Interpreting the Signs of the Times
Pat Collins CM
In Mt 16:2-3 Jesus said, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” The signs of the times are significant events which, like so many dots, prophetic people can join together in such a way that they discern what on earth God is doing for heaven’s sake. This notion was referred to during and after the Second Vatican Council. In par. 4 of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World we read, “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other.” While serving as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger commented on the connection between prophecy and the signs of the times, "There is a link between the charism of prophecy and the category of “the signs of the times,” which Vatican II brought to new light. . . . To interpret the signs of the times in the light of faith means to recognize the presence of Christ in every age. The private revelations approved by the Church help us to understand the signs of the times and to respond to them rightly in faith."
During the last half century, the Lord has revealed “things to come” (cf. Jn 16:13) in the form of prophetic utterances. In 1969, Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI spoke in a prophetic way on German radio. He foretold that the Church would have to undergo all kinds of humbling and purifying adversity. He said, "From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.” Then he went on to talk about troubles to come in secular society. He predicted that people in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty, at a spiritual and psychological level.
In 1975 there was a much quoted prophecy which was delivered in the presence of St Paul VI in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It spoke about how times of darkness that would come upon the Church. Echoing what Ratzinger had said in Germany, the prophecy went on to say that the troubles in the Church would eventually be followed by days of darkness in secular society. "Because I love you I want to show you what I am doing in the world today. I want to prepare you for what is to come. Days of darkness are coming on the world, days of tribulation.” In 1980, Fr Mike Scanlon received a powerful prophetic word about the purifying tribulations to come in the Catholic Church, e.g., “The time that has been marked by my blessings and gifts is being replaced now by a period to be marked by my judgment and purification. What I have not accomplished by blessings and gifts, I will accomplish by judgment and purification. My people, my church is desperately in need of this judgment. They have continued in an adulterous relationship with the spirit of this world. . . there will be casualties. It will not be easy, but it is necessary. It is necessary that my people be in fact my people, that my church be in fact my church, and that my Spirit in fact bring forth purity and fidelity to the gospel.” I think that it would be fair to say that those warnings about purifying tribulation to come in the Church have been, and still are being fulfilled. During recent years we have had to repeatedly acknowledge all kinds of criminal and immoral behavior in the Church.
Threatened by an immense danger
St John Paul II was one of those prophetic people who could interpret the signs of the times. In 1980 he said in par. 15 of, Rich in Mercy, “If any of our contemporaries do not share the faith and hope which lead me, as a servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God, to implore God's mercy for humanity in this hour of history, let them at least try to understand the reason for my concern. It is dictated by love for man, for all that is human and which, according to the intuitions of many of our contemporaries, is threatened by an immense danger (my italics).” A year later in 1981, St John Paul said to pilgrims, "We must prepare ourselves, to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ. With your and my prayer it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed.” Speaking about a coming time of tribulation Pope John Paul stated that it, "lies within the plans of Divine providence. It is, therefore, in God's Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously.” It is significant that when Pope Francis announced the extraordinary jubilee year of mercy in 2015, he referred in his papal Bull Misericordiae Vultus to John Paul’s words about the world being faced by an immense danger. When I spoke briefly at the 2019 Divine Mercy Conference in the Royal Dublin Society, I echoed the intuition of many when I predicted that a time of tribulation was coming in the near future for the whole of Western Europe.
Ever since then we have had to contend a growing number of crises such as destructive fires in the USA and Australia, huge swarms of locusts devouring the vegetation in a number of African countries, fierce hurricanes and storms together with unprecedented amounts of rain and flooding. At the beginning of 2020 we became aware of the corona virus in China. Since then it has become a pandemic which has swept across the world with disastrous consequences. It will undermine the world’s already vulnerable economic institutions which are floating on an ocean of indebtedness. As Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England said in his 2016 book The End of Alchemy: Banking, the Global Economy and the Future of Money, “The crisis (2008) was not a failure of individual policy makers or bankers but of a system, and the ideas that underpinned it...There was a general misunderstanding of how the world economy worked.” A little later he predicted, “Another crisis is certain, and the failure…to tackle the disequilibrium in the world economy makes it likely that it will come sooner rather than later.” As a result of the impending recession or even depression there will be growing unemployment and bankruptcies which could give rise to extreme political parties and social unrest. There is reason to believe, therefore, that the trials foretold by many Christians are coming to pass. A question that can be asked is this, from a Christian point of view, how should we understand what is happening?
Jesus on the signs of the times
In this reflection I would like to interpret current events in the light of what Jesus said in Lk 13:1-5 where we read, “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-- do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
Scripture scholars say that neither of the incidents which are mentioned by Luke in this passage was referred to in any other part of the bible or the secular histories of the time. Evidently, both of them took place during Jesus’ lifetime within a stone’s throw of one another in Jerusalem. We know very little about the Galileans who were murdered within the temple precincts. At Passover time, large crowds used to come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice in the temple. It is quite possible that during a disturbance that occurred there, Pilate’s troops quelled the unrest in a violent way that led to loss of life. Evidently, the blood of those who were wounded and killed was mixed, in a sacrilegious way, with that of their animal sacrifices. Josephus, the Jewish historian, recalls a similar incident in his Antiquities, when a number of Samaritans were executed on Pilate’s orders following a religious protest. As far as the collapse of the tower which killed eighteen men is concerned we know a little more about it. Archaeologists, are fairly sure that they have discovered its ruins near the spring of Siloam (Jn 9:7), several metres south of Herod’s fortress. We know that Pilate had been trying to improve the water supply to the city and was stealing temple revenues to finance the project. The Pharisees argued that the labourers who worked on the building of the tower were wrong to do so. The collapse of the tower, which killed eighteen men, may have been due to the fact that its foundations had been undermined by the construction work nearby.
In the Jewish theology of the time, the people would have assumed that the victims in both incidents had lost their lives as a punishment for their grievous sins. As Eliphaz said to Job: "Consider now: who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? (Job 4:7). The same belief was evident in the story of Jesus’ cure of the blind man, “His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (Jn 9:2). Jesus surprised the enquirers when he said that the man’s blindness had nothing to do with his own sins or those of his parents.
As far as Jesus was concerned although the people who died were sinners, they were no more so than anyone else. As Joachim Jeremias pointed out in his New Testament Theology, “In Lk 13:1-5, Jesus expressly attacks the dogma that misfortune is a punishment for the definite sins of particular people. Rather, suffering is a call to repentance, a call which goes out to all. Whereas his contemporaries ask, “Why does God send suffering?” the disciples of Jesus are to ask, “For what does God send suffering?” Jeremias goes on to say, “One answer would be, “God allows suffering, in order to summon people to repentance lest they suffer a greater catastrophe.” The reply of Jesus does not support the mistaken notion that an angry God inflicts suffering and death upon sinners. Like people who suffer from diseases as a result of smoking, willful people are the authors of their own misfortunes. Understood in that way they can be seen as punishments. But if the truth be told, God, who is unconditionally loving, hates to see sinners suffer. Secondly, given the fact that people do suffer affliction, it can be seen as a happy fault in so far as it contains an implicit invitation to come to one’s senses, like the prodigal son, and to return to God the merciful Father. When Jesus called his hearers to repent, because if they failed to do so they would perish, what had he in mind? I think there were three possible levels of meaning implicit in what he said.
Three implications of Jesus’ words
Firstly, as George Caird, has rightly pointed out in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, unlike his fellow Jews, was able to read the signs of his times. Caird wrote, “In the mounting hostility to his own mission, in the strained relations between Jew and Gentile, in the frequent outbreaks of patriotic frenzy, and in the growing severity with which these outbreaks were suppressed, Jesus read the signs of the times, which he believed should be equally legible to others. As in the days of Isaiah God had used Assyria as the rod of his anger (cf. Is 10:5ff), so now he was about to use Rome as the agent of his judgment upon his people; and only immediate repentance could save them.” Tragically, the people failed to heed the Lord’s repeated calls to repent. No wonder Jesus wept over Jerusalem (cf. Lk 19:41-44). He knew that, as a result of their rejection of him and his message, the people would suffer terribly when their city and temple would be destroyed by General Titus in 70 AD.
Secondly, that same dynamic has been repeated over and over again down the centuries, including the twentieth and twenty first century. Let me take the example of Ireland, which has wider implications for other countries. When St John Paul II visited the country in 1979 he said in a prophetic manner in Limerick, “What would it profit your country to go the easy way of the world and suffer the loss of her own soul? Your country seems in a sense to be living again the temptations of Christ: Ireland is being asked to prefer the ‘kingdoms of the world and their splendour’ to the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 4:8). Satan, the Tempter, the Adversary of Christ, will use all his might and all his deceptions to win your country for the way of the world. What a victory he would gain, what a blow he would inflict on the Body of Christ in the world, if he could seduce men and women away from Christ. Now is the time of testing for your country.”
More than forty years have passed since the Pope spoke those challenging words. Sadly, we would have to acknowledge that many Irish people have failed to heed them. Here are some reasons why I say this.
1) Since 1979 Church attendance has dropped from around 80 to 30%.
2) There are very few vocations to the priesthood or religious life.
3) The referendums on abortion & same sex marriage were passed by a two thirds majority.
4) Last November the pagan Festival of Puca was revived at Halloween with the support of Failte Ireland and the County Councils of Meath and Louth.
5) Week by week we hear of terrible crimes such as the murder and dismemberment of a 17 year old teenager in Drogheda.
6) In recent years there has been a growing demand for prayers for deliverance and exorcism from people who feel oppressed or possessed by evil spirits.
7) Currently there is an epidemic of cocaine use.
8) The social media abound in vile & hate filled messages.
It would seem that Christian Ireland is participating in mass apostasy that is taking place right across the continent of Europe and other parts of the world. As St John Paul II said in par 9 of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, The Church in Europe, there is “an attempt to promote a vision of man apart from God and apart from Christ. This sort of thinking has led to man being considered as the absolute centre of reality, a view which makes him occupy – falsely – the place of God and which forgets that it is not man who creates God, but rather God who creates man. Forgetfulness of God led to the abandonment of man. It is therefore no wonder that in this context a vast field has opened for the unrestrained development of nihilism in philosophy, of relativism in values and morality, and of pragmatism – and even a cynical hedonism – in daily life. European culture gives the impression of silent apostasy on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist.”
Over the years, the Lord has invited, even implored people by means of the words and example of recent popes, bishops and many prophetic men and women, to undergo a change of heart as a result of experiencing the free gift of divine mercy. But by and large their appeals have been ignored. In par 1588 of her Diary, St Faustina Kowalska, wrote these thought provoking words on God’s behalf, “In the Old Covenant I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to my people. Today I am sending you with my mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart. I use punishment when they themselves force me to do so; my hand is reluctant to take hold of the sword of justice. Before the day of justice I am sending the day of mercy.”
In our modern secular society many citizens fail to acknowledge God’s ultimate authority in the realm of morality, and everyone does as they think fit themselves. In my opinion we have to understand the tribulations we are currently enduring within this wider social and religious context. Paradoxically, from a theological point of view current tribulations are at once a painful consequence of modern society’s forgetfulness of God, and at the same time a mercy in so far as God allows us to be disciplined by painful events as a way of calling those who are contrite to repentance. As Heb says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Thirdly, when Jesus urged the people of his time to repent in order to avoid perishing at the hands of the Roman occupiers, he saw the impending destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, as a metaphor of the much greater tribulation that will occur before his second coming, no longer as the merciful Lord but as the regal judge of the living and the dead. So when he used the word perish, in this context it referred not only to the possibility of immediate physical death, but ultimately to the possibility of the second death, namely, to forfeit eternal salvation as a result of irreversible separation from God.
It is my guess that the coming tribulation will be met by mixed reactions. Some people will turn away from God in an angry resentful way believing that there is no deity, or that God has turned away from them. As a result they may be inclined to eat drink and be merry believing, in a rather hopeless way, that tomorrow they will die. Others may be like the prodigal son, who was humbled as a result of his tribulations. Consequently, they may have a desire for a better future. As a result they will be more open to the Christian gospel, e.g., by attending Alpha Courses or Life in the Spirit Seminars. When they hear the kerygma, i.e. the core Christian message about Christ’s unconditional love and mercy, they may be willing to change their thinking and behaviour as a result of experiencing the outpouring of God’s empowering Holy Spirit.
In the meantime we need to listen to the prophetic voice of the Spirit and to intercede for the people who are afflicted. When he spoke at Limerick in 1979, St John Paul II said, “I ask you today for a great, intense and growing prayer for all the people of Ireland, for the Church in Ireland, for all the Church which owes so much to Ireland. Pray that Ireland may not fail in the test. Pray as Jesus taught us to pray : "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." When I was writing this reflection I felt that the Lord wanted me to read 2 Chron 6. It describes how when king Solomon opened the temple in Jerusalem, he uttered a long prayer of dedication. As I read it I was surprised to find that as well as praying for other intentions, he spoke these words which are as relevant today as they were when they were first uttered, “When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know the human heart), so that they will fear you and walk in obedience to you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors” (2 Chron 6:28-31). Although the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed a long time ago we are members of Christ’s living temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16) we are empowered by the Spirit to pray “in spirit and truth”(cf Jn 4:23-24).
If people fail to hear and respond to God’s voice in and through current events, I suspect that even though the current tribulations will end, they will only be succeeded by even greater tribulations in the future. Apparently, the Chinese word for "crisis" is composed of two characters signifying "danger" and "opportunity" respectively. One could predict that the current crisis will either lead to new and better opportunities as a result of repentance or to new unforeseen disasters in the future. The choice is ours. I want to conclude with a prayer for Ireland.
Lord we thank you for the countless blessings you have poured out on our country in the past. We praise you for the way in which your grace found expression in many generous and loving lives. We are grateful for the prosperity we currently enjoy. However, we regret, that the flame of the Spirit has sometimes been quenched by an idolatrous pursuit of power, pleasure, popularity and possessions. We confess Lord, that many of us have gone astray, and selfishly rewritten the commandments to suit ourselves. We believe that you came to cast fire on the earth and long to renew your wonders in our day as by a new Pentecost. Help us to fan the embers of our smouldering faith into a lively flame, especially by means of regular periods of personal and family prayer together with acts of self-denial. Mary mother of Jesus, we entrust Ireland to your motherly care. In the past our people remained faithful to your Son in times of persecution. We pray now that we may also remain faithful in times of tribulation. Amen.
Baptism in the Spirit & the Church?s Magisterium
Surely J. R. Williams is correct when he says, "In the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions the doctrine of baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit occupies a place of critical importance." For example, tens of millions of people have been baptised in the Spirit as a result of attending The Life in the Spirit Seminars, and the Alpha Course. Over the years there has been a good deal of scriptural and theological reflection on the subject by Catholics. For example, Dr Ralph Martin has written a comprehensive overview of different ways of understanding the topic in an article entitled, "A New Pentecost? Catholic Theology and "Baptism in the Spirit."
In 2012 the Doctrinal Commission of the International, Catholic, Charismatic Renewal Services published a significant book entitled, Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It argues that the in-filling of the Spirit is integral to the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, and normative for all Christians. It is both a release of the graces we received in the sacraments of initiation, and also a reception of charisms. In an important definition the book states that, ?Baptism in the Spirit is a life-transforming experience of the love of God the Father poured into one?s heart by the Holy Spirit, and received through a total surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ. This grace brings alive sacramental baptism and confirmation, deepens communion with God and with fellow Christians, enkindles evangelistic fervour and equips a person with charisms of service and mission.?
From an historical point of view, a very interesting debate occurred during the Second Vatican Council. It was about the lay apostolate and the charisms of the Holy Spirit. There were two schools of thought. The traditionalists, led by Cardinal Ruffini, adopted a rather cessationist point of view. They argued that the charisms were granted to the early Church in order to get it firmly established. When Christianity took root in the Greco-Roman world the charisms mentioned in 1 Cor 12:8-10 were withdrawn. The progressives, led by Cardinal Suenens argued that there was a spectrum of charisms ranging from the commonplace to the more unusual. Many of these, especially the more ordinary gifts, were already widely dispersed among the faithful for the edification of the Church. Suenens argued that God could restore the more extraordinary gifts to the Church at a future date. In the event the Belgian primate's point of view was supported by the majority of the bishops and was expressed in par. 12 of Lumen Gentium.
In 1967, two years after the ending of Vatican II, the Catholic charismatic renewal came into being when students, from Duquesne University, met for a weekend of prayer and fasting. They claimed to have experienced the baptism in the Spirit during their time together, which led to a release of the charismatic gifts spoken about during Vat II. Soon, an ever increasing number of American Catholics began to have similar experiences. Prayer groups quickly sprang up all over the country, in universities, parishes, monasteries and convents. Within a relatively short period of time the movement spread to all the five continents. It is estimated that at present there are more than 120 million Catholic charismatics and post-charismatics. Ever since the mid sixties the Popes, bishop's conferences and individual bishops have written about many aspects of the Charismatic Renewal Movement. In the remainder of this chapter we will focus on what they have had to say about baptism in the Spirit.
The Papal Magisterium
Par. 25 of Lumen Gentium says that the faithful should submit with mind and will to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra. "It must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking." When the Catholic Charismatic Renewal came into existence St Paul VI was pope. In 1978 Edward O'Connor wrote a wonderful book entitled, Pope Paul and the Spirit: Charisma and Church Renewal in the Teaching of Paul VI. Paul was very familiar with the ways of the Spirit. The renowned American evangelist and healer, Kathryn Kuhlman, who once had an audience with him, came away saying that he knew more about the Holy Spirit than any other spiritual leader of her acquaintance. As O'Connor's book attests, Paul spoke about many pneumatic subjects, but never specifically on baptism in the Spirit. However, on Oct 16th 1974 he agreed to speak at the launch of Cardinal Suenen's book, A New Pentecost? Presumably, in doing so he gave tacit approval to a section it contained on baptism in the Spirit.
In 1978 Paul VI was succeeded for a mere 33 days by Pope John Paul I. During his short pontificate the latter said nothing about baptism in the Spirit. The next pope was St. John Paul II who often spoke about the Spirit and the gifts of the spirit. In 1986, he published an encyclical entitled, Dominum et Vivificantem, on the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World. While this authoritative letter brims with theological insight it has very little to say about charisms and apparently nothing about baptism in the Spirit.
In the course of a general audience on Sept 6th 1989, John Paul did speak about baptism in the Spirit. It would have to be admitted however, that although he used the scriptural phrase (cf. Mt 3:11; Jn 1:32-34; Acts 1:5) he did so within a sacramental rather than a specifically charismatic context. That said his words deserve our attention,
"Baptising in the Holy Spirit" means regenerating humanity with the power, of God's Spirit. That is what the Messiah does. As Isaiah had foretold (11:2; 42:1), the Spirit rests on him, filling his humanity with divine strength . . . Having acquired this fullness, Jesus the Messiah can give the new baptism in the Spirit of whom he is full (cf. Jn 1:33; Acts 1:5)."
In preparation for the celebration of the second millennium in 2000, Pope John Paul II declared that 1998 would focus on the Person and activity of the Holy Spirit. Although he gave many catechetical instructions on different aspects of pneumatology (i.e. the theology of the Spirit), he never spoke specifically about baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Following John Paul's death in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI became the supreme pontiff. There is no doubt that he was not only familiar with the theory and practice of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement, like John Paul II he was sympathetic with its spirituality and aims. Nevertheless, he said very little about baptism in the Spirit. However, on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday the 13th of January 2008 the Pope said,
"The Evangelist recounts that when Jesus emerged from the waters, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, while the Father's voice from Heaven proclaimed him "my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3: 17). From that very moment, therefore, Jesus was revealed as the One who came to baptize humanity in the Holy Spirit: he came to give men and women life in abundance (cf. Jn 10: 10), eternal life, which brings the human being back to life and heals him entirely, in body and in spirit, restoring him to the original plan for which he was created."
On Pentecost Sunday 2008, Benedict added,
"Today I would like to extend this invitation to everyone: Let us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit; let us be aware again of our baptism and of our confirmation, sources of grace that are always present. Let us ask the Virgin Mary to obtain a renewed Pentecost for the Church again today, a Pentecost that will spread in everyone the joy of living and witnessing to the Gospel."
When one reads what Benedict said on those two occasions, it is not quite clear whether he was talking about baptism in the Spirit solely in a sacramental way, or whether he was indirectly talking about it in a more Charismatic manner.
When Pope Benedict retired in 2013 he was succeeded by Pope Francis. At a charismatic gathering on June 2nd 2014, in the Olympic stadium in Rome, he confessed,
"As you perhaps know ? because news spreads ? in the first years of the Charismatic Renewal I did not like Charismatics much. And I said of them: ?They seem like a school of samba!? I did not share their way of praying and the many new things that were happening in the Church. Afterwards, I began to know them and in the end I understood the good that Charismatic Renewal does to the Church."
A little later in the same address he referred to baptism in the Spirit when he said,
"Another danger is that of becoming "controllers" of God's grace. So often the leaders - I prefer the name servants - of some groups or some communities become, perhaps without wanting it, administrators of grace, deciding who can receive the prayer for the effusion or Baptism in the Spirit [my italics] and who, instead, cannot. If some do so, I beg you not to do so anymore . . . You have a guide in the Documents of Malines . . .The first of which is: Theological and Pastoral Guidelines."
On June 12th 2015, Pope Francis spoke again about baptism in the Spirit when he said to priests and religious,
"I ask all of you, each of you, that as part of the stream of grace of the Charismatic Renewal to planning seminars of life in the Spirit, in your parishes, in your seminaries and schools ? share your teaching on the Baptism of the Spirit, because it is produced by the work Holy Spirit through a personal encounter with Jesus, which changes lives.?
It is theologically significant that Francis is the first Pope who has referred to baptism in the Spirit with a Charismatic understanding in mind. The Malines Document he referred to, was written by Cardinal Suenens and a number of theologians. It proposed an understanding of baptism in the Spirit as a spiritual experience which releases the potential implicit in the sacraments of initiation. So although the Papal magisterium in the form of previous Popes had referred to baptism in the Spirit on a number of occasions, it appears that Francis is the first Pope to acknowledge the validity of the charismatic understanding of this experience without committing himself to any particular theological interpretation. Speaking to charismatics in June 2019, he said,
?Share baptism in the Spirit with everyone in the Church.?
The Episcopal Magisterium
In canon 753 of The Code of Canon Law (1983) we read,
?Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own bishops with a religious assent of soul.?
Since the advent of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in 1967, bishop's conferences, and individual bishops have commented on the movement and its spiritual beliefs, including the notion of baptism in the Spirit. These observations are significant because they are expressions of the will not include a comprehensive survey of what the bishops in different countries have said about baptism in the Spirit. Instead it will only refer to a few instructive examples.
In 1993 the Irish Bishops issued a statement entitled, Life in the Spirit: Pastoral Guidance on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. In a section entitled, "Outpouring of the Holy Spirit" they said that this gift has many names such as "baptism in the Spirit," "outpouring of the Holy Spirit" and "renewal in the Holy Spirit." But they suggested that it might be better not to use the phrase "baptism in the Spirit" because people might confuse it with sacramental baptism. Speaking about the phenomenon the bishops wrote,
"The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is a conversion gift through which one receives a new and significant commitment to the Lordship of Jesus and openness to the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps only a minority of people experience this conversion as something sudden; for most people it seems it is more gradual, occurring over a period of days, weeks or months. Although it is a very important gift, it is still only one stage in a lifelong process."
In 2003 the Canadian bishops issued a document entitled, Canadian Bishops Statement on Charismatic Renewal. Nowhere were the words, "baptism in the Spirit" mentioned. However, in one section, the bishops seemed to be referring to the experience of baptism in the Spirit when they wrote,
Baptism in the Spirit Explained
It could be argued that Jn 1:33 is the most important verse in the Bible. Following a revelation from God, John the Baptist testified, ?The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.? Speaking about this verse, the Jerusalem Bible says that it sums up the entire mission of the earthly and heavenly Jesus. On Jan 14th 2008 Pope Benedict XVI seemed to confirm this point of view at a baptism ceremony: ?From the moment of his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was revealed as he who came to baptize mankind in the Holy Spirit.? So we can safely say that Jesus became man in order to give us the Spirit. Now that he has ascended into glory, he longs to pour out the Spirit on you and me.
During the final years of the 19th century there was a growing conviction, particularly among Protestant Christians in America, that a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit was going to take place. Something similar was also happening in the Catholic Church. On January 1, 1901, at the urging of Bl Elena Guerra, Pope Leo XIII chanted the Veni Creator Spiritus in St Peter?s Basilica asking the Lord to pour out the Holy Spirit on all Christians. On that very day halfway round the world, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred at the Bethel College and Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, It is generally accepted as the beginning of Pentecostalism. Then the Azusa Street revival of 1906 took place. As the late Fr. Peter Hocken remarked, ?The Inter-racial component at Azusa Street astounded all participants. This was surely an expression of divine wisdom, that such a worldwide explosion of grace should be unleashed at a gathering of the poor and dispossessed of all colours, led by an uneducated black pastor. These origins clearly express the divine gratuitousness, and the difference between God?s plans and mere human ideas.?
When Pope St John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, he prayed, "Renew Your wonders in our time, as though for a new Pentecost, and grant that the holy Church, preserving unanimous and continuous prayer, together with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and also under the guidance of St. Peter, may increase the reign of the Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen." The Council met between 1962 and 1965.
When it came to an end, the documents of Vatican II were a great blueprint for the renewal of every aspect of Catholic life. However, attempts at renewal often had disappointing results. I have long suspected that although the council's ideas were good in themselves, we often tried to implement them by our own unaided efforts. But as Ps 127:1 warns, "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain." In many instances that is what we discovered the hard way. We came to see that we had built the renewal on sand. When the storms of adversity assailed us, a good deal of the renewal collapsed. What was missing it would seem, was the foundation stone of a graced-filled revival.
A number of writers at the time acknowledged that this was indeed the case. One notable example was English theologian, Fr Charles Davis. Writing in America magazine shortly before he resigned from the priesthood in 1966, he wrote,
?Much speaking in different places on themes of renewal has brought me into contact with many people seeking to revivify their faith. I have found a sense of emptiness, but together with it a deep yearning for God. There is an emptiness at the core of people?s lives, an emptiness waiting to be filled. They are troubled about their faith; they find it slipping. I am not speaking about those who are worried about recent changes. These people are not. But they are looking for something to fill the void in their lives, and what they hear does not do that. The more perceptive know that they are looking for God. He seems to have withdrawn from the world and from them. They come to talks by speakers like myself. They hear about the new liturgy, about new understanding of the layman?s role, about collegiality, about the Church and the world, about a thousand and one new and exciting ideas. They are duly impressed. But who will speak to them quite simply of God as a person he intimately knows, and make the reality and presence of God come alive for them, once more??
An historically Important Event
On February 17th 1967, twenty five students from Duquesne University attended a momentous retreat in The Ark and the Dove Retreat House near Pittsburgh. Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan have described their state of mind in this way,
?There was something lacking in their individual Christian lives. They couldn?t quite put their finger on it, but somehow there was an emptiness, a lack of dynamism, a sapping of strength in their lives of prayer and action. It was as if their lives as Christians were too much their own creation, as if they were moving forward under their own power and of their own will. It seemed to them that the Christian life wasn?t meant to be a purely human achievement.?
Each of the people who attended the retreat read David Wilkerson?s The Cross and the Switchblade, the first four chapters of the Acts of the Apostles and asked for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Afterwards they claimed to have experienced a release of the Spirit and his charismatic gifts.
Patti Mansfield has described her experience in these moving words.
?I wandered into the upstairs chapel...not to pray but to tell any students there to come down to the (birthday) party. Yet, when I entered and knelt in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I literally trembled with a sense of awe before His majesty. I knew in an overwhelming way that He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. I thought, ?You had better get out of here quick before something happens to you.? But overriding my fear was a much greater desire to surrender myself unconditionally to God.
I prayed, ?Father, I give my life to you. Whatever you ask of me, I accept. And if it means suffering, I accept that too. Just teach me to follow Jesus and to love as He loves.? In the next moment, I found myself prostrate, flat on my face, and flooded with an experience of the merciful love of God...a love that is totally undeserved, yet lavishly given. Yes, it?s true what St. Paul writes, ?The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.? My shoes came off in the process. I was indeed on holy ground. I felt as if I wanted to die and be with God. The prayer of St. Augustine captured my experience: ?O Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.? As much as I wanted to bask in His presence, I knew that if I, who am no one special, could experience the love of God in this way, that anyone across the face of the earth could do so.?
Since then, I, like millions of people all over the world, have had a similar experience.
A Personal Testimony
I was ordained in 1971. In the years immediately after that I had an inchoate longing for something. St Thomas Aquinas says in his Summa Theologica: ?The object of faith is not the statement, but the reality.? My head was stuffed with theology, statements about God, but I was out of touch with the Reality that those statements signified. In February in 1974. I was invited to attend a retreat in the North of Ireland. One of the talks was given by a Church of Ireland clergyman. He spoke about Jesus as the source of our peace. Quite frankly, his inspired words moved me to tears. I wanted to know the Lord the way this man did. Afterwards a nun introduced me to him. We had a brief chat and arranged to meet privately. When we did, I told the clergyman that I was looking for a new awareness of God in my life. He read a memorable passage from Eph 3:16-20. It asks that the seeker, "may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.? Then the clergyman prayed for me, firstly in English, then in tongues. Suddenly, and effortlessly I too began to pray fluently in tongues. I knew with great conviction that Jesus loved me and accepted me as I was. I knew what St Peter meant when he wrote: ?Though you have not seen him, you love him and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy? (1 Pt 1:8) May I say in passing, that ever since that mystical event I have had a conviction that Baptism in the Spirit is, above all else, a movement from statements about God?s unconditional love for each one of us, to a personal experience of that incomprehensible love.
During the following months and years the inner effects were obvious. It was as if the risen Jesus had walked through the walls of my body to live within me. Prayer was easy, scriptures a revelation, fears were lessened, I had greater ability to love, and exercise the spiritual gifts. Baptism in the Spirit, I discovered, is not so much a one off blessing, as the beginning of a process, one that has been deepened and strengthened by subsequent outpourings of the Holy Spirit over the years.
Although there are similarities in the way people recount their experiences of baptism in the Spirit there are many individual differences e.g. for some it is sudden and dramatic, for others it is more gradual and gentle. Furthermore, when theologians reflect on such experiences they adopt different approaches, e.g., baptism in the Spirit is the release of a grace already given in baptism and confirmation, or a new outpouring or effusion of the Spirit. They can also emphasize different scriptural and historical points. As a result, there are different ways of understanding baptism in the Spirit and how it fits into the more general context of the sacramental and missionary life of the Church.
As Frank D. Macchia indicates in his excellent Baptized in the Spirit (2006) the Pentecostals were the first Christians in the modern era to talk about baptism in the Spirit. They described two blessings, firstly, salvation and sanctification as a result of water baptism, and secondly, power to witness to one?s faith, together with charismatic signs, especially tongues, as a result of baptism in the Spirit. James Dunn pointed out in his book Baptism in the Holy Spirit (1970), that while Catholic and Protestant scholars would not doubt the genuineness of Pentecostal?s experience of the Spirit, they would question the way in which they interpret it from a scriptural and theological point of view.
The writings of eminent Catholic scholars such as Frs. Frank Sullivan, Francis Martin, Raniero Cantalamessa, Killian Mc Donnell, and George Montague indicate that there are two main ways of understanding baptism in the Spirit. Firstly, many of these scholars maintain that baptism in the Spirit is the conscious release, manifestation and appropriation of dormant graces already received in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. This thesis was first proposed in Cardinal Suenens?s Theological and Pastoral Orientations of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (1974). It has been adopted and developed by many theologians since then. Mc Donnell and Montague indicated in their influential book Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries (1990) that when adults were being baptized in the early Church they expected to be baptized in the Spirit and to receive one or more of the charisms. They concluded that this special grace is integral to the sacraments of initiation and normative for all Christians. If their interpretation of the scriptural and patristic data is correct, their conclusion has vital implications for the renewal of the contemporary Church. For example, many present day Catholics believe that as adults we need to appropriate in a conscious way, the graces we first received in a sacramental way in baptism and confirmation. This happens as a result of claiming those sacramental graces by means of personal faith. Otherwise they tend to remain inactive rather than active in our lives. In par. 51 of his letter, Lord and Giver of Life (1986), Pope John Paul II explained, ?faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift of God's self- communication in the Holy Spirit.?
In 1974 Frank Sullivan, S.J. published an influential article in Gregorianum, entitled, ?Baptism in the Holy Spirit.? Speaking of this grace he said that it was ?a religious experience which initiates a decisively new sense of the powerful presence and working of God in one?s life, which working usually involves one or more charismatic gifts.? While not denying that, ultimately, all Christian grace has its origin in the sacraments of initiation, he said that St Thomas taught in the Summa Theologica, I, q, 43, a.6, ad 2 that when people experience an infilling or effusion of the Spirit, such as baptism in the Spirit, God lives in them in a new way, in order that they might do a new thing, such as working miracles, prophesying, or offering their lives as martyrs. In this understanding, baptism in the Spirit is not so much a one-off event, but rather the initiation of an on-going process that allows for new in-fillings of the Spirit which deepen and strengthen the life of grace and witness.
There is reason to believe that the two views of baptism in the Spirit are complementary rather than contradictory. This religious experience is rooted in the graces received in the sacraments of initiation, but besides releasing their potential, there is reason to think that something new, such as the charisms listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10 is added. It has often struck me that when Jesus was baptized in the Spirit in the Jordan, and Mary and the apostles and the disciples were inundated by the Holy Spirit in the upper room, not only did they experience the love of God being poured into their hearts (Cf. Rm 5:5), they were also empowered and gifted to witness to that love. Whereas, Jesus did not seem to have preached or performed any deeds of power before his baptism, there was no stopping him afterwards. It was the same with the first Christians. Following Pentecost they began to proclaim the reign of God?s liberating mercy and to demonstrate its presence by means of the more remarkable charisms, such as healing and prophecy.
The late Fr. Peter Hocken made it clear in a number of his writings, e.g., in two Goodnews articles entitled ?Baptism in the Spirit: A Biblical Understanding? and ?Baptism in the Spirit: A Catholic Approach? (Sept/Oct 2007) and (Nov/Dec 2007), that he was not impressed by either of the approaches outlined above. He felt that they were not sufficiently rooted in scripture. He maintained that the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost had an eschatological dimension in so far as it was an anticipation of the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. He wrote:
?The implication of the biblical data is that Jesus has come to baptize in the Holy Spirit. This He begins to do after His resurrection and ascension. This immersion in the Holy Spirit is to prepare the way for the coming King and His rule in righteousness. In this light, we should understand the outpouring of the 20th century as a sign of the Lord?s coming in glory. That does not mean we have any idea of God?s precise timetable.?
It could be added by way of addendum that baptism in the Spirit could be considered as a sacramental, like exorcism (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 1673). In par. 1677 of the Catechism we read:
?Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.?
Par. 1670 explains:
?Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do? For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power.?
Arguably, when believers lay hands on people, or anoint them with blessed oil, while praying that they be filled with the Spirit, it is a sacramental, and is thus related to sacramental grace.
How to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit
How does a person become baptized in the Holy Spirit? In my experience, three things are necessary. Firstly, he or she needs a wholehearted desire for this grace. Sometimes it takes months and even years for the desire to deepen and strengthen to such a point that the personality is sufficiently open to receive the un-merited gift of the outpouring of the Spirit. Jesus stressed the importance of desire when he said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified? (Jn 7:37-39).
Secondly, it is important to rely on the infallible promises of God to send the Spirit to those whose desire prompts them to ask for it. Here is just one of many possible New Testament examples. In Lk 11:13, Jesus said to parents, ?If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" As Catholics, we pray to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to be worthy of this mighty promise of Christ.
Thirdly, it is important to be willing to remove obstacles to the Spirit?s coming. Needless to say, all un-repented sin is a barrier, but I have found that the greatest single block is un-forgiveness and resentment. So it is important to ask for God?s help to remember who it is, living or dead, who still needs your forgiveness. As Col 3:13 says, ?Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.?
Fourthly, people should ask to be baptized in the Spirit with real expectancy. There are many gifts we could ask of God, without being certain that they were in accord with the divine will. But to ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit is always in accord with the centrality of God?s will. As scripture assures us: ?This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him? (1 Jn 5:14-15). As soon as people begin to ask for the sending of the Spirit, they receive a first installment of that grace. At the outset they may not be consciously aware of any inner change. But then either suddenly or gradually, their relationship with Christ will deepen as a result of a religious awakening and thus become more intimate at a conscious level of awareness.
If you wish to ask to pray for an in-filling of the Holy Spirit, begin by answering these questions,
· Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died to free us from our sins and was raised from the dead to bring us new life?
· Will you follow Jesus as your Lord??
When you make your profession of faith, say the following prayer with sincerity of heart and expectant trust,
?Lord Jesus Christ, I want to belong more fully to you from this time forward. I want to be freed from the power of sin and the evil one. I want to enter more completely into your kingdom to be part of your people. I will turn away from all wrongdoing, and I will avoid everything that leads me to wrongdoing. I ask you to forgive all the sins that I have committed. I offer my life to you, and I promise to put you first in my life and to seek to do your will. I ask you now to drench, soak, and inundate me with your Holy Spirit. I believe that your spiritual hands are upon me and that the red light of your mercy and the white light of your love are flooding my body, mind and soul. I thank you Lord that even as I pray you are responding to my request because it is so in accord with your loving desire for me. Amen.?
Baptism in the Spirit and the Eucharist
Recently, on the feast of Christ?s baptism, I had an unusual awareness as I celebrated Mass. During the Eucharistic prayer, I was thinking of how the Spirit would come down during the words of consecration to transform the bread and wine into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Then, I prayed inwardly, ?Lord, as you send the Spirit upon the gifts, send it also upon me and the congregation.? As I said this, I had a conviction that God was responding. By the time I got to the words of consecration I was so moved with emotion that I could hardly speak. I had a profound sense of the link between the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and his saving death on the cross. On the day he was revealed to the world as God?s anointed Messiah, there was an intimation of the agonies to come for God?s suffering servant (Cf. Is 42:1). Jesus fulfilled that vocation when he willingly laid down his life for all mankind (Cf. Rm 5:6-8). When he could breathe no longer, he gave a loud cry and said, ?Father into our hands I commit my spirit [my italics]? (Lk 23:46). So at the very moment of his death, Jesus yielded up the breath of the Holy Spirit so that it could be given to all of us. As I blessed the bread and wine I had a heartfelt sense that the same Spirit was coming, simultaneously, upon the gifts, the congregation, and myself in a transforming way. So whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, all of us can earnestly ask, in the words of the third Eucharistic Prayer, ?Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit.?
Although, baptism in the Spirit was re-discovered by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the 1960s, as the lives of the saints testify, it is a perennial gift for the whole Church. When we evangelise, by whatever means, we should aim to bring people to the point where they willingly open themselves to the infilling of the Lord and giver of life. If and when they experience baptism in the Spirit, they will have the desire and the gifts necessary to join in the new evangelization. As Paul the VI reminded us so eloquently in par. 75 of Evangelization in the Modern World (1975), ?techniques of evangelization are good, but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect preparation of the evangelizer has no effect without the Holy Spirit.? I?m convinced that programmes, including those devoted to evangelisation, which exclude the power of the Holy Spirit, will contribute by default to the decline of the Catholic Church.
 "Baptism in the Holy Spirit," in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal Charismatic Movements, eds. Stanley Burgess, & Eduard Van Der Maas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 354.
 Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, (Summer 2011), 17-43. See also, Pat Collins C.M., "Baptism in the Spirit," Doctrine and Life, (Feb 2008), 35-42.
 (Luton: New Life Publishing, 2012), 15.
 Cardinal Leon Suenens, "The Charismatic Dimension of the Church," Council Speeches of Vat II, ed. Kung, Congar, Hanlon (NJ: Deus Books, 1964), 29-34.
 Pope Paul and the Spirit, (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1978), 11.
 Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens, A New Pentecost? (London: DLT, 1975), 79ff.
 Pope Paul and the Spirit, op. cit., 212.
 (Dublin: Veritas, 1993), 7.
 Canadian Bishops Statement on Charismatic Renewal,
 Cf. Harvey Cox, ?Millennium Approaches,? Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty First Century (London: Cassell, 1996), 19-43.
 The Glory and the Shame: Reflections on the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Guildford: Eagle, 1994), 31.
Annual Miracle of the Holy Fire
I?m sure that like me, you have found that, in life, one thing leads to another. For example, some time ago I read a book entitled Christian Prophecy by a Danish theologian called Niels Christian Hvidt. When I googled his name I found that he had written another book in Danish with the lovely title, Miracles - Meetings between Heaven and Earth. It contains one fascinating chapter entitled, ?The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem? which describes an extraordinary phenomenon which I had never heard about. With good reason Orthodox Christians regard it as the greatest of miracles and see it as a continuous reminder of the Lord's resurrection.
Apparently, for fifteen hundred years or more the ?miracle of fire? has occurred annually on Easter Saturday night in the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. For instance, in 1106-07 Daniel a Russian abbot, wrote detailed description of the holy fire which he witnessed in the course of a pilgrimage to the Holy Places. Constantine the Great built the Holy Sepelchre in the middle of the fourth century. Since then it has been destroyed many times. The Crusaders constructed the building we see today. Around Jesus' tomb they erected a little chapel with two rooms, one in front of the tomb and then the tomb itself, which holds no more than four people. This room is the location of the miracle of fire.
Each year large crowd gather around the tomb. They include Christian Arabs, Greeks, and in recent years people who come from Eastern Europe and Russia. Nowadays the ceremony is broadcast live in many Christian Orthodox countries. Beginning at around 11:00 in the morning the Christian Arabs chant traditional hymns in a loud voice accompanied by the sound of drums and dancing. But at 1:00 pm the chants fade out, and there is a silence. Then the Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the sepulchre. Between 1981-2000 that role was fulfilled by Archbishop Diodorus. Before his death in 2000 he described what he had experienced on many occasions.
"After all the lights are extinguished, I bow down and enter the first chamber of the tomb. From here I find my way through the darkness to the inner room of the tomb where Christ was buried. Here, I kneel in holy fear in front of the place where our Lord lay after his death and where he rose again from the dead. Praying in the Holy Sepulchre in itself for me is always a very holy moment in a very holy place. It is from here that he rose again in glory and spread his light to the world. John the Evangelist writes in the first chapter of his gospel that Jesus is the light of the World. Kneeling in front of the place where he rose from the dead, we are brought within the immediate closeness of his glorious resurrection. Catholics and Protestants call this church "The Church of the Holy Sepulchre." We call it "The Church of the Resurrection." The resurrection of Christ for us Orthodox is the centre of our faith, as Christ has gained the final victory over death, not just his own death but the death of all those who will stay close to him.
"I believe it to be no coincidence that the Holy Fire comes in exactly this spot. In Matthew 28:3, the Gospel says that when Christ rose from the dead, an angel came, dressed in a fearful light. I believe that the intense light that enveloped the angel at the Lord's resurrection is the same light that appears miraculously every Easter Saturday. Christ wants to remind us that his resurrection is a reality and not just a myth; he really came to the world in order to offer the necessary sacrifice through his death and resurrection so that man could be re-united with his creator. "In the tomb, I say particular prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take on many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake - it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light.
This light behaves differently each year. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who are standing outside the tomb and look into it see the tomb filled with light. The light does not burn - I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than the normal fire that burns in an oil-lamp. "At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Thereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church."
There can be no doubt that the Christian faith rests on the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from death by The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. As St Paul said, ?I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms? (Eph 1:18-20). St Paul added, ?And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins? (1 Cor 15:14-17). While our faith is not based on the annual miracle of the holy fire, in these unbelieving times, it is certainly strengthened by it.
Three Amazing Eucharistic Miracles and the Real Presence
Pat Collins C.M.
Ten years after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Langdon Gilkey, a well known Protestant theologian, wrote a book entitled, Catholicism Confronts Modernity. In it he acknowledged that the Catholic Church was experiencing a transitional crisis. He said that one of the main causes was ?the dissolution of the understanding of the supernatural as the central religious category.? Rather than questioning this change, Gilkey proposed that Catholics should engage in a ?reinterpretation of the transcendent, the sacred, the divine ? the presence of God to men ? into worldly or naturalistic forms of modern experience rather than in the super-naturalistic forms of Medieval experience.? Sad to say, many Catholics have followed his advice. For example just before the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in June 2012, an Ipsos/MRBI poll found that 62% of Catholics saw the Eucharist as merely symbolizing the Body and Blood of Christ, while only 26% believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. That lack of faith is reflected in churches where there is no longer much silence. That can be true even during funeral and wedding masses when lots of unchurched people show up. Recently, however, I heard of three supernatural events, which have highlighted the fact that Jesus is really and truly present in the consecrated bread and wine.
In the eighth century a monk, who was a follower of St. Basil, had doubts about the real presence of Christ while he was offering Mass in a church in the Italian town of Lanciano. When he pronounced the words of consecration, the host was miraculously changed into physical flesh and the wine into physical blood which coagulated afterwards. A document from that times says, ?Frightened and confused by so great and so stupendous a miracle, he stood quite a while as if transported in a divine ecstasy; but finally, as fear yielded to the spiritual joy which filled his soul with a happy face, even though bathed with tears, having turned to the bystanders, he thus spoke to them: `O fortunate witnesses to whom the Blessed God, to confound my unbelief, has wished to reveal Himself in this Most Blessed Sacrament and to render Himself visible to our eyes. Come Brethren, and marvel at our God so close to us. Behold the Flesh and the Blood of our Most Beloved Christ.? These relics have been preserved ever since.
At the invitation of the Episcopal Conference of Italy Professor Linoni a former head of the Laboratory of Pathological Anatomy at the Hospital of Arezzo, was asked to analyze them scientifically. He extracted fragments with great care and then examined them. He presented his findings on March 4, 1971. His study confirmed that the flesh and blood were of human origin. The flesh was unequivocally cardiac tissue, and the blood was type AB. Speaking about the blood, the professor emphasized that "the blood group is the same as that of the man of the holy Shroud of Turin, and it has the characteristics of a man who was born and lived in the Middle East regions." In 1973, the Higher Council of the World Health Organization appointed a scientific commission to verify the Italian doctor's conclusions. The work was carried out over 15 months with a total of 500 examinations. The result of that research confirmed what had been stated and published by Dr. Linoni.
In 1263 a priest named Peter of Prague, stopped at Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He found it difficult to believe that Christ was actually present in the consecrated Host. While he was saying Mass in Bolseno, Italy, blood began to stream out of the host and onto the corporal at the moment of consecration. This was reported to and investigated by Pope Urban IV, who concluded that the miracle was real. The bloodstained linen is still exhibited at the cathedral in Orvieto. It is said that after this happened Pope Urban IV was prompted to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to compose a Mass and an Office honoring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ.
Now let us fast forward to the end of the 20th century. At 7 P.M. on August 18, 1996, Fr. Alejandro Pezet had said Mass in central Buenos Aires. As he was finishing distributing Holy Communion, a woman told him that she had found a discarded host at the back of the church. When Fr. Alejandro saw the soiled host he was unable to consume it, so he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle. When it dissolved he intended pouring the contents down the sacrarium in the sacristy. When he opened the tabernacle, on Monday, August 26, he saw to his amazement that the host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed bishop Jorge Bergoglio, who was the auxiliary Bishop at that time. He gave instructions that the Host should be photographed in a professional way. Afterwards the Host was returned to the tabernacle, and nothing was said about it. When it was discovered that the Host suffered no visible decomposition, bishop Bergoglio, who was now an archbishop, decided to have it scientifically analyzed.
On October 5, 1999, Dr. Ricardo Castanon-Gomez, a Bolivian scientist, took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. Since he did not wish to influence the investigation one way or another, he did not inform the team of scientists about its origin. One of these was Dr. Frederic Zugiba, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Zugiba testified that, ?the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.?
Two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero, witnessed these tests. Knowing where the sample had come from, they were dumbfounded by Dr. Zugiba?s findings. Mike Willesee asked the scientist how long the white blood cells would have remained alive if they had come from a piece of human tissue, which had been kept in water. Dr. Zugiba responded by saying that they would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes. Then the journalist told the doctor that the sample had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then for another three years in a container of distilled water; only then had it been taken for analysis. Dr. Zugiba was at a loss to account for this fact. He stated that there was no way of explaining the phenomenon scientifically. Only then did Mike Willesee inform Dr. Zugiba that the analyzed sample had in fact come from a consecrated host which had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugiba replied, ?How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science?a mystery totally beyond her competence.?
There is a striking similarity between the two miracles. The flesh in both instances came from a heart. The DNA in both is the same, as is the blood type. In both cases the flesh showed no evidence of preservatives of any kind. It is striking that on the very morning the Argentinean miracle occurred, Fr. Alejandro happened to base his prayer on Pope John Paul?s letter commemorating the 750th anniversary of the Feast of Corpus Christi, 28 May 1996. As a result of the miracle, Dr. Castanon-Gomez an atheist, and Mike Willesse who was unchurched, have both become devout Catholics. Furthermore, it is striking that all this happened in the very place where the future Pope Francis was living. Surely, God is demonstrating by means of these supernatural events, that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Not only are we being called to a livelier faith in his real presence, we are also being called to show a profound reverence for that presence. As St Paul said, ?A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself? (1 Cor 11:28-30).
This year I had the opportunity of attending a Greek Orthodox liturgy in the Cathedral in Kiev and when I was in the Solovak Republic I attended Mass which was celebrated by a Greek Catholic priest. Both were really beautiful But what was most striking where I was concerned was the great reverence of the people who attended. I remember thinking, how I wish the Catholics of Ireland could show this kind of reference during the Mass, and afterwards.