Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Psa. 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
Rev. 21:10-14, 22-23
What is the largest body of charismatic Christians in the world? And when did the charismatic, or Pentecostal, movement begin?
With all due respect to non-Catholic Christians, the correct answers are: The Catholic Church, and the Feast of Pentecost, circa A.D. 30.
Many Catholics (and non-Catholics) don’t commonly think of the Catholic Church as being “charismatic” or “Pentecostal” in nature. That is understandable, to some degree, because of how those terms have become associated with certain Protestant groups and movements.
But it is also unfortunate, because the Catholic Church is both filled with the charisms, or graces, of the Holy Spirit, and animated by the Person of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church” (CCC 797). This truth is emphasized in today’s readings and the readings throughout the remainder of the Easter Season, culminating with the great Feast of Pentecost in two weeks.
The Acts of the Apostles could also be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. There are several accounts of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the first Christians (cf., 2:1-4; 4:28-31; 8:15-17; 10:44; 19:6), and some forty direct references to the Third Person of the Trinity. Luke consistently portrays the Holy Spirit as the animating, personal guide who leads and directs the Church, the household of God. This guidance took place within a certain structure, or hierarchy, that even in its fledgling form bore the marks of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.
This is evident in today’s first reading, taken from the description of the Church’s first council, which was held at Jerusalem in A.D. 49. Peter, Paul and other leaders of the Church, in addressing those Judaizers who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, issued an apostolic statement with this significant note: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…”
This apostolic authority is a charism given to the Church by Jesus, who promised the apostles, as today’s Gospel describes, that the Father would send the Holy Spirit—the Advocate—to “teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” This promise, of course, was realized at Pentecost. It comes to the fore in other places, such as when Peter relates how the Holy Spirit led him to the household of the Gentile Cornelius, and how Peter, in seeing the household filled with the Holy Spirit, “remembered the word of the Lord” (Acts 12:1-17).
The relationship between structure and Spirit is important, I think, because there is often a temptation to have one without the other. For example, a growing number of people say that they aren’t interested in “organized religion” (by which they usually mean Catholicism), but are into “being spiritual.” From a Catholic perspective, this makes no sense, because the soul and the body aren’t at odds with one another, but help each other to flourish and grow.
“The Church,” wrote the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, “which the Spirit guides in way of all truth and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits” (Lumen Gentium, 4). Among the many charisms given by the Holy Spirit, it should be noted, is that of infallibility, “without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed” (CCC 2035).
The analogy of the human family is helpful in appreciating the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the hierarchical structure of the Church. Even a family with, say, three or four children, appreciates the need for order, authority, and limits. Without them, chaos quickly ensues. Yet that structure does not come at the expense of love and sacrifice, but helps them shine forth and be known.
The same holds true in the Church founded by Christ, which is both charismatic and hierarchical, guided by the Holy Spirit and the successor of Peter, along with all of the bishops, just as it has been from the days of the apostles.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 13, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
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