St. Paul had great respect for the spectacular charisms of tongues, prophecy, healing and others and how they could build up the Church. Yet his repeated insistence in his letters to the Corinthians that God's power is made perfect in weakness gives us reason to pause.
Even more so does the fact that right in the middle of his extended discussion of charisms in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, he drops in his famous discourse on love:
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13.1-2).
The Corinthians squabbling over whose charism was the greatest could see this as nothing other than a stern rebuke. When St. Paul lists the fruit that bear witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit, as he does in Galatians 5.22 and in other places, love is always first on the list. If you want to know if the Spirit is truly present, look first not for prophecies and miracles, but for love.
As great and sensitive a theologian as Yves Congar refused to speak of the charismatic renewal movement because all Christians are charismatic, all have been gifted by the Holy Spirit by virtue of their Baptism. Congar instead spoke of the movement as the Renewal. Charisms, he maintained, should not be reduced to extraordinary manifestations and charismatics should not be seen as super-Christians.
In his 1980 book, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Congar expressed concern about what he saw as a lessening of the Church's social commitment in regions where the Renewal was prominent and about a simplistic way of viewing evil and the influence of the devil.
One might also be concerned where there is a greater trust in spontaneous utterance than in conclusions drawn from careful and prayerful reflection over a period of years. One should also be wary when life's decisions are made through a process that is more magical than truly discerning.
Despite such cautions, I must make the personal observation that since I began working with the WCR in 1981, I have seen few groups whose members have contributed as much to the common good of the local Church as those schooled in the Renewal. With few exceptions, they have not insisted that all Catholics should be "baptized in the Holy Spirit" and receive charisms such as prophecy and tongues.
These people have contributed to a wide variety of ministries and have done so with quiet perseverance.
I continue to lament the closure of the John Paul II Bible School because, although there were legitimate concerns with the school's operations, its graduates have made and are making enormous contributions to the life of the Church in the Western Canada.
If that institution could not be reformed, we nevertheless need something like it that would be oriented less to academic formation than to formation in Christian living for young people.
I am glad that our Catholic schools and organizations like the Knights of Columbus do a fine job of recognizing and responding to needs in the community. But all Catholic organizations must go beyond treating the faith mainly in terms of service to the world, feeding the poor and working for justice.
These are valid, indeed essential, expressions of our faith commitment. But our Church is more than an organization working for a better world. We should expect to see it imbued with a spirit of joy and thanksgiving in the presence of the Lord. These are fruits of fervent prayer, of the Holy Spirit.
For our Church to be vibrant, capable of passing on the faith to future generations and evangelizing the current generation, our Catholic institutions, especially schools, must be places of frequent and fervent prayer.
St. Paul was right, of course. A praying community is destroyed if individual pride usurps concern for the common good. But if prayer is not the focal point of the group, we hardly need to bother describing the community as Christian.