Cardinal Ratzinger on Catholic Charismatic Renewal

By Cardinal Ratzinger

What is hopeful at the level of the universal Church – and what is happening right in the heart of the crisis of the Church in the Western world – is the rise of new movements which nobody had planned and which nobody has called into being, but which have sprung spontaneously from the inner vitality of the faith itself. What is manifested in them – albeit subdued – is something like a pentecostal season in the Church. I am thinking, say, of the charismatic movement, of the Cursillos, . . . Certainly all these movements also give rise to some problems. They also entail greater or lesser dangers. But that happens with all living beings. I am now, to an increasing degree, meeting groups of young people in whom there is a wholehearted adhesion to the whole faith of the Church, young people who want to live this faith fully and who bear in themselves a great missionary elan. The intense life of prayer present in these movements does not imply a flight into interiority or a withdrawal into the private sphere, but simply a full and undivided catholicity. The joy of the faith that one senses here has something contagious about it. Here new vocations to the priesthood and to the religious orders are now growing spontaneously.

What is striking is that all this fervour was not elaborated by any office of pastoral planning, but somehow it sprang forth by itself. As a consequence of this fact, the planning offices – just when they want to be very progressive – don’t know just what to do with them. They don’t fit into their plan. Thus while tensions rise in connection with their incorporation into the present form of the institutions, there is absolutely no tension with the hierarchical Church as such.

What is emerging here is a new generation of the Church which I am watching with a great hope. I find it marvelous that the Spirit is once more stronger than our programs and brings himself into play in an altogether different way than we had imagined. In this sense the renewal, in a subdued but effective way, is afoot . . .

…..The period following the Council scarcely seemed to live up to the hopes of John XXIII, who looked for a “new Pentecost”. But his prayer did not go unheard. In the heart of a world desiccated by rationalistic scepticism a new experience of the Holy Spirit has come about, amounting to a worldwide renewal movement. What the New Testament describes, with reference to the charisms, as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit is no longer merely ancient, past history: this history is becoming a burning reality today . . .

There is in the “Renewal” a new and concrete awareness of the powers of evil, in addition, of course, to the calm certainty of the power of Christ who subjugates them all.

It is essential, above all, to maintain a balance, to beware of an exclusive emphasis on the Spirit, who, as Jesus himself reminds us, “does not speak of himself” but lives and works at the heart of the life of the Trinity. [A wrong overemphasis] could lead to setting against the hierarchically structured Church (which is based on Christ) a “charismatic” Church based only on the “freedom of the Spirit”, a Church that regards herself as continually a new “happening”.

Maintaining balance also means keeping the proper relationship between institution and charism, between the Church’s common faith and personal experience. Without personal experience doctrinal belief remains empty; pure experience is blind unless it is linked to the faith of the Church. What counts, ultimately, is not the “we” of the group, but the great “we” of the universal Church. She alone can provide the proper context in which we can “not extinguish the Spirit and keep to what is good,” as the apostle exhorts us.

We must beware of a too-easy ecumenism which can lead Catholic charismatic groups to lose their identity and, in the name of the “Spirit” (seen as the antithesis of the institution), uncritically associate with forms of Pentecostalism of non-Catholic origin. [Catholic renewal groups must therefore] think with the Church – sentire cum ecclesia – more than ever. They must always act in unity with the bishop, not least so that they will avoid the consequences that always arise when Holy Scripture is taken out of its context in the fellowship of the Church, which results in fundamentalism and the marks of the esoteric group and the sect.

………It [ccr] is evidence of hope, a positive sign of the times, a gift of God to our age. It is a rediscovery of the joy and wealth of prayer over against theories and practices which had become increasingly ossified and shriveled as a result of secularized rationalism. I myself have observed the effectiveness of the Movement: in Munich I saw a number of good vocations to the priesthood come from it. As I have already said, like every other reality entrusted to human beings, it too is exposed to misunderstandings, misinterpretations and exaggeration. But it would be dangerous to see only the risks and not also the gift offered by God. The necessary caution does not alter my fundamentally positive judgment.


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