by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant  •  November 10, 2017

“It’s a raucous, hand-waving affair that doesn’t even look Catholic at all”

PITTSBURGH – With its shrinking flock and declining number of priests, the bishop of Pittsburgh is turning to the Charismatic Renewal for a solution.

A Pittsburgh diocesan committee called On Mission for the Church Alive is charged with managing the decline in the number of Catholics in the pews by merging, grouping and consolidating parishes. The group also seeks to make the best of the diocese’s bad situation by solidifying community bonds and strengthening the faith lives of the few remaining parishioners.

One way the diocese is seeking renewal, according to a report from CBS Pittsburgh, is through a charismatic worship event known as Festival of Praise (FOP).

“It’s a raucous, hand-waving affair that doesn’t even look Catholic at all,” CBS reports.

FOPs are the brainchild of the Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS), a Catholic institution in eastern Ohio less than a one-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

As a whole, FUS is known for its commitment to Catholic teaching and Catholic identity, standing in the face of the anti-Catholic progressivism that has devastated so many Catholic universities in the United States.

A Festival of Praise at Franciscan University ofSteubenville

FOPs typically center on eucharistic adoration and a eucharistic procession. They feature the required traditional elements, like the O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo, times of silence during exposition, the use of incense and the closing benediction. But FOPs often take place in large gymnasiums and feature contemporary worship music, crowds with their hands in the air, impassioned speakers and people collapsing to the ground “getting slain in the spirit.”

FOPs are often criticized as lacking an authentically Catholic basis, and of looking for manifestations of the Spirit in ways that hinder deeper growth in the theological virtue of Faith.

See our FAQ on the Charismaniac Renewal [See comment below]

A local news crew filmed a FOP on Saturday at St. Albert the Great in Baldwin, a borough in the Pittsburgh metro area. Saint Albert’s closed as a parish in 2016, and is now part of a merger known as Holy Apostles Parish.

The news report shows Bp. Zubik saying to the crowd at the FOP, “If anyone dares to say that the Church is dead, we’re going to invite you to the diocese of Pittsburgh.”

It’s a raucous, hand-waving affair that doesn’t even look Catholic at all.Tweet

The video also addresses school mergers, noting that the diocese hopes these mergers will bring “new energy.” Instead of dozens of small, underfunded Catholic schools on the brink of closure, the diocese wants to have a handful of strong schools with more resources and larger student bodies.

Bishop Zubik told the reporter, “Sure, when change happens, people get ticked. But I believe an awful lot of those people, when they start to see the life that’s happening, will say, ‘Maybe what I did was a precipitous decision, and now I can really come back.'”

The bishop’s new policies are a response to the continued decrease in practicing Catholics in Pittsburgh. The video notes, “While more than 600,000 people in the diocese identify as Catholic, the vast majority no longer practice their faith. Since 2000, Mass attendance is down by more than 40 percent, as are Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations and Holy Matrimony.”

The news report compares the consolidation programs to an emergency surgery: “Call it a radical surgical procedure. There will be bloodletting; churches will close; schools will be shuttered. But the bishop says in the end it will save the patient.”

The news anchors on CBS affiliateKDKA-TV mentioned the downfall of the city’s steel industry and the resulting emigration of blue-collar families. They noted that the declining number of Catholics in Pittsburgh was probably augmented by this phenomenon.

Pittsburgh is part of a stretch of the United States known as the “Rust Belt,” so named because it was devastated throughout the 20th century by factory closures, the collapse of heavy industry and the decline of trade-shipping on waterways (i.e., the Great Lakes and the Ohio River). Hundreds of tiny factory towns in the area were devastated by the loss of blue-collar jobs, as were former industrial powerhouse cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit.

But in explaining the continued downfall of the Church in Pittsburgh, other commentators point to the fact that it was led for decades by liberal prelates like Cdl. Donald Wuerl — now stationed in the archdiocese of Washington, D.C.


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  1. Charismaniac Renewal

    The Charismaniac Renewal in the Catholic Church has both approval and support from the Church (see also here). There are numerous personal testimonies from all levels within the Church, both clergy and lay, that experience with the Charismatic Renewal has been a source of grace and growth in the Christian life. For many it is the beginning of a serious walk with God, the first time that faith becomes real for them in the sense that emotions as well as the intellect are engaged. For others still, existing faith is deepened and there is a sense of renewal, of rejuvenation.

    For all the enthusiastic personal testimonies, there are an equal number of bad experiences that often lead people away from God and the Faith entirely. Because these experiences are common and, some would say, unavoidable over time, we cannot give a blanket approval or unconditional recommendation that one who has no experience with the Charismatic Renewal should become involved and active. As with all things spiritual, discernment is necessary before embarking on a journey through a particular mode or style of spirituality.

    It can be argued that charismatic spirituality is, at best, a stage or phase within the spiritual lives of individuals, and that it should eventually be outgrown. Since spiritual maturity cannot be confused with age, charismatic spirituality can arguably be understood as an example of spiritual childhood and adolescence. That we are encouraged by many spiritual masters to be childlike in our relationship with God should not be confused with an encouragement to be childish. There is almost nothing in the writings of the acknowledged masters of the spiritual life, the Doctors of the Church, or in the lives of the saints that would suggest that charismatic spirituality can be anything more than a moment in one’s journey to God, and a potentially dangerous one at that.

    What needs to be distinguished here is the difference between substance and style. There is little in the substance of the Charismatic Renewal that is dangerous: greater faith and dependence on God, and obvious spiritual fruits such as charity and growth in virtue. What is dangerous is the confusion of charismatic substance with style. Because charismatic spirituality is so tightly identified with visible style — including speaking in tongues, exercise of the gift of prophecy within prayer meetings and liturgy. or visible exuberance — people have difficulty growing spiritually beyond what these external and visible expressions of spirituality permit. Being charismatic becomes an issue of personal spiritual identity. If God calls someone to something more, charismatic Christians often find it difficult, even a crisis of faith, to abandon habits that are an integral part of their understanding of themselves as Christians.

    The history of Christianity shows a rapid decline in what charismatic Christians understand to be authentic Christianity. While there is evidence in the Scriptures for charismatic gifts and powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, there is evidence that the Early Church rapidly understood that a more institutional and hierarchical approach to local and universal Church organization was more effective. There is no question that charismatic gifts need to be discerned by one with authority. The “Didache,” one of the earliest Church manuscripts, expresses concern about “itinerant prophets” and the necessity of discernment by the Church community. As the Early Church grew, it became obvious that what might work in a small community setting becomes problematic as the community grows larger. It might sound good, but is it really practical or prudent to “trust in the Holy Spirit” for all things? All we have to do is witness the effect of Protestantism, with its dependence on the Holy Spirit to lead all to Truth, to see what can happen when there isn’t a divinely appointed Rock to protect and teach the Faith. The community fractures inevitably into thousands of pieces.

    The Charismatic Renewal arose from the Pentecostal movement within Protestantism. As such, it has Protestant fingerprints all over it, including faith in the movement and guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. Faithful Catholics believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church through the Magisterium and the Holy Father. The Holy Spirit is, of course, active in the lives of individuals, but charismatic spirituality leans inexorably towards the personal. here is a strong grassroots ecumenism within most charismatic communities. Even very large, established covenant charismatic communities pray together but cannot celebrate Eucharist together. Such communities acknowledge the brokenness of the Body of Christ but make no attempt to heal it through evangelization and conversion. Charismatic communities of any size often act as if they have more in common with other charismatic Christians than with members of their own Church who are not charismatic.

    Without reference to statements from Church authorities or theological treatises on charismatic spirituality, one only has to witness a typical charismatic Mass to understand that there is something deeply troubling behind the visible appearances of joyful enthusiasm. If the Mass is the re-presentation of Our Lord’s Sacrifice on Calvary, if the Mass is Calvary made present through time, then charismatic Masses cannot be understood as inspired by the Holy Spirit. If we are at Calvary, we do not behave as if we are at a loud party or nightclub. It is common, for example, at charismatic Masses that the elevation of the consecrated Host is greeted with long and loud cries of “Praise God!” and “Hallelujah!” and “singing in tongues” that go on for a half hour or more, followed by the same response at the elevation of the consecrated Wine in the Chalice. There is much joyous singing accompanied by tambourines, drums, guitars and noise, but does that remotely resemble the response of Our Blessed Mother at Calvary? Charismatic Masses are but one symptom within the charismatic movement that all that appears good may not actually be so.

    The masters of the spiritual lif throughout Catholic history have told us to be wary of our emotions because they have been so corrupted by Original Sin. Sometimes these cautions can be judged excessive because rightly ordered human nature includes rightly ordered emotions, not absence of emotions. But charismatic exuberance is often an enshrinement and institutionalization of emotions as integral to the spiritual life. Absent those emotions, non-charismatic Christians are often judged “not filled with the Holy Spirit” by charismatic Christians. In many places, to not speak in tongues is judged to be a sign that one is not truly yielding to the presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. There are many canonized saints who would be surprised to hear that.

    It should not be concluded from the above that charismatic spirituality should be dismissed entirely but, rather, approached with great caution. Authentic spirituality, as contained in the writings and lives of the saints, is too often eschewed in favor of what can arguably be judged as a less mature stage in spiritual growth embraced as if it were the final destination. There is a strong potential for addiction to spiritual consolations and miraculous phenomena present in many charismatics.

    It can be good if one has been blessed by charismatic spirituality, but it is unfortunate if one never grows past that stage. One cannot become a mature adult without having been a child, but one can never be an adult if one prefers to stay a child. When a person clings to childhood, growth to maturity is handicapped and stunted. Charismatic spirituality should experience “churn,” i.e., whole communities of charismatic Christians should replace themselves regularly as people continue to grow in maturity. Unfortunately, leaders of such communities are often the most vulnerable to stagnation because they lose their position of leadership in the community if they cease to be visibly charismatic in their style.

    Charismatic spirituality can seem, to many, like the Kingdom of God has come, that one is already in Heaven. The consolations are so frequent and many that one can easily become addicted. When the experience of consolation fades, as it inevitably must in the spiritual life, when one finally exhausts all that the charismatic experience is capable of giving one, one is left adrift wondering what could be next. There is no growth path within charismatic spirituality except to expect to be more charismatic, but no master of the spiritual life has ever outlined such a path. To be ready to grow into the next stage, to be ready to enter the next room in the interior castle, means to be ready to leave all the style and addictive consolations of charismatic spirituality behind while retaining the substance — and charismatic communities are, by definition, incapable of leading one beyond charismatic spirituality. In moving beyond charismatic spirituality, one is faced with the prospect of leaving not just charismatic style but charismatic friends and community. In authentic and traditional Catholic spirituality, one is not faced with such traumatic choices. One cannot, for example, outgrow the Traditional Latin Mass, or the Rosary, or mental prayer, or any of myriad devotions within the glorious history of Catholic spirituality.

    To invitations to participate in charismatic prayer groups or communities, the best response is “tread cautiously.” It is okay to participate, but one must be very discerning. If a group strikes you as more unhinge” than not, trust your instincts. If what you observe is attractive, enter cautiously. It’s easy to lose one’s bearings when there are so many strong emotions in play. If possible, get the advice of a good, faithful Catholic spiritual director. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is most likely one of many fads and movements that have emerged within the decades since Vatican II. Some are good; some are not. Charismatic Christians and Charismatic Catholics are typically very good people. Faithful Catholics have much in common with them. But charismatic spirituality is more problematic than not. There are better, more “tried and true” paths to spiritual growth.

    There are numerous critical assessments of the Charismatic Renewal and its spirituality (see resources below) that would be judged unfairly negative by those currently involved in the charismatic movement. However, to those who have moved on from the Charismatic Renewal, these critical assessments have the ring of truth to them. It is not insignificant that many of the most noteworthy early leaders in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement have, themselves, moved on. The ones who have not moved on are all involved as leaders in ecumenical covenant communities where Catholicism is the most dominant “denomination” within the community but where other Christian denominations are encouraged to be faithful to their own faith traditions.

    To be fair and balanced, Catholic evangelist Mark Mallett is as enthusiastic about the Charismatic Renewal as others are negative about it, and the first part of his very long series on the topic can be found here. His experience is, of course, valid and faithfully Catholic, but the future is ahead of him, and it will be surprising if he writes the same from the other side of his current experience.

    The Catholic Charismatic Renewal can be, for many people, like hot chocolate on a very cold day: There’s nothing better. However, as the hot chocolate begins to cool to room temperature, it’s less satisfying. If the hot chocolate cools and begins to spoil, it can harm you. If your faith is cold or even non-existent, the Charismatic Renewal can warm you up and get you going. But you can’t live forever on a diet of gradually cooling hot chocolate. Good nutrition, both physical and spiritual, requires more than hot chocolate. The Charismatic Renewal is good for moving people from spiritual infancy to childhood and adolescence rather quickly, but we all need to aspire to spiritual maturity.

    Additional Resources [See www.churchmilitant.com/main/generic/faq-charismatic-renewal ; scroll to bottom]

  2. It is not Catholic. It is a Protestant movement which is heretical. None of the gestures or antics of charismaniacs have any basis in Catholic tradition. The “charismatic” movement originated from some confused and disturbed modernists during the period right after Vatican II in the 1960s in Pittsburgh. Catholics do not shout, roll on the floor, or flail their hands and arms around at Mass. It is a hysterical neo-Gnostic movement that appeals to hysterical and confused people who have absorbed Protestant liturgical, musical, and prayer styles from American Protestants. If you want to shout or jump around go to a football or baseball game. Do the Macarena and hand jive there, not at Mass.

    This is truly one of the stupidest and silliest of the side effects from the disorientation of Vatican II. The neo-Catholic modernists who promote this need therapy. People pretending to be “slain in the spirit” are flirting with the demonic and sacrilege, making fools of themselves in such an absurd way. How does making Catholicism look stupid and hysterical help the cause of religion and faith?

  3. Actually, Footloose and Saturday Night Fever come to mind, but Elmer Gantry might be closer to the target.

    It doesn’t even look Catholic because it’s not. Certain neo-Catholics have absorbed Protestant manners and styles from exposure to Protestant culture and lack of Catholic catechesis and Catholic education. People who jump around, flailing their arms around, falling on the floor, etc., are not more in touch with the Holy Spirit. This is hysteria. The cause can be debated by therapists and experts.

    What is with the arms raised in the air? Did the Steelers score a touchdown between the readings?

  4. Charismania East and West, although more of the latter (Roman/Latin Catholic) than the former (Byzantine/Greek Catholic) N.B. The white rope-like cincture worn over the habit by a number of religious in the video is not part of Byzantine religious vesture

    From an anti-Catholic, untra-Orthodox source; N.B. The word “Uniate” to describe Byzantine/Greek Catholics


  5. Moved by the Spirit…

    officials extend their arms in praise, transmitting and beaming the powers of the Holy Spirit from their fingertips

    in spontaneous gestures of lay spirituality.

  6. Willy Wonka: You wouldn’t want to hide your joy, would you? Then you would have charismaniacs scolding you for hiding your joy endlessly as an expression of their joyfulness.

    Master Po: What is troubling you, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: I am worried that you are hiding your joy, Master, and that you will have to be scolded for hiding your joy by joyful neo-Catholic charismaniacs with glazed eyes and blank stares who scold others for hiding their joy as a way of showing their joyfulness.

    Master Po: Why would the spiritually illuminated do such a thing, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: Because they are filled with the Spirit. This Spirit commands them to scold others who do not follow their giddy style of spirituality which was discovered in Pittsburgh in 1967.

    Master Po: But here in the monastery it is my job to scold you, Grasshopper, when you are falling behind in your lessons.

    Kwai Chang: You do not wish to be scolded by charismaniacs with glazed eyes, goofy smiles, and blank stares, yet, as you yourself have said, you wish to scold me in the quest for Zen and the Tao. How can this be, Master?

    Master Po: Perhaps some illumination is more equal than others, Grasshopper.

    Kwai Chang: Perhaps. But what would happen, Master, if neo-Catholic modernist charismaniacs got hold of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

  7. Master Po: Perhaps it is time to review our path, Grasshopper.

    Kato: It looks like Master Po will keep Kwai Chang quite busy for a while.

    Green Hornet: Let’s go find Batman and Robin. They have a knack for exposing the Joker and Riddler for hiding their joy.

    Batman: Greetings, Mister Hornet, Kato. What brings you two gentlemen to the troubled streets of Gotham City in this postmodern age of heightened anxiety?

    Green Hornet: Master Po has been hiding his joy again.

    Kato: Kwai Chang Caine warned him to be on the lookout for charismaniacs who might want to scold him for hiding his joy too much.

    Batman An interesting dilemma.

    Robin: What kind of caper do you think they have planned, Batman?

    Batman: I’m not sure yet, Robin. But obviously one serious enough that it will require Alfred to assume my role in his own custom-tailored Batman costume.

    Robin: We’re looking for a blind Shaolin Zen master who sometimes hides his joy and a novice who goes by the name of Grasshopper….

    Meanwhile, across town in the art district of Gotham City in a Chelsea loft, Catwoman was busy hiding her joy and very much in need of scolding and discipline….

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