What is this all about?
Today, 27 May 2012 is Pentecost Day. Great enough, it is also celebrated as Children’s day. What a pleasant coincidence. It is exactly 40 days since Easter Sunday 2012, according to the Christian Church calendar. Pentecost was celebrated in the biblical Jewish society long before our LORD JESUS CHRIST came into the world; but the Pentecost following His resurrection was spectacular. I dedicate this piece first and specifically to the entire Catholic Charismatic Renewal Prayer Groups in Nigeria, those all over the world and then to Christians in general – of all Church Groups.
Beloved, this is neither an expert theological discourse nor intellectual exposition. I simply wish to share with you (as John “the beloved” put it) “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, ” (1John 1:1 NKJV). This is about the Holy Spirit of the Living God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity. He was present and active at creation: “… And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” Genesis 1:2 (NKJV); He was the one that executed the immaculate conception: “And the Angel answered and said to her, the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you….”(Luke 1: 35NKJV); He led our Lord Jesus Christ into preparation for His glorious earthly ministry: “Then Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days”….(Luke 4:1NKJV) and was the secret behind Him all through: “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with Power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).
In the old, He came upon men for Gods purpose in small occurrences. But in the new, His coming was dramatic, exceptional, wild spread and far reaching and the impact just keeps spreading (Entire Book of Acts). It was like a wildfire occurrence and has ever remained same to date. You will agree with me that the story of this book is never ending, it continues beyond the 28th Chapter. This is the story we are sharing in this write up.
His coming in the new, on Pentecost day (which Christians widely remember/celebrate today), was followed with the release of gifts (Charisms) to believers: “ When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men ” (Ephesians 4:7NKJV). It follows that believers who have received these gifts and puts them to use for the purpose for which the Holy Spirit gave them are said to be Charismatics. Popularly, they are called Pentecostals in reference to the day this occurrence was first recorded in the Holy Scriptures. In the Catholic Church, they are called Catholic Charismatic Renewals and in different parishes, they are called unique “prayer group” names.
The Holy Spirit and His Charisms in the Early Days
In their book “the Holy Spirit, according to the Scriptures”, Michael Bassey and Donatus Udoette, two great minds and ordained Priests in the Catholic Church writes: “Charisms are defined as a call, an invitation, a vocation which God addresses to each and every member of the believing community in view of the particular service or services, which he wants him or her to perform in that community, coupled with the ability or capacity to exercise these gifts.
In the words of F.A Sullivan (also an ordained Priest), in his book “Charism and Charismatic Renewal”, 1992, Page 18, Chrisms are to be understood as: “the gifts of grace which are distributed among members of the community, with a view to the role or function which each is to have The charisms are the manifold ways in which the graciousness of God is manifested in the lives of individual Christians, especially by making them effective instruments of grace to others in the body of Christ”. And I like to add, in the world, beginning from Nigeria for Nigerians. Understood in the sense expressed above, every Christian is a charismatic, because he or she has received some gift from the Holy Spirit at baptism and further at the unique experience of the Holy Ghost outpouring as on the day of Pentecost. For Catholics, it is taught that the Holy Spirit fullness is received at confirmation.
The first coming of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant times was at Pentecost as captured in Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2. It was an unmistakable occurrence. Men and women who before then were regenerate (born again if you like), having been with the master himself received tongues of fire upon them. The fire penetrated their being; burnt off every atom of fear and timidity (Acts 4:13ff); ignited hatred for sin and corruption all appearance of such; fanned the passion for righteousness in them and made them holy trouble makers (Acts 16: 20-21). They began to turn the world upside down – everything that was evil turned upside down at their presence/pronouncement while those that were good or willing to become so remained standing. They resisted unrighteous authorities (Acts 4: 14-22) who attempted to stop them from testifying to the truth that they have received, the conviction they bore in them and the experience they have had, not minding that they could lose their lives (many of them actually did) in the process. What was happening to them was the Holy Spirit in action, the one and the same executor, who was there, right from creation (Genesis 1). He has come again, this time with a difference – He is here never to depart again. Jesus promised that this time, He (the Holy Spirit) will remain with us till the end of time (John 14:15-18).
What more followed his coming? Varieties of gifts (Charisms) were released to men and women in the Church for the good of all (Ephesians 4:17). Power over the devil and all that he portends was restored (Acts 5: 12-16; Luke 10:19). The word of God, worship and prayers became the centre of daily living in the Church (Acts 6: 1-4). It was heaven on earth. Being a follower of Christ became the rave of the moment – if one did not join, he did not belong.
What then happened to the Church in the later years – years after Pentecost? I will not bother you with those theological histories. But what did I witness in my time – these last 3 decades? Apostle Paul could not have captured the situation I met any better in his epistles to Timothy: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times, some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own consciences seared with a hot iron ” (1 Timothy 4: 1-2). Again hear Him in 2 Timothy 3: 1-5: “But know this, that in the later days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power ” (See also Romans 1: 26-32).
The greater tragedy I met was that even “those who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1: 32).
For the church in post Pentecost days, at least the one I met in my time, the above summarizes the story. But thank God for the years preceding 1967. Thank God for Vatican 2. Thank God for Pope John the 23rd. Thank God for those fine minds in one Ivory tower in America. One probing heart began to wonder in private contemplation, and then went on to share his convictions (obviously from the Holy Spirit) with another hungry heart. These together shared with yet more hungry hearts and then followed a collective decision to gather together to pray and seek the God in the Bible Book of the Acts of the Apostles – the God of Pentecost. The result was certain; the Holy Ghost fire fell mightily again and it was 1967. It happened again, it was a renewal. The resulting gathering was called the Catholic Charismatic Movement.
The devil will not take it, he battled to quench this, but no, the Spirit was to be with us till the end of time. Today this move is called the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. No matter the name, the Holy Ghost fire started burning again and still burns. What did this new move – this renewal – bring? It was nothing different from what has always being from the Pentecost following Christ’s ressurrection: Men and Women discovered great joy in serving the Living God. They sought Him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-24) for “the Father is seeking such to worship Him”. The word of God become real again in the Church and in everyday life; the Sacraments brought visible impacts in the lives of the faithful; they were no longer some myths – they were real “outward signs of inward graces”.
And the Fire Blazes on
Beloved, the fire of the Holy Ghost continues to blaze. I was caught by this fire some years back. I felt the heat, it ran through my being and it did awesome things in me. I have watched same happen to countless many, some by the agency of my unworthy person, powered by the Holy Ghost Himself. I also know you have your own testimony – testimony of reality, what you have tasted, handled and fellowshipped with. His fire is on. This is unstoppable. This is happening right in the Holy Catholic Church – it is the renewal of the charisms; restoration of the charismatic dimension in the Church of the Living God.
The testimonies from the Papacy
This great move, this burning fire –albeit highly resisted by some – has refused to die. Infact, it cannot die because it is divine. It has the approval of the Godhead and the Holy Papacy – the seat of the vicar of Christ on earth.
Let me share with you some revealing words on this new move – this renewal, coming from the papacy. Addressing leaders of the Renewal on October 10, 1973 during the international leaders conference in Grottaferrata in Rome, Pope Paul VI said: “We rejoice with you, dear friends, at the renewal of the spiritual life manifested in the Church today, in different forms and in various environments. In all that, we can recognize the mysterious and discreet work of the Spirit, who is the soul of the church”. Again on 19 May 1975 (Pentecost Solemnity) during the international Charismatic Congress, Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father said: “How then could this “spiritual renewal” not be “a chance” for the church and for the world? And how, in this case, could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so?”
In his message to the Council of the International Office of the Charismatic Renewal on 11 December 1979, His Holiness Pope John Paul II wrote: “I am convinced that this movement is a sign of His action (of the Spirit). The world is much in need of this action of the Holy Spirit… Now I see this movement, this activity everywhere”. To the leaders during the VI International Leaders Conference on 15 May, 1987 (20th anniversary of the renewal), in Rome, He wrote: “This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. The vigour and fruitfulness of the Renewal certainly attest to the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the church in these years after the Second Vatican Council. Of course, the Spirit has guided the church in every age, producing a great variety of gifts among the faithful. Because of the Spirit, the church preserves a continual youthful vitality, and the Charismatic Renewal is an eloquent manifestation of this vitality today, a bold statement of what “the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 2:7) as we approach the close of the second millennium”.
Again on 30th October 1998, writing to the Leaders at the IX International Leaders Conference in Fiuggi Rome, His Holiness had this to say: “The Catholic Charismatic Renewal has helped many Christians to rediscover the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, in the life of the Church and in the world, and this rediscovery has awakened in them a faith in Christ filled with joy, a great love of the Church and a generous dedication to her evangelizing mission. In this year of the Holy Spirit, I join you in praise of God for the precious fruits which he has wished to bring to maturity in your communities and, through them, in the particular Churches”.
And there are many more testimonies that space will not permit us to share, all streaming from the papacy and other authorities of the church.
Last Lines – For Beloved Country Nigeria
As we remember/celebrate Pentecost today, the dire challenges facing our beloved country come flooding our minds. You know these challenges and so they are not worth recounting here. But as those who are endued with the Holy Ghost and recognize what we are able to do and accomplish by Him, we can stand in faith and ask for / work towards renewal of the face of governance in our country. We know that when this happens (in regard to persons and institutions); we will be on the path to true prosperity – political, economic and social prosperity. Beloved, God is alive in our country again. He has always been, albeit not recognized due to the dominance of unrighteousness, unbelief and iniquity. You cannot encounter the Spirit of God and remain the same.
Mr. Obasi, a Lagos-based chemical engineer, blogs at REHOBOTH