Pope Francis & the Charismatic Renewal: Q&A with Patti Gallagher Mansfield
Patti Gallagher Mansfield is a New Orleans-based author, speaker and leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. An early American pioneer of the movement, she was present when the Charismatic Renewal began at a retreat for students from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Penn., in February 1967. On June 1, she met Pope Francis during his unprecedented meeting with Catholic Charismatic Renewal leaders at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, where the Holy Father mentioned her by name in his address. Her last two books, on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, were published by Amor Deus earlier this year.
On Sept. 15, I interviewed Mrs. Mansfield by email about her work and about the current state of the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church.
You’ve been involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal since it began in 1967. How has the movement changed or evolved in these five decades?
The Charismatic Renewal is not a movement like other movements in that it has no human founder. In the beginning years, the movement spread like wildfire. It now numbers an estimated 120 million Catholics in 235 countries around the world. In the United States, attendance at Charismatic Renewal events has declined over the years, but in other countries numbers are high and the movement is flourishing. In Brazil, a country I have visited more than 20 times for missions and conferences, there are 2 million Catholic charismatics.
One of the biggest changes since the early days is that the Charismatic Renewal is no longer regarded as something strange or alien, but rather seen as an accepted ecclesial movement serving the church and her mission. It is, in fact, the largest ecclesial movement.
Since becoming pope, Francis has reached out to Catholic charismatics and to Protestant evangelicals. Why are these gestures significant?
Pope Francis is the first pope who has had first-hand experience with the Charismatic Renewal. His predecessors were open and supportive to the movement, but Pope Francis was actively involved with Catholic charismatics in Argentina by celebrating Mass for them and serving as the representative of the bishops of his country to the movement. He admits that his first impressions were not very positive; he thought they were like a “Samba school.” But he changed his mind and stated, “I think that this movement does much good for the church overall.” He has also encouraged the Charismatic Renewal to give the witness of spiritual ecumenism with other Christians.
What was it like for you to interact with Pope Francis at his meeting with Catholic Charismatic Renewal leaders in Rome earlier this summer?
To say it was a moving and inspiring experience would be quite an understatement! Just to be present when the Holy Father attended a Catholic Charismatic Conference was itself a tremendous blessing. To hear Pope Francis refer to me by name in his talk and to have the chance to personally meet him was a blessing beyond words. I truly felt like a daughter of the church being welcomed by her father! Quite beyond my personal joy, however, was the joy of discovering that the pope knows the Charismatic Renewal “from the inside”–our history and our mission to bring the grace of the baptism in the Spirit to the whole church.
I brought with me a letter for the pope, asking him to consider calling the universal church to “renew the sacrament of confirmation” every year at Pentecost. The Renewal began in 1967 when one of the young retreatants suggested that we “renew our confirmation.” When he and I agreed that we wanted this renewal of confirmation, we spontaneously experienced the baptism in the Spirit. In the early church, the first Pentecost led to the first evangelization. Without a New Pentecost there can be no New Evangelization. Just as we renew our baptismal promises each Easter, I am hoping that renewing our confirmation each Pentecost might help bring more Catholics experience the baptism in the Spirit.
What does the Charismatic Renewal movement offer to the Catholic Church?
The greatest gift the Charismatic Renewal has to offer is the grace of baptism in the Spirit. This is not a phrase invented by people in the Renewal. All four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles refer to being baptized in the Spirit. John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16-17).
There are at least three ways to understand what this baptism in the Spirit is. First, it is a release of the graces of baptism and confirmation which often lie dormant because of our lack of faith and expectation. This is the most common explanation. Second, it can be understood as a new coming of the Spirit to help equip us for a new mission. Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ, called attention to those passages in St. Thomas Aquinas where he refers to this “new coming.” Pope Saint John Paul II also spoke of a new coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary in the Cenacle to correspond to her new mission of universal motherhood given to her by her Son on the Cross. The third explanation about the baptism in the Spirit is that it is a special eschatological grace being poured forth on Christians of all denominations to unite us, to help us preach the Gospel with power, and to prepare the world for the coming of Christ. A Jesuit we know who taught for many years at the Gregorian University in Rome told his students, “It’s a big grace!” Another Jesuit who taught at this same university told us, after we prayed with him to be baptized in the Spirit, that everything in his life and priesthood was “new.” And he looked like a new man!
What’s the biggest obstacle to Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church?
I’m tempted to say, original sin! There is something in our fallen human nature that resists God, being renewed in the Holy Spirit, living a holy life. Call it “complacency.” We tend to want our lives to be manageable and predictable. The temptation is to think that if we come closer to the Lord, He might “mess up our plans.” It’s a lot safer, we think, if we just keep God in his place or even ignore Him completely.
Cardinal Suenens, one of the four moderators of Vatican II and an active promoter of the Charismatic Renewal, made this point in his book A New Pentecost? He wrote: “The very idea of intervention on the part of God makes us uneasy. We usually steer clear of those passages in the Bible which do not conform to our categories. God’s nearness disturbs us. We take exception whenever His action gets too close and upsets our daily routine. Our real fear, however, ought to be that we may not recognize God’s coming in time—that we may not be there when He knocks at our door.”
Some Catholics avoid charismatic worship because it feels too Pentecostal or Evangelical. What do you say to them?
I would echo what our Holy Father Francis said on January 28, 2014, at his morning Mass: “If we close ourselves in formality, our prayer becomes cold and sterile….David’s prayer of praise brought him to leave all form of composure and to dance in front of the Lord with all his strength. This is the prayer of praise!” The Pope answered the objection, “But, isn’t this just for those in the Charismatic movement, not for all Christians?” He exclaimed, “No, the prayer of praise is a Christian prayer for all of us!” He warned that those who are closed in a formality of “cold, measured prayer” will end like Michal: “sterile in their own formality.”
Other Catholics have difficulty when charismatics “pray in tongues” at the elevation during mass, making noises that sound like gibberish. How do you explain the gift of tongues to these people?
There are really two questions here: one concerns what the gift of tongues is; the other concerns the use of tongues at the elevation during Mass. The gift of tongues is Scriptural and a gift of prayer and praise. St. Paul discusses this gift in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14. He says things like, “I want you all to speak in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:5); and, “I speak in tongues more than any of you” (1 Cor 14:18). He also gives some practical guidelines on the use of tongues, so that everything is done in good order.
There are beautiful quotes by St. Teresa of Avila about the gift of tongues where she encourages her sisters to value it highly. Deacon Eddie Ensley, Ph.D., has just published a wonderful book entitled, Sounds of Wonder, which traces the history of the gift of tongues in the Catholic tradition.
It seems that if the Mass is an event sponsored by the Charismatic Renewal, a time of praise in tongues would not be unexpected or inappropriate, presuming that it is done in good order. Perhaps a word of explanation beforehand might be helpful to those unaccustomed to hearing it. Pope Francis did so by saying the following in his address at the Rome Conference: “…I very much like this song, ‘Vive Jesus el Senor’…When I celebrated holy Mass in Buenos Aires with the Charismatic Renewal, after the consecration and after a few seconds of adoration in tongues, we sang this song with so much joy and force, as you did today. Thank you! I felt at home!”
What’s the benefit of charismatic worship for the Catholic Church?
Something that is mentioned most often is a sense of reverence and awe in the presence of God, as well as a sense of celebration and enthusiastic praise and song. One of the things that some Catholics seem to miss in the liturgy is a sense of mystery and transcendence. Perhaps one way, but not the only way, to recover this would be through charismatic worship. There is also a great benefit to involving everyone in prayer, praise and an attitude of listening to the Lord in His word—which happens in charismatic prayer meetings.
Other than worship, how can the Charismatic Renewal help Catholics grow in faith?
The core of the Charismatic Renewal is being baptized in the Holy Spirit, which renews us in our relationship with God our Father, and with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is through the Holy Spirit that we can cry out “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). And no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). Once the basic relationship with God is revived in the Holy Spirit, growth in faith becomes more of a possibility. Many Catholics have told me that, although they went through 12 years of Catholic education, they did not have a personal relationship with Jesus until they were baptized in the Spirit. Many did not read the word of God or witness to their faith. After being baptized in the Spirit, their faith came alive. It was the difference of having a steak in the freezer or on the fire.
What are your hopes for the future of the church?
I would echo what Pope Francis told the Charismatic Renewal at the Rome Conference in June. He said the first thing he would expect from the Renewal is conversion to the love of Jesus. He also said that he expects that we would share with all in the Church the grace of baptism in the Spirit. He also expects from us an evangelization with the Word of God which proclaims that Jesus is alive and loves all men. He expects a witness of spiritual ecumenism with all Christian brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus as Lordand Savior. He also asked that we be close to the poor and needy. So I would say that what the Pope has expressed as his hopes and expectations from the Charismatic Renewal would be mine for the whole Church!
Looking back over the early history of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, do you have any regrets?
I wish that those of us who were pioneers in the Charismatic Renewal could have followed the Lord better, been holier, and used more wisdom. It’s a miracle that, in spite of us and our weaknesses and sins, the Holy Spirit was able to use us to witness to this great grace of the baptism in the Spirit. Personally, I had a great desire to grow in holiness in the sacrament of marriage and to serve the Lord by preaching the gospel. But I have no regrets at all! Only praise and thanks for His mercy and grace.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Over the past 47 years the question I’ve been asked most often is this: How does it feel to have been there at the beginning as a young girl of 20 and to see the explosive growth of the Charismatic Renewal around the world? My answer is this: I am living this grace in deep union with Mary, Our Mother. In some mysterious way, when I said my personal “yes” to the Lord, I was only a little echo of Mary’s “yes.” When I welcomed the surprising coming of the Holy Spirit and my life was turned upside down, I was caught up in Mary’s surrender to the Holy Spirit, her spouse. Within hours of my baptism in the Spirit, I opened the bible and my eyes fell on these words which sum it all up. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. He has looked upon his servant in her nothingness. Henceforth, all generations will call me blessed. God who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49).
As the Golden Jubilee of the Charismatic Renewal approaches in 2017, there is much being published about the graces of this movement. I have two books recently released by Amor Deus: Proclaim the Joy of the Gospel and Everyday Holiness. Both books describe the gift of the baptism in the Spirit. Pope Francis expressed his longing for a new coming of the Spirit in these words:
“How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. A Spirit-filled evangelization is one guided by the Holy Spirit, for he is the soul of the Church called to proclaim the Gospel….I implore him to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel her to go forth boldly to evangelize all peoples” (The Joy of the Gospel, 261).
Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.