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What is the Baptism in the Spirit?

The following articles will present an understanding of this central grace of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal:  The Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  For a fuller theological reflection please read the landmark book Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries by Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB and Fr. George Montague, SM.

by Harold Cohen, S.J.

Prior to His ascension Jesus told His apostles, "Before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." He added, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses" (Acts 1:5-8). The Apostles prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and a group of about one hundred and twenty. On Pentecost they were "baptized with the Holy Spirit" and were transformed into new creatures, bold witnesses for Christ.

Pentecost comes to each of us in the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. In Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and become God’s children and members of the body of Christ. In Confirmation we receive a new fullness of the Spirit and are empowered to serve the Church and bear witness to Jesus.

Often we do not allow the Spirit we have received to be as active in us as He wants to be. To use an analogy, He is like chocolate syrup poured into a glass of milk--it goes to the bottom of the glass until stirred up. But when it is stirred up, it permeates the milk and transforms it into something new. We can learn how to "stir up" the Spirit--and how to receive more of Him--from Jesus in the Gospels:

"If anyone thirst, let him come to Me, let him drink who believes in Me. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of His heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now He said this about the Spirit which those who believed in Him were to receive" (John 7:37-39). "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:13)

The Lord teaches us that first we must thirst for God; we must desire more and more of His Spirit. Then we must believe that Jesus is faithful to His promises and will indeed give us His Holy Spirit. Finally, we must ask God for the Holy Spirit. We must pray with perseverance, asking, seeking, knocking, believing that "everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Luke 11:10). We can follow the example of the early Church by praying for the Spirit in union with Mary and the apostles as they did at the first Pentecost (see Acts 1:12-14).

What can we expect when we are "baptized with the Holy Spirit" ? We can expect an immediate or gradual experience of deeper union with God, our loving Father and with Jesus, our Lord and Friend; a fresh appreciation of Scripture; a greater love for others and a desire for Christian fellowship; the fuller presence in our lives of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience and more (see Galatians 5:22-23); the receptions of one or more of the Charismatic gifts of the Spirit such as discernment, service, prophecy, praying in tongues, healing (see 1 Corinthians 12-14). This gift of a new fullness of the Holy Spirit is, I believe, the grace of our age. "Ask and it willbe given to you!"




by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

It is important to understand what the Renewal in the Spirit is all about. After the Second Vatican Council, many things in the Church’s life were renewed--the liturgy, pastoral care, canon law, the constitutions and dress of religious orders. Although all these things are important, they are only external things. Woe to us if we stop there and think the task is finished. It is not structure but souls that are important to God. “It is in men’s souls that the Church is beautiful,” writes St. Ambrose...and therefore it is in men’s souls that she must make herself beautiful.

God is Author and Power

The Renewal is a renewal in which God, not man, is the principal author “I, not you,” says God, “make all things new”(Rev. 21:5). “My Spirit--and He alone--may renew the face of the earth” (see Ps. 104:30). From the religious point of view, we tend to view things from a ptolemaic perspective: at the foundation are our efforts--organization, efficiency, reforms, and goodwill. These have the earth here as the center which God comes to strengthen and crown by His grace and our effort.

We must--at this point as the Word of God cries out--”give the power back to God” (Ps. 68:35) because “the power belongs to God” (Ps. 62:12). For too long we have usurped this power of His by managing it as if it were ours, as if it was up to us to “govern” the power of God. We have to totally change our perspective. That is, we have to acknowledge simply that without the Holy Spirit, we cannot do anything, not even say, “Jesus is Lord!” (1Cor. 12:3).

The Baptism in the Spirit is not a sacrament, but it is related to the sacraments of Christian initiation. The Baptism in the Spirit makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation. The primary relationship is with the sacrament of Baptism.

We believe that the Baptism in the Spirit makes real and revitalizes our Baptism. To understand how a sacrament which was received so many years ago, usually immediately after our birth, could suddenly come back to life and emanate so much energy, as often happens through the Baptism in the Spirit, it is important to look at our understanding of sacramental theology.

Catholic theology recognizes the concept of a valid but bound sacrament. A sacrament is called bound if the fruit that should accompany it remains bound because of certain blocks that prevent its effectiveness. Extreme examples of this are the sacrament of Matrimony and Holy Orders received in the state of mortal sin. In such circumstances these sacraments cannot grant any grace to people until the obstacle of sin is removed through Penance. Once this happens, the sacrament is said to live again, thanks to the indelible character and irrevocability of the gift of God. God remains faithful even if we are unfaithful because He cannot deny Himself (see Tim. 2:1-3).

For the complete article, click here.