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May 23, 2011

It was a great joy to have Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, give four public talks at St. Joseph Basilica earlier this month. But please permit this writer to express a minor disappointment that Cantamalessa was not able to speak on the topic for which he has been a guiding light over the past 20 years — the renewal of ourselves and our Church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Cantalamessa's 2005 book Sober Intoxification of the Spirit is a landmark, a balanced and nuanced account of how the Holy Spirit can enliven Catholic community. The papal preacher begins his account by pointing to the inebriation with the Spirit that purifies us of sin, renews the fervour of the heart and gives the mind a special knowledge of God.

But right when you might expect that Cantalamessa would say all Catholics should receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit and receive the charismatic gifts, he does something else. He turns instead to the life of virtue, implying clearly that this is where the Spirit's presence is most clearly revealed.

The Spirit is calling Jesus' disciples today to "a life of personal holiness, especially in the area of sex" (15). He is calling us, second, to humility and, third, to brotherly love.

What can we do to make a new Pentecost happen in our Church? he asks. "Absolutely nothing. Only God makes a Pentecost." What we can do is empty ourselves, be humble and be ready to serve. Moreover, "We cannot be humble before God in prayer if we are not humble before our brothers and sisters" (31).

Pride is our mortal enemy. Religious pride is a double enemy. We can never have too much God, too much Holy Spirit. But we can have too much pride-filled religious judgment, especially about the actions of others.

For Cantalamessa, we ought to be careful about the charisms given by the Holy Spirit. Those charisms - prophecy, miracles, tongues and others - are of vital importance. Moreover, they should be distinguished from each person's natural talents. But in Matthew 7.21-23, Jesus says he will tell those who prophesy and cast out demons, "I never knew you: go away from me, you evildoers."

How is this possible? It is possible because one can prophesy with violence, forcing what one believes is a word from the Spirit into another's zone of freedom. Or, in casting out demons, one can start finding them behind every bush or in every family tree.

Praise is a sure sign of the Holy Spirit. But religiously-inspired condemnation is a danger zone where ego can easily outstrip humility.

Our Church and our lives need to be more greatly marked by the sober intoxification of the Spirit. We need to be filled with joy. We also need to be merciful and humble in our judgments. We need a greater outpouring of the Spirit. We also need an ever-present sobriety.