The Role of the Holy Spirit and the Teaching of the Church on Missionary Activity and Evangelization
...we see the powerful expression of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the primary evangelizing agent in the Catholic Church. Without the Holy Spirit, our efforts cannot bear fruit. Pope John Paul II recognizes the essential role of the Holy Spirit when he writes in Redemptoris Missio (29) “The Holy Spirit, who is the prime agent of mission and blows where he wills ... but his action will always be directed towards the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Saviour of all humankind.” I would like to propose a new way of considering the growing emphasis on the focus on the Holy Spirit as being integral to the missionary force in the Church and now, in particular, the New Evangelization. Over the last one hundred years, all the Church encyclicals that have been written on missionary activity in Church increasingly make reference to the role of the Holy Spirit until we see the powerful expression of the Holy Spirit in the birth of the Charismatic Movement in Dusquesne University in 1967. We are just beginning to plumb the depths of the implications for missionary activity that have been birthed out of this charismatic renewal movement which is the largest within the Catholic Church.
I will trace back the importance of the apostolic letters that were written between 1895 and 1900 by Pope Leo XIII as my beginning point. George Weigel made the proposition in his book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church, that the origin of the reform in the Church in broad categories of truth and mission stems out of the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII. He states, “For Leo XIII set into motion a profound transformation of Catholicism in which the Church slowly moved beyond the catechetical-devotional model that had been dominant since the sixteenth-century Counter-Reformation to a new model – a model that is best described as Evangelical Catholicism”(p. 11). I agree with his proposition that we can trace back radical reform in the Catholic Church well before Vatican II to Leo XIII, but I would for a reason that is absent from his book, yet has enormous repercussions, not only in the Catholic Church, but in the entire world.
Perhaps unknown to George Weigel, Pope Leo XIII was urged by Blessed Elena Guerra, the foundress of the Oblates Sisters of The Holy Spirit to encourage a greater devotion to the Holy Spirit in the Church. Blessed Elena wrote to him, “Pentecost is not over. In fact it is continually going on in every time and in every place, because the Holy Spirit desired to give himself to all men and women and all who want him can always receive him, so we do not have to envy the apostles and the first believers; we only have to dispose ourselves like them to receive him well, and He will come to us as he did to them.” She wrote a series of twelve private letters to Pope Leo XIII, which resulted in the writing of the encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum Illud Munus in 1897 and a letter to all bishops encouraging the world to join him in making a Novena to the Holy Spirit between the feasts of the Ascension. In this Encyclical, Pope Leo makes the connection between the Holy Spirit and the missionary aims of his pontificate, which he outlines, “...in the first place, towards the restoration, both in rulers and peoples, of the principles of the Christian life in civil and domestic society, since there is no true life for men except from Christ; and, secondly, to promote the reunion of those who have fallen away from the Catholic Church either by heresy or by schism, since it is most undoubtedly the will of Christ that all should be united in one flock under one Shepherd.” (2)
As Cyril John writes in his book, “Spurred by the Spirit: The Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the New Millennium”, Pope Leo invoked the Holy Spirit by singing the hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus” on behalf of the entire Church on January 1, 1901 and on that exact day, in Topeka, Kansas at Bethel College and Bible School, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred that is generally accepted as the beginning of Pentecostalism. The Azuza Street revival spread this Holy Spirit phenomenon across all continents within a two year period. Cyril John puts all this in context as he writes, “Pope Paul VI once remarked: “We see the Church today in an age dominated, as it were, by the Holy Spirit.” “The wind blows wherever it pleases...” (Jn3:8). This powerful blow of the wind was experienced in nearly all Christian Churches in the 20th century. It could be classified as three distinct, separate, and on-going large waves or explosions of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Renewal in the Holy Spirit, each wave larger and stronger than previously (p.18)” The Catholic Charismatic Renewal was birthed in 1967, two years after the end of Vatican Council II and 70 years after the Pope Leo XIII wrote his encyclical letter on the Holy Spirit. Pope John XXIII prayed in 1959 that the windows of the Church would be opened to God’s breath and he threw open the closed doors of the Vatican, remaking that the Church needed a fresh breath of air. In preparation for Vatican II, the Pope asked the Church to pray for a new Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit when he gave this address on December 25th, 1961.
Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of St. Peter, it may the advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Duquesne University occurred at a retreat for university students in which the Holy Spirit was invoked at the beginning of each session, through the recitation of the “Veni Creator Spiritus”. And in preparation, two theology faculty members had been faithful to this prayer every day in their personal prayer in the entire preceding year to this pivotal retreat. And the fruit of this event has resulted in a movement that has no human founder, no membership list, but has changed over 120 million Catholics in 200 countries and has dramatically changed the face of the Church – particularly in fulfillment of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostoican Actuaosituatem (5). “In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders.” And one might ask, why is the need for this outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church? What is the need for this in this time and in these circumstances? Pope Paul VI answers these questions in his talk to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal on occasion of the Second International Leaders’ Conference in 1975.
How then could this “spiritual renewal” not be “a chance” for the church and for the world? And how, in this case, could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so? [...] Nothing is more necessary for such a world, more and more secularized, than the testimony of this “spiritual renewal”, which we see the Holy Spirit bring about today in the most diverse regions and environments. Its manifestations are varied: deep communion of souls, close contact with God in faithfulness to the commitments undertaken at Baptism, in prayer that is often community prayer, in which each one, expressing himself freely, helps, supports and nourishes the prayer of others, and, at the basis of everything, a personal conviction. This conviction has its source not only in instruction received by faith but also in a certain experience of real life, namely, that without God, man can do nothing, that with him, on the contrary, everything becomes possible.” I propose that the birth of the Charismatic Renewal was part of God’s plan to restore to the Church to her original Charismatic identity as was found in the early Church and was the normative (normal experience) for all Christians for the first 600-800 years until the emphasis on the Charismatic gifts were gradually diminished. This theme is further developed in the book, Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries written by Killain McDonnell and George Montague, “...charismatic manifestation was expected as a normal effect of initiation (p.14).” The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room allowed the Apostles to go forth and clearly proclaim the Gospel, amid an atmosphere of signs and wonders that Jesus had promised, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. (John 14: 12-16). This allowed the Apostles to be bold, to be filled with zeal, and even to have the courage to undergo suffering and martyrdom. McDonnell and Montague further state “...the empowering is not merely charismatic. It is also the power to follow Jesus to the cross. (p.14)” I propose this is what is needed for the Church today. The Holy Spirit is what is needed to proclaim the Gospel – and we need it ever as much today as the Early Christians did 2000 years ago. Fr. Francis Martin said, “The Church is a bride, and she shows to the world that her spouse is alive by living by His power and receiving life from Him. There is a danger in our day that the Church will look more like a widow, alone and without resources except those possessed by any human organization.” In this hostile climate of religious indifferentism, scepticism, and hostility, we must rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is the development of the understanding of the connection between mission and the Holy Spirit in Church teaching? I have highlighted the references to the Holy Spirit from these encyclicals. Maximum Illud: 1; Evangelii Praecones: 0, Ad Gentes: 22; Evangelii Nuntiandi: 22; Redemptoris Missio:24; and Evangeli Gaudium: 46. That is an explosion of emphasis on the Holy Spirit. So it is really in the time of Ad Gentes that the missionary impulse through the Holy Spirit starts to emerge. Ad Gentes recognizes the missionary identity of the Church. Therefore, by the Holy Spirit, who distributes the charismata as He wills for the common good (1 Cor. 12:11), He inspires the missionary vocation in the hearts of individuals, and at the same time He raises up in the Church certain institutes which take as their own special task the duty of preaching the Gospel, a duty belonging to the whole Church (AD 23)”. It is worthwhile to note this particular comment; the Holy Spirit distributes the different charisms, in light of this preceding the start of the Charismatic Renewal by two years. In this light, it is a prophetic word to the entire Church.
Paul VI focuses on the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelization. The key sentence reads, "It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization: It is he who impels each individual to proclaim the gospel, and it is he who...causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood." (EM 99). And Pope Francis, speaks for the need for “...Spirit-filled evangelizers...fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit.(EG259)” And he says, “How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervour, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. (EG 261)” There is a development in Church teaching both in increasing emphasis and depth when dealing with evangelization and mission.
How do we see this actualized in the Charismatic Renewal? The Charismatic Renewal internationally has birthed many countless missionary outreaches, spurred by men and women who filled with the zeal of the Holy Spirit have desired to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Just in Canada, out of the Charismatic Renewal has been started these endeavours: Women of Grace Weekends, NET ministries, CCO, Companions of the Cross, Steubenville Atlantic, Raising Up and Army Youth Ministry, Covenant Communities, Healing Ministries, Pentecost Vigils, and retreats, Steubenville Atlantic as well as close to fifty other ministries and many that are not listed. I am referring to a document on the New Evangelization that is located on the CCRSC (Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services of Canada website.) http://www.catholiccharismatic.ca/index_files/Page304.htm What is the Holy Spirit saying to us in this time? Be docile to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. John Paul II said in Redemptor Missio (24) “The mission of the Church, like that of Jesus, is God's work or, as Luke often puts it, the work of the Spirit. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the apostles have a powerful experience which completely transforms them: the experience of Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit makes them witnesses and prophets (cf. Acts 1:8; 2:17-18). It fills them with a serene courage which impels them to pass on to others their experience of Jesus and the hope which motivates them. The Spirit gives them the ability to bear witness to Jesus with "boldness."” This is our call as Christians, to seek eagerly the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1) and to use these gifts in service for the call of the New Evangelization, to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our world today. “Not by might, and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6)
Newfoundland Catholic Renewal Committee Chairperson