How We Need the Holy Spirit!
Many Christians throughout the world believe (probably unconsciously) the false doctrine of “cessationism,” not because the Bible or the Church teaches it, but as a result of a worldly culture within the Church. The Catholic Church has condemned “cessationism,” the teaching that the outpouring and gifts of the Holy Spirit were only for the early Church in the apostolic age. The idea is that the Church needed this special, unique outpouring for the initial spreading of the Gospel. Once the Church was firmly established as a a “world religion,” legally accepted within the Roman culture by Emperor Constantine, it didn’t need signs and wonders, or the gifts of the Holy Spirit anymore. It is similar to Deism, the notion that God (or a ‘benign creator’ of some kind) created the universe, and like a watchmaker, left it to tick on its own, without any further intervention. Notable deist Thomas Jefferson went so far as to remove every miracle from the Bible! This ridiculous idea, though still believed by many, has also been condemned by the Church, who has always promoted God’s continued involvement in the world He created. He loves us, and works with us. The Church teaches that a living relationship with Jesus Christ here and now, is both necessary for salvation and the greatest joy during this life and that to come. (Psalm 16:11)
The Church has always believed in and taught the importance of the Holy Spirit and His gifts, too, but culturally as a community, the Church in many places seems like the men St. Paul encountered in Acts 19, who, though baptized, did not know there was such a thing as the Holy Spirit. They believe in the Third Person of the Trinity, but wouldn’t know what to say if you asked them if they have a living relationship with Him.
The Church has strongly affirmed the need and presence of the Holy Spirit and His gifts in the life of the Church in various places, writings, teachings of the popes, etc. See for example the Letter, “Iuvenescit Ecclesia” to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Regarding the Relationship Between Hierarchical and Charismatic Gifts in the Life and the Mission of the Church, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (link) In this document, approved by Pope Francis, the Church underlines and emphasizes the necessity of gifts of the Holy Spirit for the life of the Church, and for the promotion of the Gospel to lost souls.
In 1897, Pope Leo XIII, also taught the importance of the Holy Spirit and His gifts in Divinum Illud Minus, "Encyclyical of Pope Leo XIII on the Holy Spirit." In paragraph 9, he says the following:
“The fullness of divine gifts is in many ways a consequence of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the souls of the just. For, as St. Thomas teaches, ‘when the Holy Ghost proceedeth as love, He proceedeth in the character of the first gift; whence Augustine with that, through the gift which is the Holy Ghost, many other special gifts are distributed among the members of Christ.’ (Summ.Th., la. q. xxxviii., a. 2. St. Aug. de Trin., xv., c. 19). Among these gifts are those secret warnings and invitations, which from time to time are excited in our minds and hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.”
These “secret warnings and invitations,” through the discernment of spirits, word of knowledge, wisdom, and prophecy, can save your life! The Holy Spirit prevented St. Paul and his companions from going to preach in Asia (Acts 16:6)- perhaps they would have been martyred early! The Holy Spirit, God’s love, also gives “many other special gifts.”
From Church History
A simple read of Church history will suffice to show the presence and need for the gifts of the Spirit for the life of the Church and the salvation of souls. The Church Fathers, among them St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus, testified that the prophetic gifts were alive and well in their days. The desert fathers attested to many supernatural occurrences. St. Francis and St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pope St. John Paul II and so many other saints and leaders flowed in mighty gifts of the Spirit. Pope St. John Paul II described his initiation into a relationship with the Holy Spirit through his father-
“My own experience is very interesting. When I was in school, at the age of 12 or 13, sometimes I had difficulties in my studies, in particular with mathematics. My father gave me a book on prayer. He opened it to a page and said to me: "Here you have the prayer to the Holy Spirit. You must say this prayer every day of your life." I have remained obedient to this order that my father gave nearly 50 years ago, which I believe is no little while. This was my first spiritual initiation, so I can understand all the different charisms. All of them are part of the riches of the Lord.” (Link)
Sts. Francis and Ignatius taught their followers to pray over people for healing- that, as it attests in Scripture, signs and wonders should accompany the preaching of the Word, as God’s stamp of approval. (Mark 16) The life of Jesus and His apostles was not meant to die with them, but to serve as a living example for all Christians for all time.
Pope Francis promoted this continual outpouring of the Holy Spirit on June 3, 2017, when he encouraged us to
“…share baptism in the Holy Spirit with everyone in the Church, to praise the Lord unceasingly, to walk together with Christians of different Churches and Ecclesial Communities in prayer and activity on behalf of those in greatest need, to serve the poor and the sick.” (Link)
The Holy Spirit in the Church Today?
The great evangelist John Wesley experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in his own life. He had tried to live a life of perfect piety and religion, even becoming a religious scholar and priest at Oxford. Yet, he did not feel or experience the live of God until his heart was “strangely warmed.” After this time, he began to preach salvation by grace, not works: that works must flow from faith, otherwise they are dead in themselves- as taught in the New Testament. When he did so, multitudes came to Christ and many supernatural miracles occurred while he was preaching, people being healed and falling under God’s power as they were convicted of their sins and turned to the grace of God by faith. Although he remained an Anglican priest all his life, he was persecuted for the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit during his sermons. St. Francis, St. Ignatius, and many others were persecuted in their times, as well, for promoting the Gospel of grace, for the miracles that accompanied them.
As always, in theology, the question becomes, am I simply believing this idea because of my culture (family, Church, experience), or does it truly teach this in the Scriptures, and the history of the life of the Church? “We walk by faith, and not by sight,” - if we don’t see the gifts of the Spirit active in our Church experience, doesn’t mean we don’t need the Holy Spirit. In fact, if people aren’t getting healed, captives being freed, people experiencing transformation…then it should be a red flag, an alert that the Church needs to get back to the New Testament ideal. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17) Where He isn’t, there is ritual, with no life, no healings, no miracles…the same people attending Mass week after week without any influx of young people, an absence of families and young adults.
One of the greatest signs of the Spirit of the Lord is conversions. How can souls be saved, hardened souls that have walked away from God, or never experienced Him, those bound to addictions and idols, members of our families and those on the street, without the power of the Holy Spirit? They will not be reached by “vain arguments” of the mind. St. Paul said I did not come with worldly wisdom but with the Spirit and power of the Holy Ghost. (1 Cor. 2:1) God leads man to repentance through His kindness (Romans 2), by touching peoples hearts by the Holy Spirit.
John Wesley explained it this way:
“While Wesley had seen many manifestations of the Holy Spirit, he was curious as to why the gifts and demonstrations of the Holy Spirit, so prevalent in the early church, had diminished so greatly over the centuries. Referring back to the time of Constantine and the increasing institutionalization of the Church, he addresses this issue head-on:
‘The cause of this was not (as has been vulgarly supposed) that there was no more need or occasion for them, because all the world had become Christian. This is a miserable mistake. Not a twentieth part of the world was then nominally Christian. The real cause of the loss was that the love of many, almost all the so-called Christians had grown cold. The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens. The Son of Man, when He came to examine His church, could hardly find faith on earth. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer to be found in the Christian church after that time. It was because the Christians had turned heathen again, and had only a dead form left. So, when this faith and holiness were nearly lost, dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they did not have themselves. They belittled and discredited all the gifts of the Spirit as either madness or fraud.’
In another communication, Wesley responded to a Dr. Middleton, an anti-supernaturalist who claimed that the gift of tongues had not been heard of since the Reformation. Wesley counters by referring to the French Protestants, who in recent times had claimed to exercise tongues and other miraculous powers.
Wesley actually bemoaned the overall condition of the church relative to the Holy Spirit and his wonderful gifts. Though Wesley witnessed numerous expressions of God’s power, he realized that the church, generally speaking, was unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with the third member of the Godhead. He writes:
‘Who of you is, in any degree, acquainted with the work of his Spirit, his supernatural work in the souls of men? Can you bear, unless now and then, in a church, any talk of the Holy Ghost? Would you not take it for granted, if one began such a conversation, that it was hypocrisy or enthusiasm [extremism]?’
Has the situation changed much today in our Catholic faith? You can tell when a parish, a priest, a lay person is on fire for God- they have the joy of the Lord, people are changed and healed just being around them. All they talk about is Jesus and how to get other people into relationship with Him. But so many are lacking this deep living relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This is why Pope Francis and other popes have encouraged all people in the Church to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Without it, without Him, the lost souls will not be saved. “The Holy Spirit also enriches the entire evangelizing Church with different charisms. These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church. They are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safekeeping; rather they are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the centre which is Christ and then channelled into an evangelizing impulse.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 130, link)
Come, Holy Spirit and renew the Church!
Dan Devine, M. Div.
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