Answers Concerning the Charism of Healing

The recent article by my colleague Phil Blosser, “Questions Concerning the Charism of Healing,” gives me an opportunity to address the misconceptions, concerns, and fears that many Catholics have about prayer for healing and about the charismatic dimension of the Christian life in general.

The article focuses on my book Healing: Bringing the Gift of God’s Mercy to the World (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015). Unfortunately, it contains few substantive arguments regarding what I wrote in the book, and relies instead largely on innuendo, aspersions, and straw-man claims that play into some common prejudices regarding the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Many sentences begin with “Some readers might think . . .,” followed by pejorative interpretations, without clarifying whether Blosser himself holds these views. Blosser seems unaware of the many books and articles that have already addressed these concerns.1 Nevertheless I will seek to address briefly the main questions and objections that his article raises.

Is the Emphasis on the Holy Spirit and
His Charisms a Kind of Catholic Pentecostalism?

Blosser charges that I, and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, represent a “charismatic-inspired, essentially Pentecostal understanding of the Church’s mission.” By “Pentecostal” he presumably means the Christian denominations that trace their origin to the Azusa Street revival that began in 1906. But “Pentecostal” can also, and more properly, refer to the Pentecost event of AD 33. Indeed, in this sense the Church and her mission are “essentially Pentecostal”! The Church was born in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; she lives by the Holy Spirit, the soul of the mystical body of Christ, and she is able to carry out her mission only in the power of the Holy Spirit and his sanctifying and charismatic gifts.2 Thus an emphasis on the Holy Spirit and his gifts is in fact essentially Catholic. Indeed, the popes of the last half-century have strongly reaffirmed this by referring, often in tones of urgency, to the Church’s need for a “new Pentecost” — a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit — in order to fulfill her evangelizing mission.3 The magisterium’s concern that the charismatic dimension of the Church be properly understood and embraced is also reflected in the 2016 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Iuvenescit Ecclesia, on “the Relationship Between Hierarchical and Charismatic Gifts in the Life and the Mission of the Church.”

But this charge of “Pentecostalism” also points to a deeper issue. Ever since the Reformation, there has been a tendency among Catholics to define Catholicism over against Protestantism. Many Protestants reject certain Catholic doctrines (e.g., saints and sacraments) and emphasize others (e.g., Scripture and evangelism). In response, some Catholics tend to emphasize what Protestants reject and downplay what Protestants accept. But, ironically, this only leads to another form of diminished and reductive Christianity. In reality, the Catholic Church embraces the whole (katholikon) of the apostolic heritage. She is Pentecostal and Eucharistic, charismatic and hierarchical, Marian and Petrine, biblical and traditional. The fact that various Protestant traditions have emphasized various aspects of the Catholic faith does not make those aspects any less Catholic. Otherwise we’d have to say that affirming the authority and inerrancy of Scripture is “Protestant,” or that affirming the duty of all Christians to evangelize is “Protestant,” or that affirming the dignity of the laity is “Protestant.” Surely we do not want to cede any of those aspects of the Gospel to others and say that they don’t belong to us.

Nor do we want to be so narrow-minded as to claim that because the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth, therefore truth is found only within the Catholic Church.4 St. John Paul II, when asked why God had allowed the historic divisions in Christianity, spoke of grievous human failings but then speculated on another factor: “Could it not be that these divisions have also been a path continually leading the Church to discover the untold wealth contained in Christ’s Gospel and in the redemption accomplished by Christ? Perhaps all this wealth would not have come to light otherwise.”5 If Protestants have brought to light certain aspects of the apostolic heritage that had been neglected — including the power of the Holy Spirit and his supernatural gifts — this is not reason to complain about Protestant influence, but to rejoice that our brethren have helped us rediscover what is our own.

Does Openness to the Holy Spirit
Lead to Subjectivism?

Blosser expresses his fear that I or others who emphasize the charisms may fall into the trap of doctrinal indifferentism, or of an “exclusive adherence to subjectively discerned guidance of the Holy Spirit” like that of “some of the more egregious heresies of Church history.” Again, he provides no evidence for this charge and seems to assume that those whose style differs from his are suspect until proven innocent. In fact, seeking personal guidance from the Holy Spirit is one of the basic practices of the Christian life, recommended by St. Ignatius among many others. It in no way entails a denigration of doctrine or of Church authority. Rather, personal guidance from the Holy Spirit (for instance, regarding one’s state in life, or of a particular mission one is called to) takes place within the vast expanse of revealed truth, and is discerned in light of that truth.6 To fail to seek such personal guidance from the Lord out of fear, as if we must be guided by the doctrines and precepts of the Church alone, is to live an impoverished Christianity. As Benedict XVI noted, “Christian faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. . . . When we enter into a personal relationship with him, Christ reveals our true identity and, in friendship with him, our life grows towards complete fulfilment.”7

Thus there is no conflict between fidelity to objective truth and openness to the prophetic guidance of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Catholics who have experienced “baptism in the Holy Spirit”8 almost universally testify that the result is a coming alive of their Catholic faith, a deeper love for the Church and the sacraments, a passion to better understand the Faith, and a greater zeal to bear witness to Christ. As the theologian Yves Congar noted, the Charismatic Renewal resembles previous renewal movements in the capacity it brings for a transformation of life, but differs from them in its fidelity to the institutional Church.9 It is not accidental that every Catholic charismatic leader I know is fervently committed to the Church and her teachings; many have frequently defended them in public, and many have paid a price for holding these teachings in ecclesial environments where dissent was the order of the day.

Is It Proper to Seek the Charism of Healing?

According to Blosser, I hold that “the charism of healing on command is . . . common and normative for all Christians.” But this is a serious misrepresentation of what I wrote. I never use the strange expression “healing on command” (see below). Nor do I claim that the charism of healing is normative for all Christians. Rather, I note that Jesus’s missionary mandate, to proclaim the Gospel in both words and in supernatural deeds including healings and miracles (Mt 10:7–8; Mk 16:15–18; Lk 10:9), remains valid for all time. This does not mean that healings and miracles are a moral imperative for each individual Christian, but they are normative for the Church’s mission corporately, and every Christian should seek to discern, with sincere openness to the Holy Spirit, how we are called to participate in that mission and what charisms the Holy Spirit has bestowed on us to empower us to do so. Moreover, Scripture exhorts us to “strive eagerly” for the spiritual gifts, which include healing (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1).

What about the warning of Vatican Council II that “extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly desired, nor from them the fruits of apostolic labors to be presumptuously expected”?10 Blosser seems to think this warning is in tension with the biblical exhortation to “strive eagerly” for the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1), and therefore healing (and other supernatural gifts) must be excluded from our striving. But there is no contradiction between the two. Indeed the gifts should never be sought rashly. To seek them rashly would entail, for instance, seeking them with self-centered motives such as pride or a desire for recognition, or a “need to be needed,” or in hope of financial gain. Or to seek them without a corresponding commitment to living a life of holiness and Christian virtue, or while neglecting the duties of one’s state in life. As the Council also notes, we must not presumptuously expect the fruits of apostolic labor from the gifts of the Spirit. Healings and miracles are not a substitute for preaching the Gospel; they are its accompaniment. And preaching the Gospel is only the beginning of a long process that involves bringing people into an encounter with Jesus, catechesis, Christian initiation through baptism and the other sacraments, formation, and ongoing conversion and growth in holiness.

But to seek the charisms eagerly, as St. Paul exhorts (see also Mt 7:7–11; Lk 11:9–13), is not the same as seeking them rashly. The reason we should seek them eagerly is because they are God’s gifts to be given away; they are the supernatural means by which God empowers his children to minister his love and grace to others. Many people today are deeply wounded in ways that neither modern medicine nor therapy can fully address. They need an encounter with the living Christ and an experience of his power in their lives. As I noted in the book, “the risen Lord is waiting for his disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, to act in the power they have already been given and to ask for more heavenly power to meet the needs of those around them.”11

Blosser says he 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). He seems unaware that I quoted the same passage and noted that Jesus “cautions against the assumption that charisms, even extraordinary ones, are a proof of holiness. . . . The sobering truth is that it is possible to exercise supernatural gifts and yet have a heart hardened against the Lord (1 Cor 13:1–3).”12 But the reverse side of this truth is heartening: the exercise of charisms — even extraordinary ones — is not a reward for virtue, nor a measure of sanctity. As the very word charism implies, they are free gifts: God gives them freely, simply because he loves us and delights to involve us in his work of building up the body of Christ. Thus we should not hesitate to ask God for charisms, if our motives are sincere. To seek charisms is not a sign of presumption or pride, but of a desire to put oneself at the service of the body of Christ. God gives charisms for the sake of love, and to use a charism properly is an act of love.

Healing on Command

Blosser repeatedly criticizes what he calls “healing on command,” although he admits in a footnote that he is unaware whether I ever use that term. In fact I do not use that term. On the contrary, I emphasize in the book that healing is not under our control but under God’s control: “It is important to keep in mind that signs and wonders are never performed on demand (cf. Matt 12:38–39)”; “every time you exercise a charism, God the Holy Spirit is operating through you, displaying his presence and power. A charism like healing is not something you ‘possess’ or can pull out of your pocket at will. You cannot heal someone whenever you feel like it. Rather, you are a musical instrument on which the Holy Spirit plays according to his will and his timing. The more yielded you are to him, the more freely he will play.”13

I do, however, point to the striking fact that in the miraculous healings depicted in the Acts of the Apostles, only twice is prayer mentioned; on all the other occasions the apostles or other Christians heal by announcement or by command. For instance, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6); “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (Acts 9:34). This demonstrates their awareness that they had been given a share in Christ’s own authority over sickness and disease, as confirmed by the Lord’s words (Lk 10:17–19; Mk 16:17–18). So today, those joined to Christ through faith and baptism share in his authority to heal the sick and liberate the oppressed.

Is an Emphasis on Lay People Exercising
Charisms a Form of Anti-clericalism?

For Blosser, my “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.” But the notion that the exercise of charisms requires clerical permission or authority is precisely the kind of clericalist mentality that Vatican II sought to overcome. In its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity the Council taught that the laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate not from Church authorities, but from the Lord Himself.14 Further,

For the exercise of this apostolate, the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies the people of God through ministry and the sacraments gives the faithful special gifts also (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7), “allotting them to everyone according as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11) in order that individuals, administering grace to others just as they have received it, may also be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10), to build up the whole body in charity (cf. Eph. 4:16). From the acceptance of these charisms, including those which are more elementary, there arise for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church, in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who “breathes where He wills” (John 3:8).15

This is not to deny that the exercise of charisms is subject to the discernment and oversight of the pastors of the Church. A very important part of their leadership role is precisely to uncover, discern, acknowledge, foster, and coordinate the harmonious exercise of the varied charisms of the faithful.16 As Vatican II put it, “to [their] special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good.”17

Was the Idea of Glossolalia Invented in
the Nineteenth Century?

According to Blosser, the gift of tongues, understood as “an unintelligible private ‘language’ of prayer,” is alien to Catholic tradition; instead it derives from “the novel theory of ‘glossolalia’ introduced in the nineteenth century by Protestant biblical scholars.” It is difficult to see how anyone who has read 1 Corinthians 12–14 carefully could make this statement. St. Paul clearly refers to the gift tongues as a form of non-conceptual yet vocalized prayer: “one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit” (1 Cor 14:2; cf. 14:7–11). Prayer in tongues, as Paul describes it, is a kind of “prayer of the heart that goes directly to God, bypassing the mind”;18 it is thus similar to contemplative prayer.

Of the many instances where the gift of tongues is mentioned in the New Testament (Mk 16:17; Acts 2:4–11; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 12:10, 28; 13:1, 8; 14:2–39), only one, the account of Pentecost, clearly refers to tongues as speaking in known human languages.19 In the Pauline passages, tongues clearly refers to unintelligible speech by which one praises God in a way that goes beyond human words. The tongues reported at Pentecost appear to be a unique phenomenon in the New Testament, although this phenomenon has been attested on occasion throughout Church history and in our own time.20 The Church Fathers generally reserved the term “tongues” to refer to this miraculous form of the gift, while using the term “jubilation” to refer to non-verbal but vocalized praise of God. The similarities between what the tradition calls jubilation and prayer in tongues as it is experienced today are unmistakable.21 St. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, writes, “When our mind is kindled by devotion as we pray, we break out spontaneously into weeping and sighing and cries of jubilation and other such noises. . . .”22 “The jubilus is an inexpressible joy which is not able to be expressed in words but even so the voice declares this vast expanse of joy. . . .”23 Likewise St. Teresa of Avila attests that “Our Lord sometimes gives the soul feelings of jubilation and a strange prayer it doesn’t understand. I am writing about this favor here so that if He grants it to you, you may give Him such praise and know what is taking place. . . . It seems like gibberish. . . .”24 Today, charismatic Catholics and other Christians experience a similar grace, but have returned to the Pauline usage of the term “tongues” to refer to it.

A few other misleading or inaccurate statements in Blosser’s article call for a brief response. He claims that the “traditional Church, in Healy’s view, has grown old and ossified.” In fact I made no such distinction between the “traditional Church” and some other (“non-traditional”?) Church. Rather, I wrote, “The Church in our time, it must be admitted, has in some ways become inward-looking. Catholics — whether in a parish, a diocese, or the universal Church — sometimes look like a circle of people all looking inward and talking to each other about our structures, our programs, our problems, our reforms.”25 This is a danger of the Church in every age, though it is particularly evident in our time.

Blosser states, “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).” On the contrary, on that same page I stated clearly that God’s power does not refer only to signs and wonders: “By ‘demonstration of Spirit and power’ [Paul] probably meant both the convincing power of Holy Spirit at work in the hearts of the hearers, convincing them that the gospel is true, as well as the miracles that accompany the gospel, proving that Jesus is indeed alive and at work in the world.” This supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is indeed essential to effective evangelization. As the great theologian Avery Dulles observed, “Because faith does not rest on human reasoning alone, the charismatic element is essential for any fruitful proclamation of the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul insists that he proclaimed the crucified Christ not in plausible words of human wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. . . . It remains true today that the Christian message cannot be imparted by logical demonstration but only by words taught by the Holy Spirit. To speak in such Spirit-inspired words is to exercise a charismatic gift.”26

Blosser refers to “Randy Clark . . . with whom [Healy] spent her sabbatical in 2013 performing healings in Brazil.” I am not certain what force that claim is meant to have, but it is in fact erroneous. I spent only two weeks of my sabbatical with a team of 80 people led by Dr. Clark in Brazil, as Blosser knows from the sabbatical report I gave to faculty at Sacred Heart.

Blosser objects that I quoted “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.” In fact, the cardinal makes several even stronger assertions in the context, which should suffice to show that I was not misinterpreting him:

But the local Churches, too, even the bishops, must be reminded that they must avoid any uniformity of pastoral organizations and programmes. They must not turn their own pastoral plans into the criterion of what the Holy Spirit is allowed to do: an obsession with planning could render the Churches impervious to the action of the Holy Spirit, to the power of God by which they live. . . .

. . . What, in the last analysis, needs to be established is not a blasé attitude of intellectual superiority that immediately brands the zeal of those seized by the Holy Spirit and their uninhibited faith with the anathema of fundamentalism. . . .

. . . [W]hat should remain at the end is above all a feeling of gratitude and joy. Gratitude that the Holy Spirit is quite plainly at work in the Church and is lavishing new gifts on her in our time too, gifts through which she relives the joy of her youth.27

There are other examples in the article, but these are sufficient to demonstrate that Blosser has not offered a fair evaluation of my book, nor of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, but has instead been guided by prejudices, guilt by association, and groundless suspicions that unjustly call into question the fidelity and orthodoxy of those who emphasize the charismatic dimension of the Christian life.

What is needed is the wisdom of the popes since Vatican Council II, all of whom recognized in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our times a work of God in response to the needs of our age, and who called Catholics to be fearlessly open to the action of the Spirit. Pope Paul VI described the Charismatic Renewal as “a chance for the Church and for the world.” St. John Paul II reiterated in 1981, “Pope Paul described the movement for renewal in the Spirit as ‘a chance for the Church and for the world,’ and the six years since that Congress have borne out the hope that inspired his vision.”28 And again in 2004, “Thanks to the Charismatic Movement, a multitude of Christians, men and women, young people and adults have rediscovered Pentecost as a living reality in their daily lives. I hope that the spirituality of Pentecost will spread in the Church . . . .”29 At the gathering of ecclesial movements in Rome in 1998 he gave this heartfelt exhortation: “Today, I would like to cry out . . . to all Christians: Open yourselves docilely to the gifts of the Spirit! Accept gratefully and obediently the charisms which the Spirit never ceases to bestow on us!”30 Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the call for a culture of Pentecost, and often expressed the fervent desire for a new Pentecost.31 And Pope Francis has amplified this theme, stating that “Spirit-filled evangelizers means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit.”32 To the Charismatic Renewal he said, “I expect from you that you share with all, in the Church, the grace of Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”33

At the end of Blosser’s article he expresses a concern to “retrieve a more robust sense of the Spirit’s work in the Christian’s life,” and offers a brief but rich résumé of the Spirit’s many-sided role as revealed in Scripture: he is our Comforter, Advocate, and Counselor; the Spirit of truth, who bears witness to Christ, convicts us of sin, regenerates us, assures us of our adoption as sons of God; the giver of life who brings about a new creation; etc. Indeed these and other aspects of the Spirit’s work have been explored by many in the Charismatic Renewal,34 but there is always need for more. Meanwhile, the exhortation of St. Paul remains ever valid: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil” (1 Thess 5:19–22).

  1. E.g., International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services and the Catholic Fraternity in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Charisms and the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church (Rome: ICCRS, 2015); Doctrinal Commission of ICCRS, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Jubilee Edition (Rome: ICCRS, 2017); Ralph Martin, “A New Pentecost? Catholic Theology and ‘Baptism in the Spirit,’” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 14 (2011): 17–43; Raniero Cantalamessa, Sober Intoxication of the Spirit (Cincinnati: Servant, 2005); Cantalamessa, Come, Creator Spirit (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2003); ICCRS in Collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Prayer for Healing: International Colloquium (Rome: ICCRS, 2003); Paul Josef (Cardinal) Cordes, Call to Holiness: Reflections on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1997); Kilian McDonnell and George T. Montague, Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries, rev. ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1994); Francis Martin, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Scriptural Foundation (Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University Press, 1986); Francis Sullivan, Charisms and Charismatic Renewal: A Biblical and Theological Study (Cincinnati: Servant, 1982).
  2. For a brief explanation of the distinction between the sanctifying and charismatic gifts, see Healy, Healing, 114–116.
  3. E.g., John XXIII, prayer for Vatican Council II; Paul VI, General Audience, Nov. 29, 1972; John Paul II, Address at the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, May 30, 1998; Benedict XVI, XXIII World Youth Day, Sydney, Australia, July 23, 2008; Francis, Joy of the Gospel, 261.
  4. To the contrary, Vatican II affirms that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of {the Church’s} visible structure” (Lumen Gentium, 8); cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, 16.
  5. Crossing the Threshold of Hope, ed. Vittorio Messori, trans. Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 153.
  6. See Randy Clark and Mary Healy, The Spiritual Gifts Handbook (Grand Rapids: Chosen, 2018).
  7. Benedict XVI, World Youth Day Message, 2011.
  8. For an explanation of this term see ICCRS Doctrinal Commission, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Rome: ICCRS, 2012).
  9. Congar, “Actualité de la Pneumatologie,” in José Saraiva Martins, ed., Credo in Spiritum Sanctum (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983), 18. Certainly there have been Catholics in the Charismatic Renewal who have left the Church — during a period of time when millions of Catholics in general have left the Church — but it must be asked how many more have faithfully remained in the Church precisely because they had encountered Jesus and come alive in the Holy Spirit through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
  10. Lumen Gentium, 12. The qualifier “rashly” is inexplicably missing from the English translation, but it is in the Latin original, temere. The Council does not define what it means by “extraordinary.” It is true that healings and miracles are more obviously supernatural than some of the other gifts, in that they are more independent of any natural causality, whereas most of the gifts involve an interaction between natural and supernatural causality. They are also relatively rare, and in that sense “extraordinary.” The Catechism categorizes miracles and tongues as “extraordinary” (par. 2003), probably referring to tongues in the form of xenoglossia (speaking a foreign language of which one has no knowledge) rather than glossolalia (speaking non-verbal utterances that do not correspond to any known language).
  11. Healing, 117.
  12. Healing, 113.
  13. Healing, 197 fn. 39; 115.
  14. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 3.
  15. Ibid.; emphasis added.
  16. Cf. Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 9.
  17. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 12. For some practical principles of discernment, see Clark and Healy, Spiritual Gifts, 188–96.
  18. George Montague, First Corinthians, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 239.
  19. It is not clear whether Luke was referring to a miracle of speech or of hearing (i.e., the disciples may have been speaking in non-intelligible speech, but the listeners heard it as a proclamation of the Gospel). In favor of the latter interpretation is the emphasis on “hearing” (Acts 2:6, 8, 11) and the fact that they were accused of being drunk. See George Montague, The Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition, rev. ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 279–80.
  20. See Clark and Healy, Spiritual Gifts, 181–84; ICCRS, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, 111 note 25.
  21. See the helpful discussion in Sullivan, Charisms and Charismatic Renewal, 121–48. See also Doctrinal Commission of ICCRS, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Jubilee Edition), 62–64.
  22. Simon Tugwell, ed., Albert and Thomas: Selected Writings, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 380.
  23. Saint Thomas Aquinas, In Psalterium, Ps 32.3.
  24. Saint Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, VI.6.10–11.
  25. Healing, 188. Pope Francis emphasized this danger in his homily to the cardinals immediately before the conclave that elected him, and in his encyclical Joy of the Gospel, 49.
  26. Dulles, “The Charism of the New Evangelizer,” in Doris Donnelly (ed.), Retrieving Charisms for the Twenty-First Century (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999), 40.
  27. Ratzinger, “The Ecclesial Movements: A Theological Reflection on Their Place in the Church,” in Movements in the Church: Proceedings of the World Congress of the Ecclesial Movements (Vatican City: Pontificium Consilium pro Laicis, 1999), 50.
  28. John Paul II, address to delegates of the Fourth International Leaders’ Conference of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Rome, May 7, 1981.
  29. John Paul II, Vespers homily, May 29, 2004. For a compilation of papal messages to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, see “Then Peter stood up . . .”: Collection of the Popes’ addresses to the CCR from its origin to the year 2000 (Rome: ICCRS, 2000).
  30. John Paul II, address to the ecclesial movements and new communities, May 30, 1998.
  31. Benedict XVI, general audience of Sept. 28, 2005; address at XXIII World Youth Day, Sydney, Australia, July 23, 2008; Homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, April 19, 2008; address at the opening of the First General Congregation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, October 5, 2009.
  32. Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 259.
  33. Francis, address to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, June 2, 2014.
  34. See, for example, Cantalamessa, Come, Creator Spirit; George Montague, The Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition; Peter Hocken, Pentecost and Parousia (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013); Benedict Heron, Our Call to Holiness (Luton, UK: New Life Publishing, 2005); Ralph Martin, Called to Holiness (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988).
Mary Healy About Mary Healy

Dr. Mary Healy is a professor of Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA, and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. She is a general editor of the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture and author of two of its volumes, The Gospel of Mark and Hebrews. Her other books include The Spiritual Gifts Handbook and Healing: Bringing the Gift of God’s Mercy to the World. Dr. Healy is chair of the Doctrinal Commission of Catholic Charismatic Renewal International Service (CHARIS) in Rome.


  1. Avatar GARY L PERRYDORE says:

    Excellent response Dr. Healy

  2. My problem with Catholic “Charismaticists” or Protestant Pentecostals is simple:
    Why does their “Holy Spirit” supposedly perform amazing “supernatural” manifestations, yet he seems totally incapable (or uninterested/unwilling) of transforming basic areas of their characters (one would assume a far easier task), and so leaves them unchanged, so they usually come across as (passively) aggressive, emotionally disturbed, or having religious mania, rather than as holy or credible witnesses?

    For me, the closest parallel are people who claim to see Ghosts: they never see what could be termed “normal ghosts”. There’s always something weird, fantastic, or unconventional about their reported sightings. Charismatics seem to have susceptible personalities or a propensity towards the charismatic so, if you get to know them, when they tell you they’re charismatic, you’re rarely surprised. “Could have guessed as much.”

    This “Holy Spirit” of theirs makes the lame walk at their jamborees, but never seems to heal the inferiority complexes or the attention-seeking behaviours of these self-identified “spirit-filled” individuals. And why is it that it’s nearly always these extroverted and experience-seeking individuals who, if they weren’t charismatics, you have a hunch they’d be Wiccan, UFO-hunters, or such-like instead? The correlation between personality type and likelihood of getting swept into charismania seems more than coincidental: which is why it’s a bit too predictable, therefore problematic, to me.

    For, if anything, surely the average charismatic’s narcissistic or “snowflake” tendency would be one of the first things which the spirit would address if he can perform far greater things? Surely the Holy Spirit would want people whom normal people wouldn’t think were nutters from the moment they open their mouths, but credible and a serious force to be reckoned with.

    From my reading of the New Testament, the Christians angered people because they challenged deeply cherished beliefs, whereas charismatics just invite ridicule. If they think that’s what “fool for Christ means”, then so be it, but I’m off. I can’t imagine St Paul meant “gullible”, “in-credible”, or “idiot”.

    Lastly, it seems to me the early church matured, whereas the Charismatic Movement has become progressively bizarre and in a psychological sense, regressive. The hysteria around Benny Hinn, the violence around Todd Bentley, or Toronto Blessing dog barking… Or what about the highly abusive Shepherding Movement of which Ralph Martin was a key player according to reports about the Word of God Community in Ann Arbor? It’s just risible nonsense, isn’t it?

    In short, why does the charismaticist’s “Holy Spirit” performs magnificent conjuring and circus tricks which entertain people – people very much only like themselves – but rarely leave them in a state of what could be considered sound mind? (Mark 5)

  3. Avatar Patrick M McCormack says:

    Thank you for this well written response, a true grand slam!!! I implore all Catholics DO NOT BE AFRAID, BE FEARLESS in the Lord and His Spirit. Much of this fear from Faithful Catholics is rooted in the unknown.

    I will share with all of my friends and family.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. Avatar Steve Harrington says:

    Brilliant article Dr. Healy!

    In response to your post, Paul R:
    20 So by their fruits you will know them. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ Mathew 7:20-24

    In this scripture the Lord is talking to people who exercise spiritual gifts: prophecy, driving out demons, those who do mighty deeds. It seems like an odd thing to say to people who are believers. If you remember at the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus tell us, “These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. […] Mark 16 v 17.

    So we need to pay attention to what Jesus is pointing toward: “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven”. What then are we to make of this? Well, who is the one who does the will of the Father? Well, Jesus is the one. So we should imitate Jesus. We should LAY OUR ENTIRE LIFE DOWN for the Father because as Jesus says at one point, “the world must know that I love the Father.”

    a) Baptism in the Holy Spirit is only a first step. b) Exercising spiritual gifts is a next good step because we set aside our will for the Father’s will. c) Now the next step is where it really gets personal and difficult: we pick up our crosses every day and we die to ourselves. What does this mean? It means we allow the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to enter into our lives, our relationships, our memories, our sins, and our wounds and WE TRUST THEM to heal us. In short, we allow the trinity to make us saints and we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and cast all our fears and worries upon Him. We allow the Holy Spirit to transform us from glory to glory.

    So maybe you have met fragile charismatics; less than perfect ones. Let’s try to remember that our first Pope denied he even knew Jesus and he did it three times. Let’s try and remember that Mary Magdalene too was once a sinner. In the end, to do the will of the Father means we accept every cup that he gives us no matter how bitter, or embarrassing, how difficult or challenging. We love the Father with our faces always turned toward Him. We wait silently in His throne room; ever attentive to His glance, so that when He glances towards us we reply, “Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.”

    • Avatar Re. Rory T. Conley says:

      As a pretty traditional priest of almost 30 years, and a one time skeptic about the Charismatic Renewal, I am happy to affirm the remarks of Dr. Healy regarding the healing prayer ministry and the charismatic renewal in general. I participated in a Life in the Spirit Seminar about four years ago and I happily tell people that after my ordination to the priesthood, the prayer for renewal in the Holy Spirit that I received at that time has been the most significant spiritual development in my adult life. Our traditional parish sponsored the Life in the Spirit Seminar and the response to the invitation to participate was phenomenal. Our weekly Mass attendance is about 800 persons. When we had the seminar here two years ago 200 people participated and I know that they came because they were prompted by the Spirit. I have never seen any response like this to any other church “program.” The people who came knew nothing about the charismatic renewal or the Spirit seminar. The lives of many of those who participated have been profoundly changed.So much so that dozens of them happily volunteered to present the Spirit Seminar in neighboring parishes. In short, as a result of the Spirit Seminar, they are actually living out the graces of their baptism and confirmation in a way that we rarely see among most adult Catholics. They are also learning to use the Gifts of the Spirit, including praying for healing. I myself am the beneficiary of their prayers as after being prayed for I was healed of the painful effects of spinal stenosis.
      In conclusion, I highly recommend Dr. Healy’s book and the charismatic renewal. I also recommend to any pastor who would like to see his parish come alive that you consider sponsoring the Life in the Spirit Seminar.I would be happy to discuss the experience of our parish with anyone who would like more information.
      Fr. Rory T. Conley
      Pastor, St. Mary’s Church
      Bryantown, Maryland

  5. Avatar Alex Bogdanoff says:

    A profound and charitable response to an over-generalized and somewhat predjudised article, where the writer failed “to do his homework” on not only the book, but on the charismatic renewal of the Church. I will distribute this writing, “Answers Concerning the Charism of Healing,” to my fellow Catholics, as it is a great teaching tool. The book, “healing” is fantastic as well. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” 1 Jn 4:18a

  6. Avatar Dr. Philip Blosser says:

    I want to commend Dr. Healy for publishing her article, which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading, having just returned from two weeks in Japan. Upon my return home, I was greeted with the heartening news that Dr. Healy had published a rebuttal of my article, and I immediately emailed her to express my gratitude. Why? Because the ability of brothers and sisters in Christ to honestly and charitably discuss differences of opinion and perspective in public is one of the hallmarks of a healthy Christian community.

    In fact, Healy is to be especially commended for accepting my private invitation to her to publish a rebuttal, because this was not her initial inclination. Initially she besought both me and the editor of this esteemed journal, as she informed me, to retract my article. I understand how some of the questions I raised might have been uncomfortable, to be sure; but there is also an obvious danger that arises when a subset of the Catholic community so closely identifies its own particular vision of things with the mission of the entire Church that it cannot countenance having honest questions raised about itself, much less open debate, and seeks instead to silence all opposition. Such a disposition would not reflect a healthy Christian community; which is why I am sincerely glad for this airing of alternative views.

    I want to be clear that the questions raised in my article are not originally my own. My article is nothing more than a compendium of questions that I have observed being raised by non-revisionist Catholics in diverse quarters. These questions do not arise from any defect of faith in Christ or the supernatural, but have a genealogy that can be traced back to the likes of Msgr. Ronald Knox’s magisterial Catholic critique of ENTHUSIASM in a book by that title (1950), or to analogous concerns raised by St. John of the Cross in the 16th century. Furthermore, in the interests of full disclosure, our readers should know that my own parents were involved in the charismatic renewal long enough to contribute a chapter in a little anthology entitled MY PERSONAL PENTECOST some decades ago; and when I was first received into the Church in 1993, those who were initially most welcoming and approachable turned out to be charismatics, probably because their vocabulary and disposition was most like that of Protestant evangelicals I had known.

    Thus our readers should know that I believe there is much in the Charismatic Renewal to commend it; but also that I believe there are serious questions that have been raised by many about its historical pedigree, spirituality, and theology that have yet to be addressed adequately, honestly, charitably, and in good faith – which is the spirit in which I sought to write my own article, just as, I trust, Dr. Healy has written hers, which I am eager to read just as soon as I can take care of some other, more pressing concerns. I am hoping she provides some credible answers!

  7. I was very happy that Dr. Healy responded so well to Dr. Blosser. She gave me a few things to think over again, but I am stll mostly a skeptic about the Charismatic Movement. I particularly struggle with the glossolallia notion, (notwithstanding the scripture citations) and other aspects of the movement that I have witnessed. I am also grateful for all the above thoughtful comments. My other chief concerns are twofold: 1. Why has the charismatic “movement” been dormant for 2,000 years only to emerge now? Can this be true development of some doctrine? Which one? And if so, where is the full-throated hierarchical support of this movement? Its muted support may tell us something. 2. Yes, Protestant fundamentalists may still share in elements of Catholic Faith, but would the Holy Spirit work through heresy to nudge His Church towards holiness? I’m not sure of the answer.

  8. Avatar Pauline Dumas-McGrath says:

    In answer to Stephen J. Morrissey above:
    I concur that Dr. Healy responded to Dr. Blosser’s article from November 14, 2018. Bravo to Dr. Healy! One book in particular which helped to answer my own questions regarding the dormancy of the Church in the area of the charisms, were answered by Fr. Francis MacNutt in his book, “The Nearly Perfect Crime: How the Catholic Church Almost Killed the Ministry of Healing” (which, oddly enough, has been re-printed under a new, less confronting title “The Healing Reawakening”). We may have all taken a collective ‘nap’ due neglect in teaching and modeling life fully in Holy Spirit (I intentionally did not put ‘the’ in front since Holy Spirit is a Person). Wasn’t the Charismatic Renewal supposed to be a movement meant to be integrated within the Church once She had become re-ignited in the power and fullness of the Trinity and once more living out Her life with the charisms becoming normative as they were in the beginning of the Church? I hope and pray that the Church will again model this from the Vatican to the laity. As shocking as this may be to some: We
    Catholics can learn from the other Christians. As Catholics we have so wanted to teach others that we may have ignorantly or arrogantly missed what these Christians have remembered and integrated into their lives which used to be our very own Catholic heritage.

  9. Avatar Dr. Philip Blosser says:

    Notwithstanding this excellent article by my colleague and beloved sister-in-Christ, Prof. Healy, now that I have read her article, I see that there are a number of important questions that remain unaddressed and unanswered. While I should like to address these concerns as soon as possible for the sake of our readers, since I am saddled with a heavier teaching load than my dear colleague and many other responsibilities, I am not certain just how soon I will be able to get to it. In any case, as Our Lord permits and His Spirit guides, my desire is to continue to seek out the truth concerning these important matters under governance of St. Paul’s injunction to “love one another with brotherly affection” and to “outdo one another in showing respect and honor” (Rm 12:10).