Normal Christian Life – be ordinary, but with a difference – 3
The ‘First Line’ group used to gather at Snehanilayam, near Ernakulam city. Every month about two dozen of us – young and not so young from different parts of Kerala, would come together for some joyful fellowship and mutual edification. After the weekend we would go back with ideas and plans for animating the youth groups we belonged to.
Those were the days when Charismatic Renewal was fast spreading, and many new ‘preachers’ were emerging on the horizon. Many of them had their ‘holy airs’, and very serious and solemn in all that they did. In their dressing and in the way they spoke and related with the others, these spiritual leaders showed some marked difference. But our First Line group was a veritable ‘leveller’, making many pompous ones into smiling and playful normal people. Ever since, the movement has placed a healthy emphasis on appearing normal, ordinary and simple – yet having depth and difference.
Three: Using charisms, yet being normal
“In praying in tongues, there is a kindergarten level, primary stage, secondary stage and high school level,” Fr Marcelino used to instruct us. For those of us who were active in the late 1970’s, he used to be an attentive mentor and teacher. During most of our gatherings he would organize a quick practice session for praying and singing in the Spirit: “those of you who want to pray in tongues, please gather in the chapel during the next tea-break”, he would announce. And there along with some of us, Father would introduce youth to this simple and joyful form of praying from the heart in any sound or songs that the Spirit gave.
People often get introduced to praying and singing in Spirit at Charismatic Retreats, and continue using this gift in personal life and in groups. Father used to tell us that when you listen to people praying you can easily understand if they are at the initial levels of using this gift or have progressed in maturity. Early in their walk, they would be quite noisy and often irritating for the listeners. But if properly guided this gift can grow into a very joyful and pleasing prayer from, helping many to sing in a melodious and enjoyable way. This is all about ‘making a joyful noise to the Lord’ (Ps 98:4; 100:1; 66:1, etc.), because our ‘God is not a God of confusion’ (1 Cor 14:33)
My experience is, this growth continuum and evolving into a joyful pattern is true not only of the charism of tongues, but of every other charism. ‘Charism’ literally means a gift, here it means a ‘gift’ or ability one receives from the Holy Spirit. With the coming of Charismatic Renewal there was the rise and popularity of many gifts of the Spirit, which are very often mentioned in the Bible (1 Cor 12, 14; Rom 12; Eph 4:7-12; etc.) and seen in the life of many saints. So, in Charismatic circles we hear of gifts of
physical healing, emotional healing, receiving messages through prophesies or visions, gifts of knowledge and discernment, gift of tongues and so on.
When a person first comes and witnesses these gifts in operation, he or she is often quite baffled and is touched by certain of its external aspects. So, in the initial phases of using these charisms people become quite showy. ‘An empty vessel makes the most noise’. Gradually they come to realize that for the Spirit to work we needn’t put in too much of an external show, instead we bear the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22), being gentle and pleasing as ‘still waters run deep’. Over the years in the Charismatic Renewal I have seen many experienced leaders praying for healing in a gentle and joyful way and people getting deeply moved and healed.
Aim for a happy balance
“You all are charismatic leaders, yet quite simple and normal,” this priest told us during lunch break, “you are committed, yet not crazy”. We were at this recording studio for three days and this priest in charge of the centre was closely observing us. First, he was criticizing some aspects of the Charismatic renewal, but then we didn’t react. Slowly many of us were sharing about what each of us was doing by way of Christian witness and on the third day he turned into a good friend of Jesus Youth.
Father’s main difficulty with the Renewal was about the showy and quite shallow way of prayer and using gifts. Hearing his positive remarks, I was wondering if I should feel happy or sad. If he means that we are not using the Charismatic gifts, then it is very bad; but if his reference is aimed at a balanced, humble and joyful Charismatic Spirituality, then it is very positive.
Spirit gifted charisms are vital for Christian mission. As Second Vatical Council states, “he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church” (Lumen Gentium, 12). Using of charisms is essential for a Jesus Youth to be in tune with God’s plan and carry out the divine task of building His Kingdom. Or else we would be just doing some worldly project. But the same document urges for a balance, “Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly desired, nor is it from them that the fruits of apostolic labours are to be presumptuously expected.”
In his humorous way, Fr Marcelino would say, “I never realized, there is chapter 13 in between 12 and 14”. The latter two chapters of the First Corinthians talks a lot about charisms, but the in-between 13 is all about love and charity. Surely, forget not the use of the wonderful gifts of the Spirit, but using them in a humble, normal and joyful manner should be the test of maturity in Jesus Youth movement.
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