By MICHAEL SIMPSON, SJ
There is no gap or tension between the life of the Christian who has received a deepening inner conviction through the Spirit and who has perhaps been used in the exercise of certain spiritual gifts and the sacramental life of the Church.
The Sacraments are the outer signs of that inner life which should be the experience of every Christian. In Baptism the community claims in faith that through the Spirit the life of Christ will be present within the one baptised such that in time (in the case of an infant) or straightaway (in the case of an adult) he will come to that inner conviction that will lead him to confess "Jesus is Lord".
Baptism is the initiation into ,that life in which the Holy Spirit bears witness, to our spirit that we are Children of God. If this life in no way develops (perhaps through no fault of the individual but through that of family or community) then the inner reality symbolised by the sacrament has not yet become effective in the person's life.
In Confirmation, the community claims in faith that God will grant to the one confirmed those special gifts of the Spirit which he will need to be a true witness to Christ and to fulfil whatever ministry he may be called to exercise in his particular place and vocation in life.
Spiritual gifts should be the normal expectation of those confirmed. If a Christian does not receive the spiritual gifts needed to sustain him in his call in life and to exercise his ministry effectively, then for some reason which may be a lack of openness or expectant faith the sacrament has not been allowed to become truly effective.
Both these sacraments of initiation lead to the Eucharist, in which the Christian enters into the mystery of Christ in his perfect response of love to the Father. The individual's participation in the Eucharist will express the degtee of his readiness to give of himself with Christ in that response of love, the readiness to lay down his life for his brethren.
Just as, outwardly, the sacraments of initiation lead to the sacrament of the Eucharist, so inwardly the inner conversion to Jesus and through him to the Father, followed by openness to receive those gifts needed for one's ministry within the community, lead to that deeper response of love to the Father in which the individual and the community grow into "the fulness of Christ".
Spiritual conversion and gifts are not something added on to the normal Christian life and reserved for the few. They are the normal expectation in faith of every Christian sacramental life.
Every walk in the Christian life is exposed to risks. The classical spiritual writers are full of warnings against deviant paths. Similar risks attend any life involving personal corn mitment, as is all too clear in the sensitivities needed for an authentic love for another human person.
The Christian who seeks to be open to a deeper life in the Spirit is exposed to many forces and dangers both from within and without which is why Paul exhorts him to "put on the whole armour of God" (Eph -6, II).
There will be times when in our weakness we lose
something of the freedom Christ has won forMs (Gal 5;1) and the maturity ,J of true son.. But in recognising certai
deviations one must be careful not to lose that which is genuine. Criticism of externals may at times cloak a lack of openness which is as inauthen tic as that which is criticised. Experience has shown that a possible imbalance of attitude, or response to the Pentecostal experience may arise in the following (and perhaps other) ways:
Over-emphasis on spiritual gifts. The danger here is that a certaM gift or gifts become regarded as criteria of personal growth in the Spirit rather than as means for an effective apostolic ministry. An attitude, for example, which regards speaking in tongues as a necessary sign of inner conversion to Christ has neither Scriptural nor theological justification.
This is not to say that the gift may not often accompany such an inner conversion. This prayer-gift may be given precisely because without it one's prayer may remain shallow or self-centred. But he who has already attained a depth of contemplative prayer may have no need of such a gift.
I believe that the Church in general needs to become more open to the exercise of spiritual gifts which are of central importance in building up com munities of prayer and love. But one must not confuse the gift with the One who gives and who is the only ultimate goal of the Christian life.
Over-emphasis on uniformity. There is a danger of setting up
one's own experience, even if implicitly, as a criterion by which the experience of others is to be judged. If I have un dergone some inner conversion to Christ accompanied by cer tain outward manifestations I want others to manifest their experience in the same way to show that they too are "alive in the Spirit". And in the communal dimension the danger is to regard a certain style of prayer-meeting as normative for those living a truly Christian life. But the desire to get others to conform may be a sign of insecurity. The Spirit may work in one way in my life because of
the person I am with my particular temperament and call. There is no reason why He should not work in a very different way in another.
If one prayer-group is full of song and praise of the Lord, that is no reason why another group which is perhaps almost totally silent is not equally or perhaps more deeply converted
within to Father, Son and Spirit. If, as I believe, the "Pentecostal experience" is the
experience to be expected in faith of all followers of Christ, then one must allow a great diversity of individual awareness and expression. The variety of religious orders in the Church manifests this diversity of charism and call.
It would be surprising if the contemplative prayer of the Carthusianexpressed itself in an identical manner with the group-prayer of musical students. But that is no judg ment on either. What is important is the depth of inner con version and openness to the Spirit to work in the way he chooses in one's own situation. Within the basic inner cornmitment to Christ there is a whole range of possible forms of experience and expression. It is this diversity which builds up "the fulness of Christ".
For this reason it is important to find a language that will not, despite the best intentions, prove divisive. There can be diversity without divisiveness, The Spirit breathes where he wills and not according to man's preconceptions.
What is genuine in one's own experience and in that of. others, the different gifts given to oneself and to others for varied apostolic calls, these are all part of the work of forming God's people into the fulness of the mystery of Christ who dwells in a way that is hidden, perhaps, but truly in each man in the mystery of his own being.
Emotionalism. There are two possible dangers which come from the place of the emotions in the Christian life. The one, which has often been stressed, is of becoming too dependent upon the emotions in a way that one's faith-response is too tied to immediate emotional feelings. The other is of repressing emotions altogether and not allowing them their normal place in a healthy human life. The "Pentecostal experience", or simply the Christian experience of prayer, is an awareness and response at a level deeper than either thought or feeling. It may be accompanied by feelings of peace and joy, but emotional feelings are not themselves the inner awareness of God's presence and should not be sought in and for themselves.
Only God is the rightful "object" of one's quest. Feelings are good provided they are directed towards the right end. To repress feelings is to deny a part of oneself that may be necessary to build up and sustain that deeper awareness which is sought.
It is, of course, possible for feelings to get out of hand and to result in forms of hysteria, es pecially when the teeiings themselves become the main focus of attention or where there is an untested sentimentality. And a group or communal situation can reinforce this danger especially if the reactions of the more suggestible are taken in an undiscerning way as the "voice of the Holy Spirit".
But such genuine feelings as accompany an inner awareness of the divine Presence will not get out of control because they will not be centred upon themselves but upon God who is the source of all peace and harmony. This is not to say that such feelings may not be very intense as St John of the Cross and others were only too aware.
There is nothing more hysterical in praising God in tongues than there is in laughing or crying. Each may express a feeling too deep for words; each can become hysterical if the feeling becomes the centre of attention, but they will not do so if the attention remains focused upon God. This is why maturity is so important in the spiritual life. To be converted to Jesus and to experience spiritual gifts is no guarantee of maturity, which may require a long discipline of growth.
This is another reason why the communal dimension is a necessary safeguard in the Christian life: in receiving gifts and in responding to the inner conviction of God's love one needs to be guided by the experience of those who have followed this path before. Through mutual discernment and guidance each individual may grow more assuredly to the maturity and 'freedom of God's children.
Conclusion. One criterion of the authenticity of any "new" manifestation of the Spirit must always be the way in which it can be integrated with the prayer and sacramental life which constitutes the tradition of the Church. God deals with his people as a community, which means the community past as well as present. True continuity of tradition demands continuity of the spiritual experience which underlies that tradition and gives it life.
It is my belief that the "Pentecostal experience" which is undoubtedly transforming the lives of so many Christians today is nci addition to what has always been, objectively, part of the Church's tradition, but is the release of the inner reality of the Church's spiritual and sacramental life which may have been, and still is in the life of each one, impeded in some degree by narrowness of expectation and lack of faith
It is an expression of that continual renewal of life in which the Church must always be engaged: Eccksia semper reformanda.
The Christian life has traditionally been understood as an entry into the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. If this article has laid emphasis upon the peace and joy that accompany a deeper yielding to God's Spirit, as experienced by the Disciples at Pentecost, this does not mean that there is no place for a redemptive suffering and dying with Christ.
I believe that Christians today are being called not to a life of complacent satisfaction in a new warmth of spiritual feeling, but to the uncompromising demand to lay down the life of each day with Christ for the healing of those deep wounds of selfishness and other evil in our world today, and which in some degree enter the lives of us all.
The Holy Spirit is given, not as a spiritual privilege to a few, but to renew the whole world and to bring all men into the fulness of Christ.