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Monday, May 27, 2024

The Holy Spirit, the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Errors of the “Charismatic” Movements

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The Holy Spirit, the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Errors of the “Charismatic” Movements

The testimony of sacred texts

The Gospel according to John records the teachings of our Savior Jesus Christ spoken in the night before His passions and crucifixion. In this context, the idea of sending a Comforter – the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit – emerges repeatedly. What truly comforts us is the fact that He, the Paraclete, will be with the faithful until the end of history. Here is how the Savior himself expresses it:

“And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you forever. The spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him: but you shall know him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16–17);

“But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (John 14:26);

“But when the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me” (John 15:26).

So here are just three passages in which Jesus speaks about the Comforter whom the Father, together with the Son, will send after He ascends to heaven. Additionally, the book of Acts is full of testimonies of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in and through the apostles. Alongside the dramatic moment of the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost, there are other moments – like the following one – intended to capture the fervor and power of the Spirit’s manifestation:

“While Peter was yet speaking these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word. And the faithful of the circumcision, who came with Peter, were astonished, for that the grace of the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they heard them speaking with tongues, and magnifying God. Then Peter answered: ‘Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost, as well as we?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then they desired him to tarry with them some days” (Acts, 10:44–48).

We note here a pretty well-known “sign” of receiving the Holy Spirit: speaking in tongues, a sign about which, however, we no longer really know how it manifests itself.

Certainly, we live in turbulent times, where “miracles” and “apparitions” abound more than ever. That is why we are obliged to avoid any imprudence – even when it is claimed that messages are transmitted to us by the Holy Virgin Mary, or even from God Himself.

Troubling Questions and Dangerous Errors

Reading such texts, throughout the centuries, many Christians have wondered: why do we not see such signs anymore? Why are the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s miracles no longer seen in our times? Such questions persist even today in the minds of Christians who read the Acts of the Apostles: why does the Holy Spirit no longer manifest visibly in our epoch? Why do we not see as many miracles as in the times of the apostles? In the context of an unprecedented crisis in the history of the Church, we often encounter believers who drift towards neo-protestant sects, where strong emphasis is placed on such miraculous manifestations.

Unfortunately, those who lean towards charismatic movements base their choice on wrong answers. For example, they assume that they know what “speaking in tongues” means and that they can discern miracles without error. Here lies the major danger posed by such movements. Probably unconsciously, a perspective is followed in which faith is substituted by supposed signs and visible, spectacular manifestations of the Spirit. What is forgotten or ignored is the fact that discernment in the case of such events is difficult to obtain. And that, many times, such manifestations can actually be psychic or even demonic. Hence, the Church refrains from making hasty judgments regarding “para-normal” occurrences. Establishing the supernatural nature of a “miraculous” fact is always a very difficult task.

Certainly, we live in turbulent times, where “miracles” and “apparitions” abound more than ever. That is why we are obliged to avoid any imprudence – even when it is claimed that messages are transmitted to us by the Holy Virgin Mary, or even from God Himself. Although there have been authentic supernatural apparitions, some approved by the Church, their number is very small compared to the false ones. A serious warning must be issued against those lay “theologians” who, in their books and conferences, mix true apparitions – such as those of Lourdes, La Salette, or Fatima – with dubious ones – such as Medjugorje. As a firm principle of discernment, no one should mix clearly recognized apparitions with dubious ones that are not unequivocally recognized by the Church. My warning is based on the fact that I have recently seen even on well-known websites such serious confusions. Sometimes, even the “secrets” left from officially recognized apparitions by ecclesiastical authorities, such as the apparition at La Salette, are counterfeited, and the versions circulating in the webosphere are non-authentic.

Saint John Chrysostom emphasizes that miracles disappear when faith becomes strong. Thus, the great Doctor of the Church explained why, after the apostolic age, miracles became increasingly rare. For miracles are usually only the means by which God strengthens the beginners.

True faith and the abuses of “charismatics”

Just like Thomas the “doubting” (John 20:25), people want to see, touch, and verify the existence of God. Often, the desire for miracles is actually the peculiar manifestation of a weak faith. In contrast to this attitude, Saint John Chrysostom emphasizes that miracles disappear when faith becomes strong. Thus, the great Doctor of the Church explained why, after the apostolic age, miracles became increasingly rare. For miracles are usually only the means by which God strengthens the beginners.

Contained within is a lesson that many “charismatics” (including those who are Catholics) do not accept: namely, that the greatest gift and miracle of the Spirit is faith itself. In a post-Christian world, where it is easier to be atheist or agnostic than faithful, a strong and simple faith in Christ the Savior becomes almost a palpable miracle. But, anyway, in such a “toxic” context it is not surprising that charismatics insist fervently on the necessity of miracles. It is true that for pagans these were necessary. But we are not in a pagan world. We are in a post-Christian world, often even blasphemous. We are deeply saddened by the fact that many baptized Christians violate the promises of baptism. And likewise, they disregard the gifts of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

This is what those Catholic “charismatics,” who request a laying on of hands upon those already anointed in order to receive the Holy Spirit, do. Regardless of the explanations they propose, their behavior ignores the gifts of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Any such practice is an abuse against the sacrament itself. That is because every believer anointed through the Sacrament of Confirmation has already received the Holy Spirit and His gifts. And this has happened even if this reception has not involved any visible miracle.

The anointing of Confirmation fully bestows upon us the Holy Spirit and His seven gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. No other ritual or ceremony is necessary for this purpose. Usually performed by a bishop, this sacrament is carried out by the laying on of hands upon the neophyte and anointing with perfumed oil (chrism). Hence the name “Christian,” which actually means “anointed.” As I have shown in another article, the word “Christian” is derived from the name of Christ the Savior, whom “God anointed with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:38). Therefore, through this sacrament, we ourselves have become “anointed.”

Like any other sacrament, Confirmation has its own symbolism, which emerges from the gestures and elements that compose its celebration. However, before presenting these symbolic aspects (in a future mystagogical article), I will insist on an essential point: through the reception of Confirmation, the faithful Christian receives all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Unlike charismatic movements, some of which go as far as claiming that we need a new anointing to receive the Holy Spirit, we must clearly and unequivocally confess the teaching of the Church: the Holy Spirit and His gifts are received by every baptized Christian who validly receives the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Confirmation perfects the grace of baptism; it is the sacrament that gives us the Holy Spirit to strengthen our union with the mystical body of Christ, which is His Church. Likewise, it is the Holy Spirit who helps us to become true witnesses of the faith – first through deeds, then through true words. Moreover, it is he who makes us true spiritual “warriors in Christ.”

¡Viva Cristo Rey!

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Last modified on Monday, May 27, 2024
Robert Lazu Kmita | Remnant Columnist, Romania

A Catholic father of seven and a grandfather of two, Robert Lazu Kmita is a writer with a PhD in Philosophy. His first novel, The Island without Seasons, was published by Os Justi Press in 2023.