The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
The Catholic Charismatic Movement has presented to the Church a path of
fervent Christian life. It serves the Church as a wellspring of so many
virtues - a new zest for the Word of God, a new yearning for prayer and
a new fascination for fellowship in prayer, etc. It is to instruct the
concerned authorities to take corrective measures against the
distortions that have crept into the Charismatic movement that I am
writing this pastoral letter to the entire Syro-Malabar Church in
accordance with the decision of the Syro-Malabar Bishops' Synod. I am
simultaneously requesting all to take forward this movement with added
Jesus has promised: "…Where two or three are gathered in my name,
there I am in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20). Accordingly whoever
gather together in the name of God have the gifts of the Spirit of God.
In this sense, all fellowships and meetings of the Church are
charismatic gatherings. The charismatics need not remain as a separate
section in the Church. They must be like the leaven put into the three
measures of dough, thus sanctifying the Church community as a whole.
All the priests, religious and the lay leaders have to become co-workers
in the charismatic activities, to enliven the spiritual life of the
Church, drawing their inspiration from the gift and charisms of the
Spirit of God. The prayer meetings, retreats, Bible study programmes,
etc., in the parishes need not be confined to particular groups. The
parish priests should involve themselves actively in them, giving the
necessary guidance. Charismatic endeavours are to grow with the parish
as its centre. On the contrary, it is unhealthy, if it follows a
separate path apart from the parish fellowship. It is up to the diocesan
authorities to give practical guidelines in this regard.
The abundant springtime created by the charismatic renewal movement in
the Church has to be identified as the springtime of the Church herself.
It is false and highly prejudicial to regard this work of the Holy
Spirit as the skilful achievement of a few and to present the Church
hierarchy and its structures as being in a lethargic state.
It is relevant to remember in this context that some renewal ventures
which began in the 12th century in the western Church, took direct and
indirect antagonistic approaches towards the Church. It was in this
period that the Sacred Scriptures were made available in printed form,
first in Latin and gradually in local languages. The faithful began to
read the Bible. Seemingly as an aftermath, certain reformation movements
began to spring up. Historians point out a common factor in all these
endeavours. While they highlighted the Gospel message, they were almost
silent about the Church itself. It was this attitude which, by the 16th
century expressed itself as the Protestant Revolution under the
leadership of people like Martin Luther. We must be alert to see that
inclinations and approaches supporting similar trends are not to
influence the charismatic renewal movement.
The slogan of the Protestant Revolution, was 'Sola Scriptura' (only
Bible). The fact that Churches founded on this slogan witnessed frequent
splits and disunity, negates the very validity of this slogan. The Bible
evolved in the Church and the Church is its custodian. At the same time
the Bible is the foundation of the ecclesial life. If one deviates from
the tradition of inseparableness of the Bible and the Church, it will be
a deflection from the Bible too. Church is the custodian of the Holy
Tradition of the divine revelation expressed in Jesus Christ. Pope John
Paul II wrote: The "supreme rule of her faith" derives from
the unity which the Spirit has created between sacred Tradition, Sacred
Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church in a reciprocity which means
that none of the three can survive without the others" (Encyclical,
Fides et Ratio, n. 55). The Sacred Scripture which is the written form
of the Sacred Tradition should be interpreted in the background of the
teaching authority of the Church's Magisterium.
Every believer has the right and liberty to comprehend and interpret the
Holy Scripture according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. However,
if those personal interpretations are not to become "destructive
opinions" (2 Peter 2:1), they should be subject to the discerning
authority of the Church.
St. Jerome, known as the "Father of Scriptural Studies" wrote:
"Satan himself has quoted the Scripture. Under the pretext of the
letters of the Scripture, one can read any strange principle into the
Bible" (Adv. Luciferianos, 28 (PL 23, 182 A). The ardour which
today we show towards the Scripture is encouraging, admirable and
salvific. But the Bible interpretation should lead to spiritual growth
in the Church and not be a cause of disruption and scandals. The
position that mere faith in Christ and the Bible is sufficient is
dangerous. The relation between Christ and the Church is that of the
head and the body. Faith in Christ cannot be separated from faith in the
Church. And those who try to disjoint this will become not only without
Church but also without Christ. The Church was founded on the foundation
of the apostles with Peter at its head: "Upon this rock I will
build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail
against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever
you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on
earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt. 16:18-19). The question,
which is the Church where this Word is fulfilled, is not irrelevant. It
is the authentic teaching of the Church that the Church Christ
established subsists in the Holy Catholic Church.
We are called to live the faith in Christ in its fullness in the Church.
If we selectively choose from the Bible and from the doctrines only that
which are to our liking, we are not loyal to the faith in Christ. St.
Thomas Aquinas wrote: "Submission to faith involves a submission to
all the dogmas of faith" (ST, II-III, 5.3 ad 2). The sacramental
life centred on the Eucharist and the exemplary life of the divine
Mother who followed Christ unto the foot of the Cross are not
insignificant in the practice of these dogmas of faith. Those who come
forward to preach the Word must have necessary training in Christian
life and in the teachings of the Church.
Submission to Christian faith is not a rejection of reason. The slogan
of 'Sola Scriptura' is related to the motto of 'Sola Fide' (only faith).
It can be interpreted as lack of faith in the capacity of reason to seek
the truth. St. Augustine's statement, "I believe in order to
understand" (Credo ut intelligam, Sermo 43.7.9), and St. Anselm's
words, "Faith seeks understanding" (Fides quaerens intellectum,
Prosologion, 1), are well known. In order to confront the increased
mistrust of the modern world in the capacity of reason to seek truth,
Pope John Paul II states in his Encyclical "Fides et Ratio":
"Deprived of reason, faith runs the risk of no longer being a
universal proposition, with too much importance given to sentimentalism
and feeling. It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak
reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith, then runs
the grave risk of turning into myth or superstition" (Fides et
Ratio, no. 48). Through the original sin, "the path of human reason
towards the fullness of truth has become full of obstacles" (Ibid.
no. 22). Still, human reason can discover the truth, the Pope instructs
clearly. "Since the gateway to truth is the corridor to God, it
cannot be denied to anybody" (Ibid. no. 38), the Pope writes.
"Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and varied ways by
the prophets" (Heb: 1:10). Christ is the fulfillment of revelation
of God through history. In that sense, we can find seeds and rays of
seeking after truth and finding it in the teachings of religions,
cultures and philosophies. In its teachings about other religions, the
Second Vatican Council speaks also about the rays of truth which
enlighten all people" (Nostra Aetate, no. 2). But the criterion to
discern the true light, is the revelation we have received in Jesus
Christ, the only saviour.
The miraculous occurrences, visions, healings, etc., which take place in
charismatic retreats and prayer services should be discerned with the
Magisterium of the Church in its totality. Similarly, while referring to
other religions, there should not be any irreverent or intolerant
statements or acts, contrary to the teachings of the Church in this
The Holy Spirit gives gifts of healing, partaking of the power of the
Risen Christ. But the Church does not teach that even the most ardent
prayer will heal all sicknesses (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no.
1508). Attention of all are drawn also to the recent clarifications and
directives issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
It has elaborated that such notions that gift of healing is given only
to certain privileged groups or persons are incorrect (Instructions on
Prayers for Healing, Sept. 14, 2000, no. 6). Medical science, psychology
and other related fields are useful means in alleviating the sicknesses
and human sufferings. Healthy relation between faith and reason should
be maintained. The tendency to regard all sufferings and adversities as
evil and to give stress more to the devil's influence than to divine
providence should be avoided. And the thinking that anybody can, at any
time and anywhere exorcise, is incorrect. Exorcism can be performed only
by a priest with special permission of the bishop of the area. Care
should be taken to see that the Church's instructions are complied with
by all and that they are adhered to in retreat centres too (Ibid. art.
The mystery of human misery is not always comprehensible to the human
reason. We have to seek the meaning of suffering and sorrow in the
crucified Christ. People should be vigilant and not be carried away by
the talks about the worldly paradise given by the so-called
We must have an open minded approach to the sciences. At the same time,
we should be ready to discern the scientific findings and approaches
through the Christian outlook on man. There may be psychological
approaches which attribute all the personality problems of an individual
to the mother's womb. Prayer groups and retreat preachers have to be
careful not to entertain such conclusions blindly, not to make these
ideas spiritual truths and not to give the impression of putting all the
blame on the parents. The three levels at which a man acts are feeling,
reason and mind. When he is ruled by his feelings, he becomes a mere
worldly creature. In this age of domination of sentimentalism, spiritual
life too should not be oriented towards sentimentalism. The Eucharist
and other liturgical services should be celebrated in such ways that
they touch the participants. Charismatic movement may have roots and
influences other than that of the Catholic Church. We can welcome
virtues from anywhere. But if there is failure to incorporate
charismatic initiatives into the sacramental and magisterial traditions
of the Catholic Church, it will lead to crises in ecclesial life.
In the path of spiritual life, extraordinary phenomena can happen. But
they have to be discerned with the guidelines given by the saintly souls
and mystics in the history of the Church. Talking about locutions and
visions, St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church reminds us: "We
are not angels, we have a body" (Collected works of St Teresa of
Avila, vol. I, Bangalore, AVP Publications, 1982, p. 148). She warns
that there are chances of hallucinations and works of imaginations
mistaken as divine revelations. She teaches, "even if it is seen
that the heavens are opened, it will not change to the least what the
Church teaches" (Ibid. art. 8). "If a revelation is from God,
the proof for it is that it will be in conformity to the
Scriptures" (Ibid.). God's revelation is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The faithful will have discretion in accepting private revelations even
when they conform to the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.
When gifts and extraordinary experiences, which are meant for spiritual
upliftment, are used without any discernment and apparently for worldly
aims, it is not a witness to humility which is to be the basis of
Christian spirituality is simple enough that it can be practiced by the
most ordinary person as well as by the genius. "I give you a new
commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you
also should love one another" (John 13:34). This spirituality of
love is to be lived precisely at the centre of daily obligations.
Spirituality is not a withdrawal from responsibilities, but filling them
with justice and love. St. John of the Cross terms it as the
"ascent of the ladder of love" (St John of the Cross, Dark
Night of the Soul, Ch. XIX, XXIV, Complete Works of St John of the
Cross, Vol. I, Hertforshire: Authority Clarke, 1953, pp. 435-455).
Ascending the ladder of love to reach the God of eternal peace is also a
'battle of the dark night', a spiritual battle against our feelings,
passions and snobbishness. The way I come out of myself and reach God
trough my brother, is the way of the cross.
Also, this is an opportunity to commend the services of the charismatic
movement which inspires very much the pilgrim Church in its spiritual
life. This movement has helped many a youth and layman to conversion
from the evils of corruption, immorality as well as materialism. They
are led to live a committed, Gospel-oriented life fulfilling their
responsibilities with Christian witness. It has led to opening new
pathways for the Gospel to reach beyond the confines of the Church. It
has inspired the people of God to equip themselves fully to meet the
moral and religious challenges in leading a Christian life. Also it has
resulted in a new ardour in sacramental value-oriented life in the
parishes. And the role it has played in the renewal of priests and the
religious cannot be understated.
The drawbacks already pointed out may be related to some isolated cases.
However, for this renewal movement to be free from all apprehensions and
prejudices and to be more instrumental for this spiritual advancement of
the Church and the Church members, all are invited to come together and
to co-operate wholeheartedly.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the
Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Given at the Major Archiepiscopal Curia of the Syro-Malabar Church at
Mount St Thomas on 12th December 2001.