By PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA — In the course of the liturgy that closed the annual South Carolina Charismatic Conference last weekend, celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker, the congregation broke into a spontaneous and unintelligible chorus of murmuring sounds.
They were speaking in tongues, a phenomenon that charismatics explain as the manifestation of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
And speaking in tongues was only one of the ways the Spirit moved these charismatic Catholics, half of whom were elderly and nearly all of whom knelt on the gym floor of St. John Neumann School for the consecration and Communion. During the “Prayer and Praise” parts of the conference, prior to the liturgy, they blessed each other and guests; they praised God with songs and extemporaneous dances; they stood up to announce that a healing had taken place in their minds or bodies; they “rested in the Spirit.”
“That’s when the Holy Spirit sort of takes over the mind and provides a moment of supernatural relaxation,” said Ron Falter, a parishioner at St. John Neumann Church in Columbia.
Resting in the Spirit took place after the faithful were anointed by Josephite Father Robert DeGrandis, a world-renown charismatic preacher who was the speaker for the weekend conference. Falter referred to the Josephite priest as “an instrument of God’s healing.” After being anointed, each of the hundreds who attended the conference fell backwards into waiting arms and was placed on the floor.
Father DeGrandis didn’t want photographs of the resting ceremony because, he admitted, it was hard for the uninitiated to understand. Many non-charismatic Catholics find the whole charismatic movement hard to understand, although it is as simple as the acceptance of the third person of the Blessed Trinity into your life, according to Falter. It is the new Pentecost that Pope John XXIII prayed for, he said, and that the bishops of the United States endorsed.
“The essence of it is needed by the church,” the assistant diocesan liaison for charismatics said.
Certainly, the bishop of Charleston endorses it. Bishop Baker was involved in a charismatic renewal when he ministered to Catholic students at the University of Florida in Gainesville when he was a young priest.
“I came to see the value of the movement. A lot of good came from it, including some vocations,” Bishop Baker said.
Still, charismatics suffer in the church because of the overt manner they have of demonstrating the action of the Spirit within them. Father DeGrandis even wrote to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Vatican to protest what he called “abuse of charismatics” in some parishes, especially in foreign countries. It is the outward displays of praise and joy that make mainstream Christians suspicious of the movement.
“This is nothing more than the sacrament of Confirmation in action,” he said. “The difficulty is that we can’t stand the emotions.”
The priest said that many of his clerical brethren are charismatics and that they hide the fact from public view because they are afraid of the reaction of their regular parishioners. Many priests, however, encourage the formation of small charismatic prayer groups in their parishes and foster the movement as a strong supplement to parish spiritual life. One of those pastors is Father Bert Connor of St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville, according to Mary Seale. She was a member of St. Mary’s in Greenville for 16 years and worshiped as a charismatic in the ’70s under Msgr. Don Gorski, now a missionary in Peru. Although she still lives in Greenville, she moved nine years ago to St. Mary Magdalene Parish.
“The Lord sent me there to help start the Heart of Jesus Prayer Group. Father Connor supports us 100 percent and is very generous to us,” Seale said.
She said that the hugely popular Life Teen movement at her parish is “very charismatic.” Fellow parishioner Chris Rebello said that charismatic Catholics in Simpsonville undergird the rigorous augmentation of the parish’s Perpetual Adoration of the Eucharist, a 24-hour scheduling complexity.
At the annual conference, which included workshops (“Life in the Spirit” by George Lourigan, “Desert Spirituality” by Sister Donna Lareau, “Revival” by Mike Culbertson and Alan Waters, and “Hearing and Discerning Prophecy” by Pauline Balazs), liturgies and a healing service, Father DeGrandis first called on the faithful to announce the benefits they had experienced.
“I hear the Lord saying that he is healing throats this morning. How many have felt their throats healed?”
Seven raised their hands for that cure. Fifteen felt a “deep healing in the relationship with your father,” and 12 more felt “a sticky feeling in the mouth that is the anointing of evangelization, a gift from the Lord.” The priest spoke on intergenerational healing, telling the crowd that evangelization, especially to the young, is a prime aspect of the charismatic calling.
“Our children and grandchildren don’t get the basics in CCD. They learn about general love, but they can’t name the Ten Commandments. Pray with them, not only for them. And explain things to them. Explain why abortion is morally wrong. We live in a pagan culture, and we need to emphasize prayer,” the charismatic priest said.
He also said that many modern theologians no longer believe in the Devil: “There is a reality to curses. God allows the Devil a certain amount of power. Satan is real.” He called the Harry Potter books “very soft occult” and said that no one but charismatics are concerned because charismatics “are more in touch with the spirit world and the healing ministry.”
In his homily at the closing liturgy, Bishop Baker read from a letter from his friend Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island, where parishes had experienced 20 to 30 funerals and memorial services in the weeks following the attack on the World Trade Center in adjacent Manhattan.
“You would be touched by the courage of the families who have lost loved ones,” Bishop Murphy wrote. “Amidst great loss, he found the spirit of hope,” Bishop Baker said. “How important that gift of hope is for us today, … the coming of the Lord now and the coming of the Lord at the end of time.”
He quoted the letter of Paul to the Christians in Galatia and then said: “Let us remember today that the Spirit also produces the virtue of hope in a world on the brink of despair. Who will be the ambassadors of the Holy Spirit? Who will be the ambassadors of hope, if not you and I?”
The charismatics murmured their consensus in unison.