COLUMBIA — In Ron Falter’s experience, the Holy Spirit is not just an unapproachable, abstract part of the Trinity. He and others who are part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement say they directly experience the impact of Christ’s love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit every time they pray and worship.
Falter, a member of St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, said the charismatic community in the diocese is small but vibrant. His goal is to share their faith experience with as many Catholics as possible.
In 1972, Falter and his wife, Ruth, joined a small charismatic prayer group that was meeting in Columbia. Since then, they have consistently attended prayer meetings in the Midlands, and for many years have been members of the active charismatic group at St. John Neumann.
Falter, a native of Ohio, said he didn’t fully grasp the wonders of the faith until he discovered the renewal.
“It was a total life-changing experience for me,” he said in an interview with The Miscellany. “I had done all the right things for many years — educated at Catholic school, attended Mass, but I hadn’t had a true experience with Jesus until I found the charismatic renewal … I truly learned there is no limit to what God can do.”
At the core of the movement is the focus on the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit in the daily lives of Catholics, and the belief that everyone can receive special gifts called “charisms” from the Holy Spirit.
Some of these charisms are those in the New Testament, including the ability to heal, speak in tongues and give prophecy. Charismatics also point out other special gifts given to Catholics, ranging from the ability to evangelize and teach to the simple gift of hospitality, which can help bring others to the faith.
“A baptized and confirmed person has the graces of the Holy Spirit, but they lie dormant until the person allows them to touch the soul,” Falter said.
The renewal movement traces its roots to a 1967 retreat held at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa., where a group of faculty and students experienced something they described as “being baptized in the Holy Spirit.”
Since then, the movement has spread around the world, and its Web site estimates that 100 million Catholics worldwide have experienced the renewal since its beginnings.
Pope Paul VI spoke to a gathering of charismatic Catholics from around the world in 1975, and Pope John Paul II expressed support for the charismatic movement during his pontificate.
In 1997, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a statement that “In the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and in the grace of baptism in the Holy Spirit we see God’s outpouring of a new Pentecost.”
Charismatic Masses and prayer services include upbeat music, and many people pray with eyes closed and hands extended.
Some charismatics experience “glossolalia,” or speaking in tongues, while they pray. This may seem off-putting or unusual to Catholics who have never experienced it, but Falter said they are simply ways in which some charismatics respond to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
“Every person will react differently to receiving the Holy Spirit,” Falter said. “For me, the experience of God loving me is what produces the joy during Mass. To experience the freedom and love he gives us is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and how that joy is manifested and exhibited differs from person to person.”
Several churches around the Diocese of Charleston have charismatic prayer groups, and an annual S.C. Catholic Charismatic Conference is held in the fall. This year’s event is scheduled for October and will be at Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia.
The renewal has also become multicultural, with many Hispanics drawn to the movement. At Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, Father Dac Tran, administrator, said there also are plans for a charismatic renewal conference for the Vietnamese Catholic community.
Falter said people who are interested in the movement can learn about it by attending a prayer group at a nearby parish. The St. John Neumann group welcomes newcomers, and said attending a meeting can help people understand the different style of prayer and the focus on the Holy Spirit.
Many charismatic prayer groups also host an annual “Life in the Spirit” seminar to introduce their fundamental beliefs.
On its Web site, the National Service Committee for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal recommends the book “An Introduction to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal” by John and Therese Boucher (Servant Publications).
To learn more about the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, visit www.nsc-chariscenter.org.