Questions Concerning the Charism of Healing

An Amicus Brief

In her recent book, Healing: Bringing the Gift of God’s Mercy to the World (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015), biblical theologian and popular speaker Mary Healy addresses with great passion the issue of healing — particularly the charism of healing — and its relation to the Gospel. The book is a remarkable one, as we shall see, and will doubtless continue to inspire many readers today. It will resonate broadly with Catholics acclimated to the post–Vatican II atmosphere of “evangelical Catholicism,” as George Weigel calls it, which has shaped much of contemporary Catholic self-understanding, and particularly with those whose spiritual formation, like hers, has been influenced by the ethos of Protestant Pentecostalism via the “Catholic Charismatic Renewal.” The work is above all a daring gauntlet thrown down to challenge contemporary Catholic beliefs about miraculous healings; but it will also challenge Church leaders to reflect deeply on what she (the Church and Healy) believes about such healings, as well as about miraculous charisms in general.

Healy launches her challenge by appealing to a larger New Testament perspective on “signs and wonders”: Jesus instructed His apostles not only to preach, teach, and baptize (as the Church still does), but to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead; so why are we not doing the same today? Concerning healing, she asks: what if Jesus meant for us (laity and priests alike) not merely to pray for the sick (as we already do) but to pray over them (p. 20) — that is, to lay our hands on them, invoke His divine authority, rebuke the disease, and heal them on command,1 just as His apostles did (p. 49)? Do we lack faith in God’s power? This, in a nutshell, is her challenge.

Citing numerous examples of miraculous healing by Jesus, His apostles, and their successors in the early Church and even today (often by ordinary laity), Healy argues that healing is but one of many supernatural charisms that “the Holy Spirit bestows on Christ’s followers to equip [them] for mission” (p. 12). She adds that the “risen Lord extended the authority to heal and cast out demons to all believers” (p. 39, my emphasis). In fact, she argues, the gift of miraculous healing is nothing more than one of the ordinary tools with which the Holy Spirit equips us for the New Evangelization (p. 15). All Christians already possesses (or have access to) this charism as a latent potency by virtue of their baptism, she suggests, and require only the “actualization” of this gift by taking “complete possession of ‘the power of holy baptism’” (p. 61) — a step typically identified with receiving the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (a biblical expression that Healy and most Catholic charismatics seem to understand as a sort of “second grace” beyond mere water baptism, as in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition from which this interpretation primarily originates, as exemplified in the “Latter Rain” and other Pentecostal movements).

Just as the miraculous healings performed by Christ and the apostles gave efficacious power to the Gospel message and attested to its veracity, suggests Healy, so miraculous healings could ramp up the effectiveness and credibility of the Church’s message today. She asks in effect: What if the Church could unleash an army of joyful missionary disciples who could bring the gift of God’s mercy to the world through miraculous healings? “The New Evangelization would be propelled to a whole new level of dynamism,” she declares (p. 166). How would this not be far more effective than simply “repeating the formulas of the past” in traditional methods of evangelization that fail, in her view, “to touch the hearts and minds of this generation” (p. 16)?

The traditional Church, in Healy’s view, has grown old and ossified. As Pope Francis suggests, it has become an “inward-looking,” “self-referential Church” rather than “going out to the peripheries” to meet the lost. If the Church has grown impotent and is hemorrhaging members today, she would say, this is the reason why: the power of the supernatural charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit has come to be largely neglected in modern times in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel, and is no longer regarded by most Catholics as part of our ordinary Christian life.

Thus Healy, like other notable charismatics, promotes the importance of “power evangelism” — that is, evangelism that taps into the power that resides in the miraculous “signs and wonders” that can be wrought by the Holy Spirit. To overlook this dimension of power is to miss something essential to the Gospel and inseparable from the New Evangelization, she suggests (p. 28). “Every parish that is seeking to be completely mission-oriented, as Pope Francis has directed, should establish a healing ministry team,” she writes (p. 152). Healy thus interprets the Holy Father as lending direct support to a charismatic-inspired, essentially Pentecostal understanding of the Church’s mission.

At this point, one can well imagine a number of questions arising in the minds of thoughtful readers, who may find themselves excited by Healy’s enthusiasm but concerned about the possible pitfalls, in their own case, of joining in Healy’s zeal without the assurance of adequate knowledge — questions calling for a review of what is understood by “the Gospel of Christ” and its relation to miraculous healing in light of Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Such questions may also demand that we re-examine the authenticating credentials of our (and her) views, to ask whether they come from actual Church teaching, or possibly from benign (and possibly even beneficial) non-Catholic traditions, or from alien traditions inimical to the Catholic Faith — and to consider the claims of those who ask whether such questions even really matters as long as these views seem to be “of the Spirit.”2

First, Healy claims that “[St.] Paul believed there was a grave danger in people coming to Christ on the fragile basis of human persuasiveness rather than the firm basis of God’s power,” by which she means supernatural “signs and wonders” (p. 52). Yet readers may ask whether there is not an equal and opposite danger here — namely, the danger of people coming to Christ on the fragile basis of enticing promises of healing rather than on the firm basis of conviction of sin, repentance, and the truth of the Gospel. On this point, readers may also find themselves fighting irrepressibly unwelcome associations with notorious televangelist hawkers of a “health and wealth gospel,” or songs like Neil Diamond’s 1969 “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” or movies like Steve Martin’s 1992 Leap of Faith, which pillories — not without cause — backwater fundamentalist revivalists and con artists. Furthermore, even where miracles are real and dramatic, we have no assurance that they will necessarily lead unbelievers to conversion. Jesus himself notably declared that if the unbelievers he cites in Luke 16:31 were not convicted by Scripture, “neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Second, others may wonder whether healing on command is indeed meant to be understood as an ordinary gift for which all of us should “strive eagerly,” as Healy suggests (p. 116, citing 1 Cor 14:1); or whether it belongs to that class of rare, “extraordinary gifts not to be rashly desired, nor from them the fruits of apostolic labors to be presumptuously expected,” as Vatican II warns (Lumen Gentium 12). If the charism of healing is in fact extraordinary (supernatural) and rare, as the magisterium seems to be teaching, then the Church may have good reason for discouraging the faithful from rashly (or even “eagerly”) seeking it because of the temptations of presumption, self-promotion, self-deception, and dangers of occult influence and demonic deception historically associated with it.

Pope Paul VI, for instance, in his General Audience of February 28, 1973, warned against what he called a “very risky” pattern of elevating “the charismatic elements of religion above the so-called institutional [elements],” and searching for “spiritual realities in which there comes into play an indefinable and strange energy which . . . persuades the one who experiences it that he is in communication with . . . the [Holy] Spirit,” because dangers abound of “auto-suggestion or the influence of imponderable psychic causes [that] can lead to spiritual error” (emphasis added). This opposition between the charismatic and institutional elements occurs when opinions about “gifts of the Spirit,” “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (as a “second baptism”), a “fuller outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” and the like, fail to be integrated into the Church’s sacramental life and take on an autonomous, extra-magisterial significance of their own.

If, on the other hand, the charism of healing on command is taken to be common and normative for all Christians, as is here alleged by Healy, this unavoidably raises questions of credibility, authenticity, possible occult connections, and magisterial obedience on the part of those who insist on seeking it “eagerly” (if not “rashly”), even with the best of motives. One shudders to recall the words of Jesus: “Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you’” (Mt 7:22–23, emphasis mine).

Third, still others may raise concerns over whether the preoccupation with miraculous “signs and wonders” among many Catholic charismatics may not foster doctrinal indifferentism — that is, identification with a sort of denomination-transcending fellowship of those fascinated with miraculous gifts but relatively indifferent to worries about heterodoxy or even concerns about doctrine in general. Healy is generally careful to guard herself against the appearance of such indifferentism by her appeals to Catholic tradition, her deference to episcopal authority in matters such as formal exorcism, and by appealing to the “ecumenical” nature of Catholic charismatic cooperation with non-Catholics, such as her own work with Randy Clark, the charismatic healer and evangelist of the Pentecostal Vineyard denomination and controversial “Toronto Blessing” movement, with whom she spent her sabbatical in 2013 performing healings in Brazil and with whom she co-authored The Spiritual Gifts Handbook (Chosen, 2018). Yet readers may be forgiven for wondering whether her “ecumenism” involves any appeal to non-Catholics to consider the claims of Holy Mother Church, and worrying whether it may not instead acquiesce in the assimilation of her Catholicism into a kind of trans-denominational charismatic movement rooted in “Third Wave” Pentecostal Protestantism. Reinforcing this impression is Healy’s use of the example of Robin Beck — who, after 30 years as a lesbian, was marvelously healed of same-sex attraction upon converting to the Catholic Faith — but neglecting to inform her readers that Beck is no longer a practicing Catholic but now self-identifies as a non-denominational Protestant. [Correction: Dr. Mary Healy has pointed out to me that at that time of the publication of her book on healing, Robin Beck had not yet defected from the Catholic Faith. I stand corrected.]

Fourth, while Healy defers to ecclesial authority in many areas, her apparent eagerness to demonstrate that the exercise of most miraculous charisms does not require clerical permission or authority seems similar to the sort of anti-clerical disposition one encounters in many Protestant Fundamentalist sects. It is not merely her emphasizing that miraculous charisms like healing were manifested in the early Church among laity, or her claim that any Christian (furnished with proper environment and training by experienced mentors) can learn to heal on command and that non-ordained laity have the power to participate in “deliverance ministry” (expelling demonic influence by means ostensibly just short of formal exorcism), but that she claims that even a non-Catholic evangelist like Randy Clark “has a gift for imparting the Holy Spirit to others” (p. 176). Is it true, readers will ask, that the Holy Spirit can be “imparted” by laity, and even by separated (some would say “heretical”) brethren who reject Church authority? If so, by what authority does she know this?

Healy also cites St. Augustine as “a model of pastoral wisdom” for not attempting to calm the enthusiastic acclamations of his congregation upon witnessing a miraculous healing, but “[letting] the Holy Spirit run the show” (p. 141). Likewise, just as she enlists the statements of Pope Francis in support of her views, so she cites Cardinal Ratzinger’s assertion that “what is needed is less organization and more Spirit,” extracting this assertion from a much larger qualifying context of cautionary statements (p. 121). The question, of course, is whether Augustine and Ratzinger meant what Healy seems to be suggesting here. Readers may worry about possible antinomian overtones here — whether following the “Spirit” ends up (perhaps inadvertently) pitting extemporaneous “words of knowledge” and personal spiritual promptings over against Sacred Tradition and the demands of Church law.

Fifth, some readers may recall that some of the more egregious heresies of Church history were inspired by what their proponents understood to be a “faithful” and exclusive adherence to subjectively discerned guidance of the Holy Spirit. Others may worry that some charismatics, in their eagerness to propagate their particular understanding of “life in the Spirit,” may fall prey to the dangers cited by Pope Francis in his address to Catholic charismatic participants in the 37th National Convocation of the Renewal in the Holy Spirit on June 2014, in which he warned them not only against divisiveness but against attempting to become “managers of grace” and “arbiters of God’s grace,” or “a tollhouse for the Holy Spirit”; or the repeated warnings by Francis and other Church leaders against “elitism” and “sectarianism,” and their admonitions that new ecclesial movements, like the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, must always conscientiously defer to ecclesial authorities in the discernment and exercise of extraordinary charisms and integrate themselves into ordinary parish life (Iuvenescit Ecclesia). Readers will wish to be assured that Rome’s often-cited “warm approval” of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal does not blind adherents of the movement to Rome’s warnings.

Healy would certainly disavow any intention of overriding Church authority or erecting an alternate magisterium of independently discerned biblical authority here. Some of her statements would nevertheless provoke questions. At an ecumenical charismatic conference in Kansas City called Kairos 2017, Healy lent her support to a conjecture attaching special significance to Pope Leo XIII’s invocation of the Holy Spirit in Rome on January 1, 1901, as a call for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit prefiguring the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.3 According to the conjecture, Leo’s initiative was met with only a “tepid response” by Catholic bishops, because the Catholic Church at the time was not ready to welcome a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and the answer to Leo’s prayer came from outside the Catholic Church in the birth of Pentecostalism as a distinct movement within Protestantism. On the very night of Leo’s invocation, so it is said, a group of Pentecostal-Holiness students at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, prayed for and allegedly received the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and “spoke in tongues.” Thus, according to this conjecture, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal traces its pedigree from Leo’s invocation in Rome to Pentecostals “speaking in tongues” in Topeka, and thence to Pittsburgh, where the torch of Pentecostal renewal was passed under divine inspiration to Catholic students at Duquesne University who were inspired by reading Pentecostal author David Wilkerson’s Cross and the Switchblade in 1967, thus rekindling life in the Spirit in the Catholic Church.

For many readers, this will not only raise questions of authority; it will raise questions of doctrine and practice and even of sound historical accuracy. They will also wonder whether Catholics may base their understandings of biblical terms (like “charisms,” “anointing,” “prophesy,” “words of knowledge,” “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” and “tongues”) on distinctively non-Catholic (even historically anti-Catholic) traditions. Is it permissible or wise, moreover, for Catholics to take over Pentecostal practices alien to Catholic tradition — like being “slain in the Spirit,” “speaking in tongues” (where this means an unintelligible private “language” of prayer), Pentecostal-style “healing services,” exorcism-like rites, or “impartations” of the Holy Spirit by Pentecostals who lay their hands on the heads of Catholics? If so, by what authority? Does assigning these practices more benign-sounding names — like “resting in the Spirit,” “deliverance ministry,” or “jubilation” — actually change anything? If so, how?

Sooner or later, readers will discover that Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, was founded by the sex-scandal-ridden evangelist Charles Parham in 1900, who along with other Pentecostals originally believed that the “gift of tongues” referred to the miraculous gift of communicating in actual foreign languages previously unlearned, as in Catholic tradition; and that after his missionary followers returned from Asia, having sadly discovered that they could not make themselves understood to the native people, the “gift of tongues” was conveniently re-interpreted to mean non-rational ecstatic utterances in accordance with the novel theory of “glossolalia” introduced in the nineteenth century by Protestant biblical scholars in the higher critical tradition, such as Philip Schaff, Frederick Farrar, W. J. Conybeare, and J. S. Howson, thus giving birth to the interpretation of tongues Healy calls “a kind of non-rational prayer of the heart” (p. 201, n. 86).

Healy is to be commended for acknowledging in her notes that the Church Fathers did not understand “tongues” to mean the unintelligible vocalizations of the kind found among charismatics and Pentecostals today, but, rather, ordinary intelligible words as in Acts 2, “where the tongues were heard as actual human languages” (p. 204, n. 141). This is an important admission, since there seems to be no credible evidence that the word “tongue” (Gk. glossa) was ever understood otherwise in Catholic tradition, even concerning the church in Corinth, as anyone may discover with a little research on Charles A. Sullivan’s “Gift of Tongues Project” website. In order to salvage the current charismatic practice, however, Healy follows the lead of Eddie Ensley’s Sounds of Wonder (Paulist, 1977; Tau, 2013) by introducing another name for the practice (“jubilation”), whose patristic pedigree is assumed throughout Ensley’s question-begging monograph, but nowhere demonstrated. Furthermore, like Ensley, she continues to equivocate by retaining the use of “speaking in tongues” for current charismatic practice (instead of “jubilation”) in the body of her text.

Sixth, other questions may persist concerning the charismatic view of healing presented here — questions of credibility where vast numbers of people are claimed to have been supernaturally healed in one evening; or where healings are not easily verifiable or described as “gradual” rather than instantaneous, or as involving “no guarantee” of complete restoration (p. 92), or in other venues where undocumented resurrections of the dead have been claimed.4 Questions may also arise about Healy’s documentation and use of sources. She relies too much on secondary sources and neglects to consult the originals; and in some cases (as in her citations from St. Chrysostom on p. 61) this can lead to misleading conflations of discrete texts, taking quotes out of context, or misleading interpretations — as where she suggests that Chrysostom was lamenting the decline of charismatic gifts in his day, rather than the decline of Christian virtue in general; or where she neglects to inform the reader that Chrysostom understood “tongues” to be actual languages; or that he elsewhere declares that the charism of healing is rare and that a preoccupation with supernatural phenomena may in fact constitute an impediment to personal spiritual growth.

Finally, let me assure the reader that I value Healy’s sense of urgency about communicating the Gospel. This call for urgency is most welcome. Unlike many Catholics today, she clearly sees what half a century’s lack of preaching about sin and divine judgment has done in the Church. If sin does not matter, why worry about hell? If hell does not matter, why is Jesus necessary? If Jesus does not matter, why is evangelization needed? The whole thing comes crashing down like a house of cards. She sees that. She sees that sometimes even parishioners (and not only the unchurched) may need to be evangelized. She is thus to be commended for urging that such parishioners be brought into “a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.” Her book, however, will leave many readers wondering how the sort of “personal encounter” she envisions relates to the traditional corporate and sacramental life of the Church in parishes, liturgies, and Sacraments — and preeminently to Christ in the Eucharist; and it will leave many less than convinced about how such an encounter requires “teaching parishioners about the Holy Spirit’s [extraordinary] charisms and how to use them” (p. 190), where such charisms include learning how to miraculously heal others on command, often in independent, Pentecostal-style services of para-Church “ministries.” Such readers may wonder whether we may be missing something by turning aside to the putative “shock and awe” tactics employed by Pentecostal-style evangelists, instead of holding fast to the simplicity of the “still small voice” of God evoked in the interiority of one’s heart by simply hearing the truth, learning the Faith, witnessing changed lives, and being converted from sin and led to repentance and holiness of life through the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel and her Sacraments.

In fact, readers may ask, without any disrespect, whether a preoccupation with such a “shock and awe” approach to spiritual gifts may not lead, counter-intuitively, to a truncated view of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, and whether we need to retrieve a more robust sense of the Spirit’s work in the Christian’s life beyond these relatively idiosyncratic concerns emanating from recent Pentecostal and charismatic traditions. The Spirit has a many-sided role in Scripture. He is not only the source of all spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:8–11; Gal 5:22). He is the promised Comforter, Advocate, and Counselor. He is the witness to Christ, glorifying him (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:14), convicting men of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8–11), regenerating them (Jn 3:3); the giver of life who engenders a “new creation” (Rom 8:22; 2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:10; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:15), evoking from men the response that Christ is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), assuring them of their adoption as sons of God and of their heavenly inheritance (Rom 8:14; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13; 4:30), making known all they have received from God (1 Cor 2:12; 1 Jn 2:20; 3:24; 4:6–13). Above all, Jesus repeatedly calls Him the “Spirit of Truth.” Why? Because the Spirit testifies to God’s word, which is Truth; and because Jesus himself is God’s Word made flesh, the Word Incarnate. This is significant because the Spirit of Truth leads the Church toward a deepened understanding of revealed truth (Jn 16:13). St. Pope John Paul II explains this work of the Holy Spirit thus:

He watches over the teaching of that truth, over its preservation and over its application to changing historical situations. He stirs up and guides the development of all that serves the knowledge and spread of that truth, particularly in scriptural exegesis and theological research. These can never be separated from the guidance of the Spirit of truth nor from the Magisterium of the Church, in which the Spirit is always at work.”5

In fact, the Holy Spirit may even be seen has playing an “epistemic” role in spiritual discernment, since He not only bears witness to the truth of the Gospel, but conveys an inward certainty of that truth (1 Thes 1:5).6 A more robust appreciation of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit may serve as a helpful corrective in our understanding and appreciation of the spiritual gifts in general, as well as of the charism of healing.

  1. The expression “healing on command” captures the sense of authority over sickness, death, and demons that Healy communicates in her discussions about the exercise of supernatural charisms, although I am unaware whether she herself ever uses it. On the other hand, the expression should not be taken to suggest that she believes that God will automatically heal a person every time a believer seeks to exercise the charism of healing, as she would be the first to admit.
  2. Vatican II teaches that “Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren,” which “can be a help to our own edification” and bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church” (Unitatis redintegratio, 4); which is not the same as uncritically accepting alien traditions inimical to the Faith.
  3. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, “Holy Spirit: Make ‘missionary disciples’ of all of us,” The Leaven, Jan. 5, 2018. theleaven.org/holy-spirit-make-missionary-disciples-of-all-of-us/.
  4. This is not to suggest that a Catholic should doubt in the least the continuing occurrence of miracles or take the ‘Cessationist’ view that miraculous charisms ceased with the apostolic age. Many of us have witnessed various miracles of healing, though genuine charisms of healing may not be as common as some suppose.
  5. John Paul II, A Catechesis on the Creed, Vol. III, The Spirit, Giver of Life and Love, 24; see also 346–50. See Dei Verbum, no. 8: The apostolic faith “develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down.”
  6. Eduardo Echeverria, Dialogue of Love: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic Ecumenist (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010), whom I follow closely in this paragraph, develops the “epistemological significance” of the Holy Spirit in ch. 4, “The Spirit of Truth,” beginning on p. 119.
Philip Blosser About Philip Blosser

Philip Blosser is professor of philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Born in China and raised in Japan, he earned his BA from Sophia University in Tokyo, MA degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and Villanova University, and his PhD from Duquesne University. He taught philosophy at Duquesne University, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and Harlaxton College (UK). He has published numerous articles and several books on philosophy and religion. His most recent publication is a translation of a German work by H. G. Stoker entitled Conscience: Phenomena and Theories (Notre Dame, 2018).

Comments

  1. I have experienced the Charismatic gifts and am a daughter of the Catholic Church that I have loved all of my life. I experienced healings through laying on of hands and the other Charismatic gifts and it in no way diminished my Catholic faith but enhanced it.
    Please read about this subject by other authors in the Renewal Ministries who have been preaching all
    over the world. Perhaps if you had personal experience you would have a different perspective.

    • My personal experience does not change the doubts I have when I look at the Pentecostal flood of the Charismatic Renewal. Even though I have some years of experience in Charismatic Renewal I see the danger of people following only emotional faith without good doctrine and tradition. One must find balance and common sense in everything.

  2. Fr. Henry Wasielewski (Phoenix, AZ) says:

    I am concerned about the exaggerated and false claims of miracle healing made by some local and nationally-known charismatics.
    I was at a priests’ retreat when a nationally-known priest “healer” visited the retreat for several hours and spoke to the large gathering. He claimed, along with several other claims, that he had recently completely and miraculously cured a woman in a local hospital. However, I had visited that woman a few days after he did and I found the woman still suffering from her illness, having received no relief from from the visit of the famous priest “healer.”
    On another occasion, I was saying Mass in a parish in which I was serving when a local, visiting priest who was helping with the Mass began speaking and pointing at several different areas, saying that a person in each of those areas had a particular disease or tumor that each did not know about. As he pointed in each direction he said that he was curing the afflicted person in that area. I told him to stop the this fraudulent activity or leave the altar. He stopped his activity.
    It is a shame that priests or lay persons make such fraudulent claims. People should be warned that some who claim to heal are misleading everyone. Anyone who hears a false or doubted claim should report it to officials of the diocese.

  3. Fr. Frank Karwacki says:

    At age 74 and having been ordained 35 years I honestly can say that I would not be a priest today if it were not for the Holy Spirit working through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Through the”release” of the graces of my baptism and gifts of my confirmation by the laying on of hands and being prayed when I was a lay person I would most likely have remained a public school biology teacher being very devout and very shy about sharing my Catholic faith. Yes , there are some good cautions and points in the article but having been and still am involved in Charismatic Renewal I would say from my lived experience the author has a lot of extrapolations that do not express the reality of the Renewal

    • In my experience Charismatic Renewal groups are awesome when they are accompanied by a good priest. I have seen groups that preach severe doctrinal errora such as the glorification of lying and Sacramental Confession without a priest. One group allowed me to teach and form them weekly and they quickly fell in line with the teachings of the Church. I have also spoken to those who fall down during prayer. Some have admitted they throw themselves on the floor because everyone else did. While some cases are genuine I have been pushed mightly hard and had to stand firm in order not to fall over. If the Holy Spirit wanted me to rest in the spirit surely assistance from this man would not be necessary. Obedience and formation are necessary for Charasmatic Renewal and other groups to do well. A huge mistake I have seen is when groups claim their spiritual movement is the best and only way to get closer to Jesus. I particularly like the Cursillo movement but that will not be a good fit for everyone. Charismatics, Cursillistas, Juan 23, Emaus, Schonstatt, Etc. all have a place for different people. Want to be a Saint? Go to Mass and partake in the sacraments. All of these groups can help us achieve sanctity but Sanctifying Grace comes from the sacraments.

  4. Just to put this cautionary note on the table also: I’m sorry to see in many (not all) advocates of “the charismatic gifts” among Christians generally, a quick conflation of two matters having important distinction: 1) charismatic gifts of 1 Cor 12:4-6, for example (graces “gratis datae”), and 2) the habitual graces and gifts of Baptism, the virtues of Isa 11:2, and the actual graces given for holiness and salvation). Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP, among others, has distinguished them helpfully in his book Spiritual Theology (online and searchable here:
    ( “https://archive.org/details/SpiritualTheologyByFr.JordanAumannO.p” – in Ch #14, Discernment of spirits, “graces gratis datae”) . I’ll paste some of it here:
    ————————— (begins Fr. Aumann)
    Graces “Gratis Datae.” In his first letter to the Corinthians (12:4-6), St. Paul states that there are diverse gifts of God, but that God is one in himself. All that we have received in both the natural and the supernatural order we have received from God, so that we could speak of all these things as graces gratis datae. But theologians reserve the term graces gratis datae for a special type of graces called charisms. Unlike the grace gratum faciens (habitual or actual graces) a grace gratis data has as its immediate purpose not the sanctification of the one who receives it, but the spiritual benefit of others. It is called gratis data not only because it is above the natural power of man but also because it is something outside the realm of personal merit. With this distinction in mind, we may list the following conclusions regarding the graces gratis datae:

    1. The graces gratis datae do not form part of the supernatural organism of the Christian life as do sanctifying grace and the infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, nor can they be classified under actual grace.
    2. They are what we may call “epiphenomen” of the life of grace and may even be granted to one who lacks sanctifying grace.
    3. They are not and cannot be the object of merit, but are strictly gratuitous.
    4. Since they do not form part of the supernatural organism, they are not contained in the virtualities of sanctifying grace, and hence the normal development of the life of grace could never produce or demand them.
    5. The graces gratis datae require in each instance the direct intervention of God.

    From these conclusions concerning the nature of the graces gratis datae we can formulate the following norms to serve as a guide for the spiritual director:
    1. It would be temerarious in the normal course of events to desire or to ask God for graces gratis datae or charisms. They are not necessary for salvation nor for sanctification, and they require the direct intervention of God. Far more precious is an act of love than a charismatic gift.
    2. In the event that God does grant a grace gratis datae, it is not a proof that a person is in the state of grace; much less can the gratuitous grace be taken as a sign that the individual is holy.
    3. The graces gratis datae do not sanctify those who receive them. And if anyone in mortal sin were to receive one of these graces, he or she could possibly remain in a sinful state even after the gratuitous gift of charism had been received.
    4. These graces are not given primarily for the benefit of the individual who receives them but for the good of others and for the edification of the Church.
    5. Since the graces gratis datae are something independent of sanctity, it is not necessary that all the saints should have received them. St. Augustine gives the reason for this when he says that they were not given to all the saints lest weak souls should be deceived into thinking that such extraordinary gifts were more important than the good works that are meritorious of eternal life.(3)

    But one should not exaggerate this doctrine. The graces gratis datae may indirectly or by redundance be beneficial to the one who receives them; it depends upon the spirit with which such gifts are accepted. These graces do not necessarily require or prove the state of sanctifying grace in the person who receives them, but it seems that God would not normally bestow such graces on persons in mortal sin.
    ——————— (ends quote from Fr. Aumann)
    This is a concern of mine, not unlike and also related to the concern I posted in the essay of mine published in this present issue of HPR. That essay also addresses a “conflation of two matters having important distinction” – Natural and Supernatural Faith”. These two concerns get interwoven, in real-life journeys.

    • Thank you. This is very helpful.

    • This is good stuff from Aumann. The one point which is hard to swallow is conclusion # 1:
      “It would be temerarious in the normal course of events to desire or to ask God for graces gratis datae or charisms.” He explains by saying: “They are not necessary for salvation nor for sanctification, and they require the direct intervention of God. Far more precious is an act of love than a charismatic gift.” But the conclusion does not follow from these premises. I don’t know what premises in the body of the text they would follow from.
      Aumann’s first conclusion seems to contrast sharply with St Paul’s “eagerly desire” or “eagerly strive” for the spiritual gifts.
      And Lumen Gentium’s “extraordinary gifts not to be rashly desired” is not the same as Aumann’s first conclusion, which says that it would be rash “in the normal course of events.”

      • Several points in response, Mark (and thank you for your comments):
        Paul writes (1Co 12:31) “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” That is, perhaps, if God chooses to give you a gift for the others, to help build them up, then seek to build them with the higher gifts, that the good done them by God through you might be the higher good. But then he immediately continues, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

        Yes, desire the higher gifts earnestly – wisdom, knowledge and so on … That said, even better is “The “more excellent way” – more excellent than (and I would say, “and ought to be preliminary to”) the charisms given for others are the theological virtues needed by the Christian himself, for his own salvation and sanctification, especially holy charity. Lacking that, these charisms cannot benefit the person himself no matter what or which charism he may have been given for the good of others. He himself, without holy charity, even if given charisms for others, is merely “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”, is in himself “nothing”, he “gains nothing” without charity. (1 Cor 13)

        2) Fr. Aumann also writes, “But one should not exaggerate this doctrine. The graces gratis datae may indirectly or by redundance be beneficial to the one who receives them; it depends upon the spirit with which such gifts are accepted.” That is, if he accepts the charism in holy faith and uses it in holy charity, he is doing works of charity – thus doing good works, meritorius for himself.

  5. CG Jung used to have inexplicable, and “miraculous” healings occur at some of his events.

    For several years, Franciscan University, Steubenville, has given me the creeps. It also fascinates me that it employs someone who was reported to be a spiritual abuser involved in the “Shepherding Movement” of the 1970s/80s (which interestingly shares a lot with the personality profiles of “rad trad” Catholics) and many American Catholics seem to defer to it as if it’s an alternative magisterium. It seems to be the body which hands out the imprimaturs which lay Catholics see as the seal of approval of books and other resources. It’s like a multi-columns dollar Pied Piper publishing phenomenon, followed by credulous rats, more than serious religion. Just watch the Franciscan Conferences talks on YouTube, for example where the young people are whipped up into a frenzy and scream like rock star groupies. Most of it seems more psychic contagion and collective effervescence, than anything genuine.

    I returned to Catholicism because I thought Tradition, magisterium, and doctrine, were the failsafe protection from the obsession with visible manifestations – supposed “tongues”, “healings”, and “miracles” – religious mania, and histrionics sweeping evangelicalism, not that it would follow me in.

    I’m no cessationist, but at the same time, what I’m seeing, from a psychological perspective, seems about as genuine as a Rolex from a Hong Kong street trader. It seems more “neo-gnostic”, than anything Christian.

  6. Dr. Philip Blosser says:

    Correction: Dr. Mary Healy has pointed out to me that at that time of the publication of her book on healing, Robin Beck had not yet defected from the Catholic Faith. I stand corrected.

  7. Diane Korzeniewski says:

    This was an informative read, and one which sums up many concerns I’ve had for decades. Dr. Blosser takes a dispassionate and respectful approach to the subject. Many Charismatics I know are good and faithful people. However, spirituality must be built on a solid foundation, not on feelings and healings. God can, and has granted miraculous healings through very holy people, like St. Padre Pio. But as we learn from the great mystics of the Church, like John of the Cross, the spiritual life is not about pursuing signs and wonders or good feelings, but the hard work of acting on graces to shed sin, and even good things which hinder us from pursuing Christ. The Holy Spirit acts on souls who genuinely seek God through simple, quiet ways. I was a lapsed Catholic in the pew every Sunday until I accepted the advice of my pastor and went back to basics: The Sacraments, Mass and Adoration, Marian Devotion, and wholesome spiritual reading (time-tested, saints, doctors and fathers of the Church, Scripture). My whole life turned around reading St. Francis de Sales, St. Augustine, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, among others. But those books demand quiet changes in one’s life that cannot be resolved with feelings and emotions related to outward enthusiasm. Rather, holiness and charitable acts flow from those changes through the graces given by the Holy Spirit in an ordinary way. The spiritual life is not about the extraordinary, but the ordinary. Too many times I’ve had charismatics tell me I need to be baptized in the spirit and encouraged to seek the gift of tongues. The great Carmelite saints teach us otherwise.

  8. As a person who was changed completely after being “baptized” in the Holy Spirit, I can attest that this is a true phenomenon. It happened to me at the age of 51 after a powerful conversion. I was taken to a healing Mass about three months after I acknowledged God’s existence. I had no idea what a healing Mass was. I watched people falling down after this priest prayed over them. I was sure I had been brought into the lunatic fringe section of the Catholic Church. Then, I was prayed over and it was right out of Pentecost. The fire on my head, being filled with a mighty wind, down and out. I could not see, I could not talk, I could not move. I was not resting in spirit, I was struggling to try to figure out what that priest had done to me. By the time I could crawl out, in tears, I was still terrified. My sister, who brought me there, told me I had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. As I did not know the Holy Spirit, this was certainly not sought after.
    The next day I woke up and I was a different person. I was no longer angry, wounded, bitter, but at peace and knowing I was in love with the Lord. The Holy Spirit worked in me day and night, changing every single thing about me and showing me what was of God and what was not. I would wake up speaking in tongues and had no idea what was going on. My life changed so completely that I lost every friend I had and half my family because all I saw was God. The honeymoon did end after a few years and I was me again, not always a good thing, but the gift of absolute faith stayed on and has never left me.
    I am sharing this because I believe that the workings of the Holy Spirit were not limited to Pentecost. This occurred in 2007. I was also brought to a Charismatic Church where I was confirmed at Easter Vigil in 2008. I attended a lot of healing Masses and I received incredible spiritual healing, which was what I needed so badly. But, by 2009, the effects of the charismatic draw were wearing off. The music was overbearing and rock concert loud and seemed to over take the Mass as the focal point. I started noticing the disconnect between people who were on fire for the Lord and yet didn’t seem to understand that He was present in the Tabernacle. I have noticed this at every Charismatic gathering. (well, also at most parishes, charismatic or not) The Sanctuary is not treated as a holy and sacred place. The music, the chattering is not in keeping with the sanctity of the Mass. I do not believe you can draw the young into the beauty of the Mass if you have to entertain them to do so.
    I quit going to most healing Masses and Charismatic Renewal events. They are made up of people with gray hair who seemed to be trying to hold on to some Pentecostal moment of their youth. The last event I attended was a Praise and Worship, Adoration, prayer team event. I had asked for healing for a physical problem. The person who prayed with me last pretty much told me that I wasn’t being healed because I didn’t have enough faith. Luckily, I am strong in the teachings of the Church and knew this person was a total idiot, but it told me that whoever was in charge didn’t really know who they were allowing to pray over people. I was told that Jesus just didn’t die for our sins, but He died so we would be healed. It was our fault if we weren’t. I can say that was not Catholic teaching and I have no interest in events that are not in line with Church teaching.
    There are opportunities for powerful prayer with others that can heal you spiritually. I know of priests and deacons who have prayed over people and those people were healed of serious physical problems. God can work through anyone, but I really don’t believe He is going to work through every one of us.
    I have great respect for Mary Healy. I read her book on healing. It did nothing for me and just sounded wrong.

  9. Darrin Nelson says:

    My comments are short. We need to continue to encourage people to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Through this development we come to understand the will of God for our lives. Once awaken to this relationship we are then open to how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. The Spirit is the one who directs the charisms, we do not. We need to encourage more discernment so we each can discover our charisms for the mission of God.

  10. Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ says:

    Dear Readers of HPR, Peace of Christ!
    After reading and re-reading this piece, I wanted to share one final comment before we prepare to pass on to the next issue. I wanted to assure you all of Dr. Healy’s superb scholarship and living fidelity to Christ and his Holy Church. I have known Dr. Healy for many years and while her colleague Dr. Blosser has expressed some fairly strong criticisms in this article, that is part of scholarship and the ongoing task of theology. Dr. Blosser’s essay raises some questions that only tangentially relate to Dr. Healy’s work. The Gift of Healing is real and we all need to distinguish carefully between the reality of people’s experiences and what some have rumored about Catholic charismatics. The Church does the Holy Spirit a great disservice if we look askance on realities which we find uncomfortable or foreign to our own limited experiences. As we enter into the “new year” and the Sacred Season of Advent, know of my prayers and Masses for each of you, in Christ, Fr. Meconi, SJ

    • I agree with what you write, Fr Meconi.
      I’m an ex-Evangelical. I believe in Pentecost. I believe in Charismatic Gifts.
      But, most of what I see “on the shop floor”, I would term “Charismaticism”.This phenomenon seems to be more a vehicle for so-called “mental illness”, than its healing. It attracts cranks, like moths to flames, and their pathologies are encouraged as being prophetic or mystical, rather than a sign of neurosis. In some instances, it’s clearly Spiritual Abuse.

      Often Charismatics are passive aggressive, elitist, and pretty narcissistic, unless it’s to do with conjuring up visible “manifestations” in other’s lives, and few of the traits they display seem remotely consistent with Theosis or Divinisation.

      For this reason, however authentic Dr Healy’s experience, any argument for the movement in general (not genuine working of the Holy Spirit) seems misjudged. It’s like the spiritual equivalent of throwing petrol on a barbecue because it’s not ready fast enough..

      Reformed Protestants seem to be brave enough to call out the nonsense and grasp the nettle, whereas, rather cynically, I think we encourage it because we’re chasing the numbers game, like other growing fads in the new Evangelisation, because at least they get “bums on seats” when our pews are rapidly emptying: and I’m not in the least bit surprised why.

      Some interesting books from their side of the Tiber:
      John MacArthur, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship”
      John MacArthur, “Charismatic Chaos”
      Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton, “Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse”
      Hank Hanegraaff (Apologist, “The Bible Answer Man”, and convert of Orthodoxy), “Counterfeit Revival: Looking for God in All the Wrong Places”

  11. Dr. Blosser is to be commended for a brilliant article questioning the wisdom of Catholics succumbing to an essentially Pentecostalist understanding of the Church’s mission of evangelizing. The allleged massive “outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit” claimed by “charismatics” but marked by such questionable practices as “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, ” speaking in tongues”, being “slain in the Spirit, and the “laying on of hands” by lay people of many denominations -if authentic- might have expected to result in the mass conversions of unbelievers to the Catholic Church. Instead, the evidence is ample concerning the drift to non-denominationalism, the spread of doctrinal indifference among many “charismatics”, and the alarming loss of millions of Catholics to a flamboyant Pentecostalism in Latin America. I personally recall attending a Catholic-Pentecostal meeting wherein the Protestants vaunted their “extraordinary” gifts but openly denied the truth of the Trinity. All that is hardly the work of the Holy Spirit whose supernatural gifts are directed to attracting souls to the true Church of Jesus Christ, and, moreover, to empty the person of one’s ego and cherished experiences and emotional states. St. John of the Cross warned against the attempt to mimic or sustain enthusiastic or “peak” experiences” which can have various psychological causes, including the pathological and demonic. Much contemporary “counterfeit spirituality” has resulted from the theological separation of pneumatology from Christology.i.e.,, the working of the Holy Spirit preferred over the authoritative Institutional Church which Christ founded on Peter and the Apostles. To the contrary,, the work of the Spirit is the work of Christ whose supernatural gifts are given for the building-up of His Bride, the Church.

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