of Peter never be lacking in the Christian formation provided by your movements!" As Vatican II so explicitly described in Lumen Gentium, this relationship between the lay faithful and their pastors and Bishops will, when carried out obediently by all, restore the temporal order. It states: "The sense of their own responsibility is strengthened in the laity, their zeal is encouraged, they are more ready to unite their energies to the work of their pastors. The latter, helped by the experience of the laity, are in a position to judge more clearly and more appropriately in spiritual as well as in temporal matters. Strengthened by all her members, the Church can thus more effectively fulfil her mission for the life of the world". (LG §37).
St. Peter's Square
At this Pentecost gathering, Pope John Paul, with great solemnity, beseeched the Holy Spirit to renew in these movements the mission set upon the apostles at that first Pentecost. "Today, from this upper room in St. Peter's Square, a great prayer rises: Come, Holy Spirit, come and renew the face of the earth! Come with your seven gifts! Come, Spirit of Life, Spirit of Communion and Love! The Church and the world need you. Come, Holy Spirit, and make ever more fruitful the charisms you have bestowed on us. Give new strength and missionary zeal to these sons and daughters of yours who have gathered here....Strengthen their love and their fidelity to the Church".
Then the Holy Father urged the gathering to recall the model of "Mary, Christ's first disciple, Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Mother of the Church, who was with the apostles at the first Pentecost, so that she will help us to learn from her fiat docility to the voice of the Spirit".
Docility and obedience, submission to the Magisterium, these are lessons Pope John Paul is directing not just at the movements, but to the whole universal Church through this address to the movements. He is invoking Vatican II, its call for renewal of the sacred liturgy and its teaching about holiness through participation in the sacraments to reach beyond the movements, which he is here setting on the right path. He is reaching out for the whole Church to realize the dynamism that the Council really did instill in her, a dynamism that he refers to as "unforeseen" but which has, in the last 30 years, been largely unseen. But so, too, has the quietly emerging and growing movements and ecclesial communities, which Pope John Paul also sees as the work of the Holy Spirit that emerged from the "unforgettable experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council". And he declares now to be the time to realize the transformation it intended.
It really was as though what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago was repeated in St. Peter's Square at this event. It was a new birth for the Church, a new sending forth of apostles on fire to spread the "good news".
"You have learned in the movements and new communities that faith is not abstract talk, nor vague religious sentiment, but new life in Christ instilled by the Holy Spirit", Pope John Paul told the gathering, preparing them to put that life at the service of the Church. "Today, from this square, Christ says to each of you: 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation' (Mk 16:15). He is counting on every one of you, and so is the Church. 'Lo,' the Lord promises, 'I am with you always to the close of the age' (Mt 28:20). I am with you. Amen!"
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