How the Charismatic Renewal Led Me to a Traditional Life of Prayer

Praying by John Simoudis. In the Creative Commons.

Recently a friend from church asked me about why I started a new household when I was a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville. At Franciscan, households are groups of men or women who share a common spiritual devotion and way of praying. Usually students join an already existing one, but sometimes a group of three or more students will start a new one. My friend wanted to know if I found all of the other households to be too “charismatic,” but the thing is, my household was extremely charismatic. A lot of our prayer together came from what some of the other founders learned as they grew up in the Charismatic Renewal. During my time in college, I transitioned to a more traditional understanding of prayer and liturgy, but I never gave up entirely what I learned from a charismatic life of prayer.

My charismatic story begins with my parents meeting at a prayer gathering back in the late 70s in the basement of a church in St. Louis. Then there is the story of them getting married, having four children, and raising us all Catholic. They became less and less active in their charismatic community as my childhood advanced, but I still was prayed over every night, with my father laying hands on me. When I had nightmares about evil spirits, my parents taught me how to command them to leave me in Jesus’ name.

In high school I attended Life Teen Masses on Sunday evening, and started participating in praise and worshipstyle prayer. I went to the Steubenville Youth Conference in St. Louis and had powerful experiences in Eucharistic Adoration. At the youth conferences and Masses, I learned the emotional aspect of praising God in a setting of modern Christian music. It was not until college that I learned about the “charismatic gifts” of the Holy Spirit.

In my first month at Franciscan University of Steubenville for college, I met a group of kids, many of them raised in the charismatic communities in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We held prayer meetings outside all over campus, and when the weather turned cold we found off campus houses to pray in (we were very loud and did not want to disrupt the dorms). It was from them that I learned about the receptive yielding one must have to the Holy Spirit to receive what St. Paul calls the “spiritual gifts.” These are called by the Charismatic Renewal “charismatic gifts,” by St. Thomas Aquinas “graces,” and by those who commented on St. Thomas “graces freely given.” The gifts are identified in First Corinthians:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:4-12

In the Charismatic Renewal there has been an emphasis on receiving these particular gifts for the good of the Church and the community. It seemed to be a renewal of the receiving of these gifts in the Church. When you read about the lives of the Saints, you can see how they received graces from the Holy Spirit, some of them being those specified in First Corinthians and others not specific to this list. But it does seem that St. Paul is saying that all Christians can be and are meant to be given these spiritual gifts: “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” We are all called to holiness, and we should seek to receive graces from the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments and through other forms of prayer.

Back in college, while I spent a lot of time in praise and worship settings, it was really in my experiences of praying over and for others that I received some of the listed spiritual gifts. When my friends and I started our household, based out of our praying with each other, our main focus was healing prayer ministry. The Holy Spirit used our prayer ministry to bring healing to all of the ladies of the household, and to any person who asked us for prayer. It was all very beautiful and all very emotional. I believe that the spiritual gifts I received were authentic, as they expanded my life of prayer and increased my love of God.  But I could not have had this experience had I not had a habitual, disciplined life of prayer in which I sought spiritual union with God and submitted myself to the graces being offered to me by the Holy Spirit.

I have written before about how my study of theology and my habitual prayer life led me to desire more from the Church. Through prayer and reason, I became convinced that I should start covering my head in Church, and became drawn to attending the Extraordinary Form liturgy of the Latin Rite. I was led to these through the charismatic prayer that had formed the foundation for my relationship with God as an adult. From my youthful emotional relationship with God I was lead to a deeper, more rational relationship with God, which I was able to express in the solemnity of the Old Mass.
While I was starting to attend the EF Mass as much as possible, I was still active in my household prayer ministry. In my intercession for those whom I was praying over, I offered them words of wisdom or other prayers. When I would attend traditional liturgies, I would yield to the Holy Spirit during the times of beautiful chant or intense quiet, and I would find myself united to God in a prayerful praise. I found that my charismatic experiences were not specific to the prayer that takes place in the Charismatic Renewal, but I that by participating in charismatic prayer that I learned better how to pray in all circumstances.

I have been formed by the charismatic way of praying, and while I no longer attend prayer meetings, I do pray over my husband when he asks, and ask him to do so in return. I listen to and pray with contemporary Christian music as I cook my family dinner or run errands. I take the advice of St. Francis de Sales and remember the presence of God throughout my day. The more saints I read about and the more I seek to pray better, the more I realize that the fruits in my life of prayer from my involvement in the Charismatic Renewal are similar to, although much lesser than, the fruits of the lives of prayer of the most mystical of the Church’s saints. I know that my life of prayer will always be significantly less than that of the saints, but a greater prayer life is something for which I should continually strive.

So many of the saints had a rich prayer life, and yielded to the guidance and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Many of the Church Fathers, when giving guidance on how to pray, explain how to submit oneself to God in prayer, and to remember God at every moment. The phenomena of healings, prophecy, locutions, and consolations have long been a part of the life of the Church, and when one has a habitual and devoted life of prayer, they are a part of the individual’s prayer as well.

These spiritual gifts were present in the time of St. Paul, were present in the lives of saints throughout the Church, were possibly present in the life of the simplest devoted lay person, and are present now. They bring the individual closer to God, and they build up the whole of the Church. I am blessed to have experienced these spiritual gifts and am glad that I can seek them still for the building up of my domestic Church and the universal Church.

Originally published in full at Truth and Charity…