Fr. Raniero Cantelamessa's Second Advent homily (given before Pope Benedict and the Roman Curia yesterday) is encouraging and bracing on many levels.
Fr. Cantalemessa talked about Jesus as distinguished from John the Baptist as "the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to say that Jesus is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit? The expression serves not only to distinguish Jesus' baptism from John's baptism; it serves to distinguish the entire person and work of Christ from that of the precursor. In other words, in all of his work Jesus is the the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. Baptism has a metaphorical meaning here; it means to inundate, to completely cover, as water does to bodies that are immersed in it.
Jesus "baptizes in the Holy Spirit" in the sense that he receives and gives the Spirit "without measure" (cf. John 3:34), he "pours out" his Spirit (Acts 2:33) on all of redeemed humanity. The expression refers more to the event of Pentecost than to the sacrament of baptism. "John baptized with water but before many days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit" (Act 1:5), Jesus tells the disciples, obviously referring to Spirit's descent at Pentecost that would happen in a few days.
The expression "baptize with the Spirit" therefore defines the essential work of the Messiah, which already in the prophets of the Old Testament appears as oriented toward the regeneration of humanity through a great and universal outpouring of the Spirit of God (cf. Joel 3:1ff.). Applying all of this to the life and time of the Church, we must conclude that the risen Jesus baptizes in the Spirit not only in the sacrament of baptism, but, in a different way, also in other moments: in the Eucharist, in listening to the Word and, in general, through all the channels of grace.
If we want, and have enough faith, this very chapel in which we stand can be the cenacle into which the Risen Lord enters, [despite] closed doors, breathes on our faces and says almost begging us: "Receive the Holy Spirit."
St. Thomas Aquinas writes: "There is an invisible mission of the Spirit every time there is a progress in virtue or an augmentation of grace...; when someone moves to a new activity or a new state of grace." The Church's liturgy itself inculcates this. All of its prayers and its hymns to the Holy Spirit begin with the cry, "Come!": "Come, O Creator Spirit!" "Come, Holy Spirit!" And those who pray this way have already at sometime received the Spirit. This means that the Spirit is something that we have received and that we must receive again and again.
And he spent a good deal of time talking explicitly about the charismatic renewal and its impact on the Church over the past 40 years. Pretty obviously, the charismatic renewal is recognized as fully legitimate by Pope Benedict since Cantalemessa's homily is getting its usual high level of media distribution. Cantalemessa makes the point that the classic experience of the "charismatic renewal" is not universal or normative as such but the renewal of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives, however it occurs, is universal and normative. We "are all called to not remain outside this 'current of grace".
3. Baptism in the Spirit
In this context, we must say something about the so-called baptism in the Spirit that for a century has become an experience lived by millions of believers in almost all of the Christian denominations. This is a rite made up of gestures of great simplicity, accompanied by dispositions of repentance and faith in the promise of Christ: "The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him."
It is a renewal and an activation, not only of baptism and confirmation, but of all the events of grace of one's state in life: priestly ordination, religious profession, marriage. Besides making a good confession, those who are involved prepare by participating in catechism meetings in which they are put again in living and joyful contact with the principal truths and realities of the faith: the love of God, sin, salvation, new life, transformation in Christ, charisms, the fruits of the Spirit. Everything is characterized by a profound fraternal communion.
Sometimes, however, everything happens spontaneously, outside of all formal contexts and it is like being "surprised" by the Holy Spirit. A man gave this testimony: "I was on a plane and I was reading the last chapter of a book on the Holy Spirit. At a certain point it was as if the Holy Spirit came out of the pages of the book and entered into my body. Tears streamed from my eyes. I began to pray. I was overcome by a power quite beyond me."
The most common effect of this grace is that the Holy Spirit passes from being a more or less abstract object of faith, to being a fact of experience. Karl Rahner wrote: "We cannot deny that here below man can have experiences of grace that give him a feeling of liberation, open totally new horizons to him, make a deep impression on him, transform him, shaping, even over a long period of time, his deepest Christian attitude. Nothing prohibits us from calling such experiences baptism in the Spirit."
Precisely through that which is called "baptism in the Spirit," there is an experience of the anointing of the Holy Spirit in prayer, of his power in pastoral ministry, of his consolation in trials, of his guidance in decisions. Before his manifestation in charisms it is thus that he is experienced: as Spirit who interiorly transforms us, gives us a taste of the praise of God, opens our mind to the understanding of the Scriptures, teaches us to proclaim Jesus "Lord" and gives us the courage to assume new and difficult tasks in the service of God and neighbor. This year is the 40th anniversary of the retreat that gave birth, in 1967, to the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church, which is estimated to have touched no fewer than 80 million Catholics in a few decades. This is how one of the people who was present at that first retreat describes the effects of baptism in the Spirit on himself and on the group:
"Our faith has come alive, our believing has become a kind of knowing. Suddenly, the world of the supernatural has become more real than the natural. In brief, Jesus Christ is a real person to us, a real person who is Our Lord and who is active in our lives. [...] Prayer and the sacraments have become truly our daily bread instead of practices which we recognize as 'good for us.' A love of Scripture, a love of the Church I never thought possible, a transformation of our relationships with others, a need and a power of witness beyond all expectation, have all become part of our lives. The initial experience of the baptism in the Spirit was not at all emotional, but life has become suffused with calm, confidence, joy and peace. ... We sang the 'Veni Creator Spiritus' before each conference and meant it. We were not disappointed. We have also been showered with charismata. This also puts us in an ecumenical atmosphere at its best."
We all see with clarity that these are precisely the things that the Church needs today to proclaim the Gospel to a world that has become wayward to the faith and the supernatural. We do not say that everyone is called to experience the grace of a new Pentecost in this way. However, we are all called not to remain outside this "current of grace" that flowed through the post-Conciliar Church. John XXIII spoke, in his time, of "a new Pentecost"; Paul VI went beyond this and spoke of "a perennial Pentecost," a continual Pentecost. It is worthwhile to listen again to the words he pronounced during a general audience:
"On several occasions we have asked about the greatest needs of the Church. [...] What do we feel is the first and last need of this blessed and beloved Church of ours? We must say it, almost trembling and praying, because as you know well, this is the Church's mystery and life: the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He it is who animates and sanctifies the Church. He is her divine breath, the wind in her sails, the principle of her unity, the inner source of her light and strength. He is her support and consoler, her source of charisms and songs, her peace and her joy, her pledge and prelude to blessed and eternal life. The Church needs her perennial Pentecost; she needs fire in her heart, words on her lips, prophecy in her outlook. [...] The Church needs to rediscover the eagerness, the taste and the certainty of the truth that is hers."
And I found this last note especially moving:
"Jesus' testimony," we read in the Book of Revelation, "is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelations 19:10), the spirit of prophecy is required to bear witness to Christ. Is this spirit of prophecy in the Church? Is it cultivated? Or do we believe, implicitly, that we can do without it, depending more on human expedients?
In 1992 there was a retreat for priests in Monterrey, Mexico, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the first evangelization of Latin America. There were 1,700 priests and about 70 bishops present. During the homily of the concluding Mass I spoke about the urgent need that the Church has for prophecy. After Communion there was prayer for a new Pentecost in small groups scattered throughout the great basilica. I remained in the presbytery. At a certain moment a young priest came up to me in silence, knelt down in front of me and with a look I will never forget said to me: "Bendígame, Padre, quiero ser profeta de Dios!" -- "Bless me, Father, I want to be a prophet for God!" A chill went down my spine because I saw that he was plainly moved by grace.
We can with humility make that priest's desire our own: "I want to be a prophet for God." Little, unknown to anyone, it does not matter, but one who, as Paul VI said, has fire in his heart, words on his lips, and prophecy in his outlook.
Good stuff. Makes want to pray right now for openness to and an increase of the Holy Spirit's work in my life!