If you’ve ever been to a charismatic prayer session, you probably either were traumatized for life by the radical difference in prayer, or you were moved by the Holy Spirit in a whole new way.
I was walking into my parish in the suburbs of New Jersey one day when I came across a wild scene: the guitarist was shredding, the drummer was sweating, and the people were spreading throughout the entire chapel. I kept walking and went to my youth group core team meeting, but I was slightly disturbed by the sight I had seen. The people were jumping all over the place and shouting like a cult. Arms were moving in weird directions and made the prayer gathering seem more like a ritualistic bonfire rather than a Catholic ministry.
I had grown up going to youth group and had been a young adult volunteer on our core team for several years at this point, so I wasn’t a stranger to “charismatic” prayer. I had once even put my hand up during a song at a Steubenville conference. But this had been a whole new level of prayer that I had never experienced before, and I was immediately turned off to it.
A few weeks later (and obviously concerned for their souls), I happened to ask our youth minister, Trip, about it. After an initial fit of laughter when I suggested I had witnessed something potentially demonic, he assured me that everything I had witnessed was not only in line with and endorsed by the Catholic Church, but that it’s a newer (yet with Biblical roots) and common movement worldwide.
The first thing we discussed was, of course, King David dancing before the Lord’s presence in 2 Samuel 6 (“And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing priestly garments. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns.”) But then the conversation slowly came to Pentecost, where the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit and are given the grace to carry out their Apostolic mission. The Apostles started speaking in tongues and (through the Holy Spirit) performing miracles.
Trip explained to me that even though the Charismatic renewal is often associated as just being the “rock band Catholics” with modern-day music, there was so much more to it than this. The movement actually compliments traditional prayer. While traditional prayer is a great way to contemplate that which God has done for us, charismatic prayer is a way for us to praise the world and carry out the apostolic mission. Both types of prayer are necessary for the Christian lifestyle, and even when a person does not realize it, they are being charismatic through the acts of love and works of mercy they perform in Jesus’ name. Prayer over and with others, singing praise to the Lord, and allowing for our bodies to physically represent the movement of our souls is all a part of Charismatic prayer.
One day I finally went to the prayer group, and as uncomfortable as I was experiencing a new form of prayer, I wanted to understand it and be open to the working of the Holy Spirit. So, as the music started and the prayer leader read us a bible verse, I closed my eyes and opened by heart.
I realized that the area I was focusing on too hard was the things that were supported to come naturally through the spirit. The clapping and moving around were not of my own doing; the spirit is supposed to lead us in doing those things. As I focused in on the Word, I realized that the Word was true and alive, and was speaking to me. What I was to do was to receive the Word and proclaim it with my whole heart and body. As I contemplated the Word, the Spirit moved me to a higher elevation of openness. I began to feel free to raise my hands and move closer to the tabernacle. Even more so, the Spirit filled my heart with a new fire for love, and I truly felt as if the whole world was my family. The Spirit converted my heart to be open.
Like all forms of prayer, there are people who do not understand it, and then people who do understand it but don’t treat it with dignity and respect. I have heard horror stories of people attempting to use charismatic prayer and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to mislead other people, whether intentionally or not. However, Charismatic prayer, when done right and under the direction of a spiritual adviser (particularly a member of the clergy) is such a beautiful form of prayer. The Holy Spirit calls out to each and every one of you to become light-houses in this world. It can be so easy to write off that idea, but He wants to fill you with His flame. My life is different since then, not because I changed religions, or even because I changed myself, but because I understood the true meaning of what it means to be charismatic: Pentecost. If traditional prayer is how we can grow closer to Christ and understand what He did for us, then Charismatic prayer is how we can let the Holy Spirit bring Pentecost (and the Apostolic Mission) to our world every day. It’s not enough to sit inside a church all day and silently pray. It’s also not enough to do apostolic works without having that time of prayer. These two ideas of traditional prayer and charismatic prayer go hand in hand. The Holy Spirit works through both in its own, unique way. When we allow the Spirit to work within us, we can live out our faith in a whole new way… But the only person who can let the Spirit work within you is you. So open the door of your heart and go deeper. Come Holy Spirit.