Sunday, 9 May 2010

Baptism in the Spirit

"Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is perhaps one of the best known aspects of the teaching and experience of the  Charismatic Renewal. It is also perhaps one of the least understood. Being baptismal in nature, it is not something that is confined only to the Catholic Church - its historic origin lies in the experience of non-Catholic communities and, theologically speaking, a Catholic can recognise its accessibility by anyone who has been baptised. It has an ecumenical implication.

It is interesting, though, to recognise its profound relation to Baptism as a Sacrament. One can perhaps see this in the Scriptural accounts of Jesus' Baptism where a particular coming of the Holy Spirit is associated with his Baptism: " .. and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him .." [Luke 3:21-22].

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa describes his own experience of "baptism in the Spirit" as follows (my italics added):
For me, baptism in the Spirit was a chance the Lord gave me to ratify and renew my Baptism. For most of us, Baptism is a bound sacrament. That means that while we have received Baptism in the Church, the Church gave it in the hope that at some point in our adult life we would confirm our ‘I believe’ in a personal, free act of faith. Until there is this act of faith in the life of a Christian, Baptism remains a bound sacrament.
So, rightly understood, "baptism in the Spirit" represents a particular gift to live out the consecration received in sacramental Baptism. And this is what is prayed for by those who desire this gift in the Charismatic Renewal. The testimonies offered in the New Life in the Spirit Seminars I am currently attending suggest that this prayer is not often associated with any spectacular happenings, but more often with an unfolding understanding of how the Spirit wishes to intervene in the life of the person receiving the gift.

There is a strong likeness between "baptism in the Holy Spirit" understood in this way and the consecration to Mary of St Louis Marie de Montfort's "True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin". Indeed, the pattern of the "fundamental retreat" of the Foyers of Charity, which leads to the Marian consecration on the Saturday afternoon, parallels the development of the Life in the Spirit Seminars and the way in which they lead up to the prayer for "baptism in the Holy Spirit" at the last week. The conception of both is that they represent a form of evangelisation, leading their participants to a deeper experience of living out the vocation first received in baptism.

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