Miracles: do they exist anymore?

Do Miracles actually happen?

Introduction

The book of Acts describes the early church. During this time many miracles occurred. One example occurs in Acts 3:7-11. In this chapter, Peter heals a beggar sitting at the temple gate. Yet in today’s society Miracles like the ones in Acts are rare. Likewise, people treat miracles with skepticism. On the other hand, you have evangelicals, who make miracles a priority. Given these two choices, How should one view miracles?

My Testimony

I too have a difficult time with healing and miracles. As a disabled person, who has yet to receive God’s gift of healing, I find the miracle stories hard to believe. I also have had spiritual harm done to me by well-intended Evangelicals. While out shopping, some religious person stopped me and told me that if I believed in Jesus Christ, I’d be healed. When belief is a prerequisite for healing, then a lack of healing must mean a lack of belief. Thus, when I am confronted with healing, I feel a sense of unworthiness. My experience highlights one viewpoint on healing called Name it and claims it. The Catholic Church denies this viewpoint. Instead, The Catholic Church offers the notion of redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is a very well rationed theology. However, it can become a crutch.

Name it Claim it

The name claims it theology is related to the prosperity gospel and word of faith. The idea is that if we say certain words or perform certain actions then God will bless us. While all of God’s promises are true, his ways are also higher than ours. We cannot fathom the mind of God. Persons who claim that we can somehow manipulate or control God by the words we say or the amount of faith we have. This seems arrogant. God is not a vending machine. One positive contribution is that it teaches people to expect the miraculous.

Redemptive Suffering

The Catholic Church is not ashamed of suffering. Most icons depict suffering. In our sanctuary hangs a crucifix of Jesus. Outsiders would claim that Catholics are obsessed with suffering. Unlike evangelical Protestants, Catholics pinpoint the moment of salvation at the cross. Christ suffered to save the world. We can take part in this salvific act by uniting our suffering to Christ. St Paul testifies to this in Colossians 1:24

”Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, which is the church”

Of course, nothing is truly lacking in Christ, but God chooses to honor our sacrifice because he loves us. However, if this is true, how do miracles fit in?

It’s important to distinguish redemptive suffering from the gift of healing. The former is a vocation and the latter is a gift from God. When we choose to offer up our suffering as a sacrifice, we are choosing a way of life. We are working the salvation of others. God bestows healing upon us as a free gift. Yes, we can pray for healing, but whether it comes is not up to us.

Finding Balance

Individual Catholics and Christians need to find balance when it comes to healing. God does not bend to the whims of men. God chooses at his discretion who receives healing. When healing does not come, a person’s faith is not the direct cause. Furthermore, we cannot use redemptive suffering as a crutch. The notion of redemptive suffering was not designed to quench the Holy Spirit. Thus even if we feel that our vocation is to offer up our suffering, we should still pray for healing. The world is full of negativity. The church needs a renewal. As a part of this renewal, The church needs to reclaim miracles in order to be hope for the hopeless. 

Why Praise and Worship is Important to Catholics

Left side is man raising hands praising and right side is a church choir practicing

Introduction

Catholics tend to criticize praise and worship music. I’ve heard it described as sappy emotionalism that has no place in worship. Catholic rightfully criticize its presence in Mass. Yet, praise and worship may have a legitimate place in Catholic spirituality. St. Paul speaks of spiritual songs in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

According to this verse, we are to keep the words of Christ in us. St. Paul offers two ways of doing so by teaching and admonishing each other and through singing. According to Paul, we are to sing: 1. Psalms, 2. Hymns, and 3. Spiritual songs. Most Catholics are familiar with singing Psalms and hymns because it happens at Mass. Yet, I’m sure the concept of spiritual songs would confuse most Catholics. I argue that hymns are distinct from Spiritual songs. I also argue that one needs both in order to “let the word of God dwell in us.” Praise and worship songs fall under the category of spiritual songs. I will use both spiritual songs and praise and worship interchangeably. First, I need to explain the difference between Hymns and Spiritual songs.

What are hymns

Hymns are a piece of music that the church uses to give glory to God. In a Catholic context, a piece of music qualifies as a hymn when it also qualifies as Sacred Music. A hymn qualifies when it is: 1. Holy, 2. Has beauty of form and 3. Is universal.1 Traditionally the church only allowed for Gregorian chant and Polyphony. Since Vatican II, the church has allowed newer composition. Newer compositions do not automatically include modern songs. To understand why we need to understand the philosophy behind beauty of forms.

The criteria that allow Forms to be Beautiful 2

The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas helps define these criteria. If you hate philosophy, you may want to skip this section as the concept can get pretty confusing. Aquinas stated that a person conceptualizes beauty. A person bases beauty on actuality, proportion, radiance, and integrity.

Actuality

Aquinas argues that everything is beautiful in proportion to its own form. Every object that exists has a form. A form helps distinguish different objects. For example, the body of a human takes a different shape than the body of a dog. When a human possesses all the correct body parts, that is beautiful according to form. The object must have action. In other words, the object must be doing a thing that makes it different from other objects. A dog must be acting like a dog. A human must be acting like a human. So to summarize, actuality requires existence, a form, and action. All this is necessary for anything to have beauty.

Proportion

This pertains to the idea that all the parts relate to the whole in a balanced way. Going back to our human example again. We can imagine a human with all the typical body parts, but those parts are out of proportion. For example, if one arm is longer than the body, then it would be impractical and not beautiful.

Radiance

Radiance refers to the shine that comes from the object and seizes the attention of the beholder. Music has radiance when it captures the attention of the listener.

Integrity

An object has integrity in two ways. The object must be perfect concerning it’s being. Likewise, the object must be perfect in operation. In other words, the object is not missing anything.

Hymns conclusion

So, Aquinas laid the groundwork to argue for an objective nature of beauty. So the church states reference the above criteria to determine beauty of form. If an object has beauty of form then it will have universality. Holiness refers to the purpose of the music, which is to give glory to God alone. So a perfect hymn must honor God, be beautiful to everyone. At the very least it must honor God and be in harmony like choir music.

Are praise and worship considered spiritual songs

These are songs inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are spontaneous and have no proportionality. They incorporate multiple instruments. Modern praise and worship music incorporates all of these characteristics. One such example would be Bethel, who will often sing spontaneously. They also create a mashup of two different songs. Catholic artist also performs this style of music. One artist that comes to mind is Emmanuel worship. Some people will mention that praise and worship are repetitive and emotional. This serves the purpose of spiritual songs. Spiritual songs help us reflect on God and his relationship with us. Hymns on the other hand help give God honor and praise. Thus spiritual songs are more meditative. Repeating over and over that God is a good father may sound simplistic, but it helps internalize the truth.

Conclusion

My frustration as of late stems from Catholics wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Some want traditional chants and to look down on praise and worship. Others want the mass to incorporate praise and worship. The songs may not be appropriate to function as a hymn. The former while correct denies the power of praise and worship. The latter waters down the Mass. I would like to see a balance. I would like to see beautiful harmonized music during Mass. The church can also have monthly spontaneous worship events. Yes, I can listen to praise and worship in my own time. Yet, there is something exuberant about worshiping spontaneously with the body of Christ.

The Charismatic Renewal: The Unique History

The Charismatic Renewal: The Unique History

Introduction

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Bible describes miraculous encounters with the divine. These include healing, proclamation, visions, and speaking in tongues. Yet a person living the modern Christian life does not experience these events. Christians often fail to have a divine encounter with God and fail to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The sacramental life provides empowerment to Catholics. It strengthens them to live as Priest, Prophet, and King. Likewise, The sacraments increase love, joy, peace patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. Catholics should read scripture and spiritual books. One should do spiritual activities not out of obligation, but out of a growing love for God. Sadly so many Catholics live their faith out of obligation. The Charismatic Renewal began with the genuine desire to revitalize the church. The Renewal seeks to promote spiritual works as in the book of Acts

Reception

Most Catholics do not understand the Renewal. To outsiders, it appears as a weird group of people with bad taste in music. They come together to “speak in tongues” and undermine the church’s authority. Others describe it as another way protestant influence has seeped into the church. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the subsequent movement is not Catholic.

I will explore the Renewal in two parts: The History, and Nature.

History of the Charismatic Renewal

The beginning

The Renewal began at Duquesne University. It had focused on the book of Acts. The professors had already experienced the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” They had shared their testimony. The students had decided to pray “Veni Spritus” at the conclusion of the retreat. As they were praying, the students began to experience the Holy Spirit’s presence.

The Spread

After the Duquesne retreat, the word began to spread about the “Baptism of The Holy Spirit.” Today, the movement has spread to 238 countries and 100 million Catholics1. Despite the rapid growth, certain people questioned the legitimacy of the movement. Some Catholics questioned how Baptism of the Holy Spirit co-existed with Catholic theology

Papel endorsement

Both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II supported the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Pope Paul VI stated,

the miracle of Pentecost should continue in history’ . . . How could this ‘spiritual renewal’ not be ‘good fortune’ for the Church and the world?”1

He saw The Charismatic Renewal as an extension of Pentecost. He reaffirmed the idea that Pentecost was not a one time experience in history. Rather Pentecost is a lived experience that should continue.

Pope John Paul spoke about the Renewal in 1979. He stated that

I am convinced that this movement is a sign of the Spirit’s action . . . a very important component in the total renewal of the Church.”1

Hence, Pope John Paul II saw the Renewal as one of the main components in the overall renewal of the Church.

Not only did the papacy give their opinions on the topic, but so did The U.S bishops. The bishops released a document called, Grace for a New Springtime, published in 1997. It affirmed the renewal.1

Despite the above affirmation, Catholics still question the Renewal’s legitimacy. Often Catholics think of the movement as a separate devotion. Thus they fail to understand the nature of the Charismatic Movement. It’s unique nature separates it from other ecclesiastical communities.

The Nature of The Charismatic Renewal

Personal experience

Charles Whitehead describes The Charismatic Renewal as

a personal experience of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who brings alive in new ways the graces of our baptism. The Holy Spirit not only sets on fire all that we have already received but comes again in power to equip us with his gifts for service and mission.2

Most Catholics object to the idea of bringing the graces of baptism to life. It seems to deny the efficiency of the sacraments. However, a person’s spiritual muscle may become weakened. One may require an additional encounter with the Holy Spirit to make the muscle useful again.

This makes The Charismatic Renewal, less of a moment, and more of the work of The Holy Spirit.

Common Characteristics

Despite being the work of the Holy Spirit, a genuine pattern begins to emerge. Charismatic communities typically have no formal structure or hierarchy. These communities associated with one another by relationships. They know that they are all members of the larger church community. These communities offer diversity. This diversity exists, not only in membership but also in the types of ministries offered. All communities strive to experience the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The communities differ in their execution of this goal.2

Two modes of being Charismatic

The term “Charismatic” can denote either the work of the Holy Spirit or the communities itself. The former refers to the ways in which the Holy Spirit is bringing about the renewal of the Church. The communities, on the other hand, refer to organizations within the church. These organizations “emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit. Their role entails being a reminder and witness in the Church of the importance of the Holy Spirit.”3. A person can have had an encounter with The Holy Spirit and not be a member of a charismatic community. However, there are “special graces for those who affirm membership in communities.

Conclusion

A ‘Charismatic’ person is one, who claims to have had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. The Charismatic renewal has emerged to make this encounter a reality. Vatican II stresses that the church is both hierarchical and charismatic. Thus, the Charismatic Renewal helps strengthen and renew Catholic theology. Every Catholic must grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This growth can only come through an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

A defense of Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Six days ago Lizziesanswers posted a video on youtube titled 20 Strangest Parts of Catholic culture. Lizzie recently became famous among Catholic circles for her openness about her conversion to the Catholic Church.  I believe her story resonated with many Catholic converts including myself. In this particular video, she addresses things that appear weird to outsiders, but cradle Catholics accept as normal. Topics covered include lax attitude about alcohol, relicts, praying for the dead, prayer cards, and modern miracles from Marian or Jesus apparitions. She found modern miracles weird because her previous faith tradition taught that the Charismata had ended in the early church. The question remains, how does one define the Charismata and what role do they play in everyday Catholic’s lives. Most Catholics lack a familiarity with the Charismata. The Charismata gifts commonly include gifts such as healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy. However, some Catholics have experienced the charismata due to the Catholic Charismatic renewal and the practice of Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The Catholic Charismatic Renewal teaches that every Catholic should experience the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Other Catholics disagree and take a much more guarded approach in an earnest desire to protect the effectiveness of the sacraments. Reading and responding to the misunderstanding expressed in the youtube comments of Lizzie’s video prompted me to address the following questions: how does one describe Baptism of the Holy Spirit and does this description fit compatibly with Catholic sacramental theology. Based on scripture, the Catechism, and the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Baptism of the Holy Spirit fits compatibly with Catholic sacramental theology.

What is Baptism of the Holy Spirit

One must note that Baptism of the Holy Spirit is poorly named. The name describes, not an event like the sacrament of Baptism, but rather a continuous experience of the Holy Spirit. The phrase ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit does not describe a new outpouring, but an experience that must accompany the sacraments of Christian Initiation namely Confirmation. Ralph Martin describes it as,

an experience of the Spirit that is often accompanied by a deeper personal encounter with Christ, characterized by a glimpse of his Lordship, an experience of the Father’s love that is personal and deeply liberating, and a new awareness that we are truly not orphans but that the Holy Spirit is truly present and ready to encourage, convict, guide, and help us understand the things of God” (Martin, “New Pentecost” 17-18)

One may fear that if we say that a Baptism of the Holy Spirit experience must accompany our Catholic spiritual life, and so many people fail to have this personal encounter, then it seems the sacraments are ineffective. People, who express this fear, are well-intentioned, but fail to realize that the work of the Holy Spirit extends beyond the sacraments.

What the Catechism says

The Catechism is very specific about the work of the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is “the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body.”247 He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity:248 by God’s Word “which is able to build you up”;249 by Baptism, through which he forms Christ’s Body;250 by the sacraments, which give growth and healing to Christ’s members; by “the grace of the apostles, which holds first place among his gifts”;251 by the virtues, which make us act according to what is good; finally, by the many special graces (called “charisms”), by which he makes the faithful “fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church.” (Catholic Church, “catechism” 798)

According to this passage the Holy Spirit works in five ways: Word of God, Baptism, sacraments, virtues, and Charisms. The Catechism lists these gifts hierarchically, meaning that the gifts given through the Word of God, Baptism, sacraments, and virtues take precedence over those given by charisms. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism by uniting us with the body of Christ. This means that Baptism unites us to the mission of Christ and calls us to take on the role of priest, prophet, and king.

Through faith and Baptism we participate in Jesus’ office of Priest, Prophet, King (Catholic Church, “catechism” 783-786)

The Holy Spirit also works in the other sacraments especially Confirmation. Confirmation has the following effects: “brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:  it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”; it unites us more firmly to Christ;  it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;  it renders our bond with the Church more perfect; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (“Catechism” 1303).  So after Confirmation, we as believers should 1. use the gifts of the Holy Spirit better, and 2. defend the faith better. The gifts conferred to us at Confirmation are mentioned in Isaiah 11:2.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord

Let us break each one of these down. Wisdom pertains to the ability to ascertain the divine truth and judge accordingly. Understanding describes the ability to see God and have divine insight. Counsel entails the ability to allow God to direct us in matters of salvation. Might or fortitude has to do with the attitude of perseverance even in the mist of dangerous obstacles and the assurance of everlasting life. In other words, you know that God has got your back. Knowledge refers to the ability to determine the right action in accordance with matters of faith. Fear of the Lord depicts the attitude of reverence towards God that causes a person to never want to be separate from Him. A validly confirmed Catholic, who regularly partakes in the sacraments, should display these gifts daily. The Church refers to these gifts as sanctifying gifts, because a person utilizes them for their own sanctification. Lastly, the Holy Spirit may choose to dispense charisms upon a person.

What are Charisms

The Catechism of the Catholic church makes special mention of the charisms and treats them as a distinct working of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism states,

Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world. Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms. (“Catechism” 799-800).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not provide a definitive list of the charisms. Likewise, it does not provide a way for a person to receive these special graces. One can infer that it involves surrendering to the Holy Spirit and asking the Holy Spirit for these special graces. In order to have an idea of the type of gifts involved, one must look to the scripture cited in footnote 255.

What scripture says about Charisms

Footnote 255 in the Catechism points to 1 Cor. 12:7 and draws a direct parallel between this passage and the charisms. 1 Cor. 12:7 states,

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit,and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Most view speaking in tongues as the most controversial of these gifts so I would like to take a few moments to address those controversies. Those, who disagree with speaking in tongues cite the fact that the words spoken in private prayer do not resemble any known language and thus does not correspond to the events in Acts. Acts 2:5 states,

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

This passage would seem to imply that God gives tongues as a  gift for evangelization in that it allows a person to preach the gospel regardless of a language barrier. While true that if a person speaks tongues publicly to a body, there must be an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:27), there exists a secondary dimension of the gift. St. Paul states that,

  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthains 14:2)

Hence, it seems that there exists a secondary private tongue that one speaks directly to God. Thus, it makes sense that certain people may receive unintelligible utterances. However, some may protest that this contradicts the Catechism in that The Catechism sees charisms as designed to build up the Church. My reply emphasizes the word, “indirectly.” Private tongues can build a person’s faith and trust in God and therefore equip them to serve the church better. I know that in my own life when I have faced doubts about God’s love and goodness, using tongues in private prayer solidifies His goodness.

Synthesis of the gifts of the Holy Spirit

To summarize what I have covered so far. The Catechism divides the gifts of the Holy Spirit into two categories: Sanctifying gifts and Supernatural Gifts. The Sanctifying gifts include sharing in the office of priest, prophet, and king as well as those in Isaiah 11:2: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and Fear of the Lord. Every Catholic has access to these sanctifying gifts through Baptism and Confirmation. The supernatural gifts include healing, miraculous power, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. The Holy Spirit at its discretion gives these gifts for the building up of the Catholic church either indirectly or directly. Not every Catholic receives supernatural gifts equally, but every Catholic should desire to receive the supernatural gifts. The Renewal considers tongues as the gateway gifts because it helps strengthen the faith of the believer, but a person may not receive tongues as the initial charismata.

What does this have to do with Baptism of the Holy Spirit

In my opinion, when a person experiences Baptism of the Holy Spirit, they have a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. This brings with it a new desire to live a life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as witnessed by displaying wisdom, understanding, counsel, might and fear of the Lord. I also believe that by going deeper and surrendering to the Holy Spirit that they receive special supernatural gifts. Increasing awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit received at Baptism and Confirmation describes the goal of Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Is Baptism of The Holy Spirit necessary?

The hierarchical nature of the gifts of the Holy Spirit clearly allows the Holy Spirit to work outside of the sacraments and encourages a person to encounter the Holy Spirit personally. However, if this happens organically, does one need Baptism of the Holy Spirit. No, if you already work on living a life practicing wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and fear of the Lord and you remain open to receiving God’s supernatural gifts. However, as the Catechism states this experience must occur. Martin agrees, he states,

 Whether the release of the Spirit is due to an awakening of sacramental grace, or merely the fruit of prayer, the important thing is that it happen.” (Martin, “sacramental fruitfulness”).

However, most Catholics need to reawaken the sacramental graces, not because of the ineffectiveness of the sacrament itself, but rather our own disposition never intended to receive the effects of Confirmation. Aquinas hints at this when he writes about the effectiveness of Baptism,

As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii), “God does not compel man to be righteous.” Consequently in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect. Now, a man is said to be insincere by reason of his will being in contradiction with either Baptism or its effect. For, according to Augustine (De Bapt. cont. Donat. vii), a man is said to be insincere, in four ways: first, because he does not believe, whereas Baptism is the sacrament of Faith; secondly, through scorning the sacrament itself; thirdly, through observing a rite which differs from that prescribed by the Church in conferring the sacrament; fourthly, through approaching the sacrament without devotion. (Aquinas ST 3, q. 69, a. 9)

If Aquinas says this of Baptism, surely the same applies to Confirmation. Most people undergo Confirmation as teenagers and do not fully embrace the Confirmation effect, which is to make us more open to the working of the Holy Spirit. The work of the third person of the Trinity continues to be neglected and abused due to a misunderstanding about the role of the Holy Spirit. The practice of undergoing a Baptism of the Holy Spirit attempts to rectify this neglect by focusing on the gifts and encouraging Catholics to use the gifts in their daily lives.
 
 

Work Cited

  1. Catholic Church.  Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreia Editrice Vaticana, 1993.
  2. Martin, Ralph. “Sacramental Fruitfulness and the Power of Pentecost.” Homiletic & Pastoral review, 1 Aug. 2016
  3. Martin, Ralph. “A New Pentecost? Catholic Theology and Baptism in the Spirit.” LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 4, 13, Summer 2011.
  4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (ST) I, q. 43, a. 6
  5. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (ST) 3, q. 69, a. 9