Seven Reasons Why the Charismatic Renewal Does Not Foster Deep Spirituality

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There have been many responses to the modern crisis of faith in the Catholic Church. While Traditionalist Catholics have typically sought refuge in the traditional doctrines and liturgical practices of the Church’s pre-Vatican II history, other Catholics have looked to the Charismatic Renewal as a means of restoring devotion, prayer and enthusiasm to parishes. Many bishops in particular, wary of the traditionalist movement, have adopted the Charismatic Renewal (CR) in their dioceses. I once had a chat with the former Director of Seminarians for my diocese. He told me that our bishop had a “strategy” of geographically spreading priests formed in the CR all around the diocese so that as much of the flock as possible would be exposed to charismatic Catholicism. The Director of Seminarians lauded this decision as a means to promoting genuine Catholic spirituality in the diocese.

As a former Director of Religious Education and Youth Director who had to work with many young people who had been formed in the CR or were attending CR parishes, I can confidently say that this charismatic spirituality, while ostensibly promoting spiritual development, comes with a lot of negative consequences. While it is not my intention to denigrate or attack those who do have a preference for charismatic spirituality, in the words of St. Peter and St. John, “I cannot help speaking what I have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

The attraction of charismatic spirituality has always been on the experiential end. Participants approach their spirituality primarily through the avenue of the emotions, which certainly makes people feel good. We should not underestimate the importance of feelings in this discussion. A positive worship experience, whether it is in an incense-filled chapel to solemn Gregorian chant or in a contemporary parish to Christian rock music, can flood one with emotion, and this can be a good thing. The question is not whether or not emotions ought to be engaged in worship; the question is what place those emotions play in charismatic worship.

In charismatic worship, the emotional aspect is absolutely central. If a worshiper is unable to “loosen up” and engage in the music and worship in an emotional way, the experience is relatively stale. Basically, if one is not able to participate in the singing, hand-waving, crying, etc., there is very little left. It is too noisy to pray quietly and there is so much going on around that the experience can actually be distracting. Thus, if a person finds themselves unable to enter into the emotional aspect of the experience, there is not much left.

Here we will look at the seven reasons why the Charismatic Renewal is not the best vehicle for promoting genuine Catholic spiritual development.

1. Over-emphasis on the emotional experiences create dependency

Above, we spoke of the central place played by emotional experience in charismatic worship. Contrast this with the Traditional Latin Mass, or any reverent Novus Ordo liturgy for that matter. In these liturgies, we may be overcome by emotion at the beauty of the chant, the décor of the building, or the awesomeness of the mystery unfolding on the altar as the grace of God subtly moves us. But these emotional responses are not intrinsic to the liturgy itself; we can still recollect ourselves to pray, follow along and fully participate even if we do not feel moved to tears. Furthermore, to the extent that we do feel moved, it comes as gratuitously, almost gently, and is a gift. Contrast this with a CR Mass where we feel compelled to put ourselves into that highly-charged emotional state just in order to feel that we have had any spiritual experience at all. In effect, it makes us dependent upon this emotional high to “feel” close to God.

2. This dependency can stunt spiritual growth

A result of this dependency is that many people raised in the CR end up spiritually stunted. They go so far, but no farther, and the spirituality feels shallow over time, primarily because a true emotional response to beautiful worship has to be just that – a response. It cannot be manufactured, and over time, as one becomes accustomed to charismatic worship, one learns more and more what is “expected” in such a setting and begins to learn to manufacture the appropriate responses, gestures, etc. But the a true response to God’s grace cannot be manufacture, and the whole thing becomes shallow. The emotions that allows a person to have a powerful experience at the beginning stops them from doing so by the end. If you break your leg, a crutch allows you to walk, but it also prohibits you from walking quickly. Charismatic spirituality acts as this crutch.

3. Lack of silence, which is necessary to hear God’s voice
With this dependence on emotions, activity and music, there is little place for silent prayer in charismatic liturgies or worship services. This is unfortunate, because our tradition teaches us that silence is ultimately necessary to hear God’s voice. We could recall the silent prayers of Jesus, or the fact that Elijah heard God as a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). But in this context we could quote Pope Benedict XVI who said:

The Gospels often show us … Jesus withdrawing alone to a place far from the crowds, even from His own disciples, where He can pray in silence. “The great patristic tradition teaches us that the mysteries of Christ are linked to silence, and only in silence can the Word find a place to dwell within us.

This principle holds true for individual prayer, but also for our liturgies which, to facilitate authentic listening, must also be rich in moments of silence and of non verbal acceptance. … Silence has the capacity to open a space in our inner being, a space in which God can dwell, which can ensure that His Word remains within us, and that love for Him is rooted in our minds and hearts, and animates our lives” (Wednesday Address, March 6, 2012).

Periods of silence are essential for our spiritual growth. Without it, we can never mature, never “open a space in our inner being”, as the pope says. This is true “for individual prayer, but also for our liturgies.” Unfortunately, in liturgies influenced by the CR we are never allowed a moment of silence; every aspect of the liturgy is consumed with music, gesticulation, and noise. Silence is banished, and participants are never permitted to develop a tradition of silent, contemplative prayer.

4. Charismatic worship promotes undue familiarity with the Divine

We are certainly called to draw near to God and have intimacy with our Lord Jesus Christ, but we must always remember that we are approaching the Divine, and that our familiarity must be within the proper context, especially liturgically when there are clear distinctions between the liberties allowed the clergy and those the laity.

It is easier to give an example:

At one charismatic liturgy I attended, boys and girls (both weeping) were permitted to be “slain in the spirit” and laid down on the floor in the sanctuary between the altar and the tabernacle. Boys were sitting with girls, laying down next to them on the floor, some were rubbing each other on the back or “laying hands” on each other, all in the immediate presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Another boy came in, wearing daisy dukes and barefoot. He apparently believed that it was acceptable to enter into the sanctuary and the presence of God wearing shorts that would make any girl blush and with no shoes.

All of this behavior demonstrates and inappropriate familiarity with the sacred that brings the mysterious down to the level of the human and banalizes the transcendent nature of God. Even when we “draw close to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16), we ought to do so carefully, in “fear and trembling,” remembering to Whom we are speaking. We cannot let our emotional desire to “feel” close to God to permit us to engage in behavior that, in the guise of false intimacy, borders on the sacrilegious.

5. Too much focus on supernatural intuition not enough on development of virtue

Charismatics rightly remind themselves that God is a God of wonders and that, when following God, we ought to expect to see wondrous things. I do think the CR is responsible for a modern renewal in Faith in miracles, and I do applaud them for that – though I doubt the legitimacy of what often passes for the miraculous in many CR circles. That being said, the CR tends to put so much emphasis on the miraculous that Christians are led to believe that the normative course of their lives are supposed to be guided by supernatural intuition and the guiding of the Spirit.

One charismatic priest I know of told his congregation that he was at a cafeteria one day and was about to eat some peas. As he was about to take the peas, he heard the Holy Spirit telling him, “No, take the carrots instead.” He took this as a supernatural inspiration of God. This may or may not alright for him, but the fact is that, in recounting this story, the priest, as a role model, was intimating that his parishioners should also expect God’s immediate direction in similarly trivial matters. As youth director, I frequently spoke with young people who were torn because either they were not getting these sorts of verbatim direction or they thought every thought and inspiration they had was from the Holy Spirit.

Basically, there was so much emphasis on supernatural inspiration as a means for discerning God’s will that there was little emphasis on growing in virtue as a means to discern God’s will – habitually doing the good things we know we are required to do and gradually, through the practice of virtue, becoming more discriminating in the things of the spirit and learning to discern the inspirations of God from the movements of the devil or ones own thoughts. People are not taught how to truly discern God’s will. They just get confused.

6. Confusion on issue of tongues

Speaking of confusion, nothing has caused more confusion about this than the issue of tongues. Regardless of whether you think what modern charismatics do is tongues or not, the fact is that not everyone, even those involved in CR parishes, will speak in tongues. Yet they are encouraged, sometimes even pressured, by well-meaning peers and family who insist that speaking in tongues is a sign of a special indwelling of the Holy Spirit and will result in deeper worship and a closer walk with God. Those who do not manifest this sign are implicitly led to believe that they are not as close to God as they should be, that there may be something defective with their spiritual life, and that a deeper walk with God is not possible for them. Besides being cruelly false, this leads people to focus more on spiritual manifestations as the key to closeness with God rather than personal holiness and aggressively rooting out sin.

7. Less appreciation for tradition

All of this, of course, leads to a situation in which people are practicing a form of Catholicism greatly different from that known by the saints and doctors. Without the traditional liturgy, without the Latin prayers of the Church that have been sanctified by the long passing of centuries, without the traditional spiritual direction as laid down by masters like St. Bernard, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Alphonsus Ligouri and St. Therese of Lisieux. Tradition is replaced by something different, something that substitutes emotion for devotion, produces confusion, stunts spiritual growth and fails to teach proper spiritual discernment. Loss of Tradition = loss of a distinctly Catholic character. True, charismatic parishes do have character, but it is not the character of the historic Church. It is at best a form of Catholicized Protestant pentecostalism, from which all charismatic movements are derived.


The result of all this is that people enmeshed in the Charismatic Renewal do not mature in their faith. They tend to remain fixed on their emotions and subject to inner doubts and scrupulosity because they have not truly learned how to discern the will of God or worship in spirit and truth. I do not say this without any experience; besides helping many young people through these sorts of struggles as a youth director, I myself as a very young Christian was involved in the charismatic movement and found this to be true in my own life.

Therefore, though spreading the Renewal around may in the short term get us a lot of “dynamic” parishes with youth programs attracting a lot of young people by their music and emotional engagement, this is not the best way to develop authentic Catholic spirituality, in my humble opinion.

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10 Responses to Seven Reasons Why the Charismatic Renewal Does Not Foster Deep Spirituality

  1. A fine and intelligent analysis, grounded in truth. I think that the most insightful reason why the charismatic renewal does not encourage real spiritual development is the seventh, “Less Appreciation for Tradition.”

    If you reject, among other things, the experience of the great doctors of the Church, what kind of spirituality will you have in the end?

  2. Michael says:

    Good article indeed, and it has reminded me to pick up a book that has been sat on my shelf un-read for a good while now – New Outpourings of the Spirit by Pope Benedict XVI. It is an analysis of how new, popular ecclesial movements can be assessed, precisely by comparison with long-held teachings and practices of the universal Church (Communione e Liberazione, and the Focolarini Movement are two movements looked at in detail I think). Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

  3. GC says:

    If I am not wrong, things such as the Catholic Charismatic Movement began a little time after the Novus Ordo descended into the most stupefying banality. It was a way for some subsequently bored and spiritually dulled Catholics to get back some oomph in their spiritual lives. Many others sought their thrills from left-wing political movements, the environment and gay lib.

    I think even the Church sort of approved this charismatic movement in order to try and staunch the haemorrhaging of members to the pentecostalists. I know this happened in the Philippines and here in Malaysia.

  4. I personally feel that I was brainwashed by Catholic Charismatic Renewal in England, and I really struggled to get out of the mind set. I am not saying that people should not attend once or twice, but as far as I am concerned becoming attached to CCR is dangerous for the spiritual life. From what I have observed in charismatics, that are attached long term, they somehow remain spiritually immature. By this I mean that they only have a ‘veneer’ of understanding of what the Catholic faith is all about.

    After a while it soon became apparent that CCR, in certain organisations in this country, were proclaiming a spiritual life which was quite simply contradictory to the lives of the saints. I only started to move forward when I realised that something was wrong with what I was being told. Of course, if you hear what Pope Benedict calls the ‘Kerygma message’ when you first come to faith then this is how it should be. However, some members only ensconce themselves in what St. John of the Cross calls the ‘purgative stage’ (the adolescent phase) and remain stunted in their spiritual growth. CCR gives them no help to get out of the adolescent phase of spiritual development. Ironically their protestant, non-conformist, and free Church counterparts do often teach their congregations to beware of remaining in the ‘baby phase’. They make it clear that Satan is working his hardest at this point – but no warnings of this nature from CCR.

    CCR need to ‘grow up’ and realise that they should get the kerygma message out there, but then tell people to move on in their spiritual journeys. Even Youth 2000 let it be known to to the young people who attend long term that when they get to a certain age that they must now “move on”.

    CCR are also brainwashing Catholics concerning ecumenism. Vatican II is harsher on this subject that many realise. It clearly states that we must be pro-actively bring those from other denominations back into the fold using common sense, apologetics and good catechesis used in a charitable way. CCR from what I have observed treat ecumenism as if all denominations are equal – this is not what Vatican II states. You only need to read the first paragraph of UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO to understand this….

    1. The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided.(1) Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.

    I have also heard complaints from those locally who do not like the fact that Mary and the Saints are banished at some of their events (let alone the liturgical abuses -contrary to Vatican II – which I have personally seen). Although Christ must be central at the Kerygma stage it is nonsense to suggest that Mary and the Saints are treated like the elephant in the room. I am almost convinced that this must be some form of heresy as it basically denies that Mary and the Apostles (who became out greatest saints) where not present at the Upper Room at Pentecost.

    Finally they say that they are following Vatican II and the New Evangelisation. Well, really? I have not seen much evidence for this. The presence of protestant, non-conformist, and free church speakers alone tells you that they have not even bothered adhering to Vatican II and Unitatis Redintegratio. Why are these groups being allowed, by the Bishops who oversee them, to expose Catholics to false teaching? They are not actively part of the New Evangelisation, because as the article points out – CCR is not fostering deep spirituality. The whole point of the New Evangelisation is to learn about the faith to foster deep spirituality.

    Finally, the Proclaim 15 initiative. – It’s team is full of charismatic leaders. Once again another CBCEW initiative which will fail. The CBCEW should have their ear to the ground a bit more. The last time I read their Good News magazine there was a young women in an article that pointed out that CCR was dying out across Europe.

    CCR need to look at Evangelium, Juventutem, the Faith Movement (and even Youth 2000) to see where the real work is being done, and where the authentic Catholic Faith is coming back to live. If the CBCEW had looked in these areas for inspiration then maybe their Proclaim 15 would be on a far firmer footing from the start.

  5. Mark Tynan says:

    I wonder what your view of tradition is exactly? There is a long history in the church and the manifestation of the charismatic gifts has been a hallmark of Catholic experience, particularly in the lives of the saints. If you are saying the Saints had an exclusively apophatic experience of God I would say that tradition actually teaches otherwise. Their experience of God was direct, experiential, and touched their emotions intensely. (Have you never read the poems of St John of the Cross and the passionate intensity of the experience of God portrayed there?). Their lives were also filled with manifestations of the power of God, (If you have read the diaries of St Faustina you would see her almost daily prophetic/visionary experience) and even glossolalia (as St Theresa of Avila describes in the Interior Castles). The whole Idea that a sterile, formal experience of Catholicism is “traditional” shows a lack of knowledge of history.
    The attitude to ecumenism in the article and the posts below it is a bit alarming. If you read the documents on evangelization in Vatican II and since (Evangeli Nuntiandi, Redemptoris Missio, and Evangeli Gaudium) you would see that ecumenical activity is an essential aspect of the New Evangelization. Pope Francis said in 2014 “I expect that you give witness of spiritual ecumenism with all those brothers and sisters of other Churches and Christian communities who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior”. I wonder how you can advocate a New Evangelization and attitude to ecumenism that is so contrary to the clear teaching of the Church?
    The most recent Popes have been highly supportive of the Charismatic movement and Charismatic spirituality. Pope Francis in 2014 described his own journey in connection to the Charismatic renewal “As you perhaps know – because news spreads – in the first years of the Charismatic Renewal I did not like Charismatics much. And I said of them: “They seem like a school of samba!” I did not share their way of praying and the many new things that were happening in the Church. Afterwards, I began to know them and in the end I understood the good that Charismatic Renewal does to the Church. And this story, which goes from the “school of samba” forward, ends in a particular way: a few months before taking part in the Conclave, I was appointed by the Episcopal Conference spiritual assistant of Charismatic Renewal in Argentina.”
    There are so many generalizations and assertions made in the article above and the comments below it that it would take too long to give a detailed response.
    Whether you guys approve of it or not, the Church that is growing on the earth (particularly in the third world) is less formal, less structured and either is Charismatic or has significant elements of Charismatic practice and worship in it. The “traditional” western Church is emptying. I have been in the Charismatic renewal since 1986 and have met many wise, spiritually mature Catholics (and Protestants). Business as usual as is advocated above will ensure that empty Cathedrals one sees in Europe and England will spread throughout the western world.

  6. toad says:

    “Whether you guys approve of it or not, the Church that is growing on the earth (particularly in the third world) is less formal, less structured…”
    That sounds promising. Nice to learn a new word, too: “apophatic.” Excellent.
    Certainly to be considered in terms of the physical universe.
    We don’t approve of much on here, though. Guitars, and that.
    Interesting, Francis didn’t refer to the “school of tango.” I see his point.

  7. Michael says:

    Mark Tynan @ 02:56:

    The article is not saying that the saints had an ‘exclusively apophatic’ experience of God, nor is that word actually appropriate here, given that it refers primarily to how we describe God, what we can and can’t say about Him, etc, rather than what we may experience in worship. Neither does it deny that many saints have had emotional experiences in their life.

    What it does state, quite clearly, is that an over-emphasis on the emotional in worship is unhealthy, and that worship which is primarily geared towards generating experiences of various kinds and which uses such experiences as a gauge by which to measure one’s spiritual development is not only unhelpful, but detrimental to progress in the spiritual life. The article does indeed assert that such methods of worship are untraditional,; but that is not the same thing as denying that emotional experiences in the spiritual life per se are unheard of – the problem is when one conflates the two and, as in much charismatic worship, sees the emotional experience as a goal rather than an occasional by-product of devotion.

    Also, it is interesting that you mention the poems of Saint John of the Cross in support of your thesis, given that he is probably the most insistent of all the saints in asserting that any emotional experiences (consolations, visions, feelings of intense affection, etc) are to be accepted but, in the final analysis, ignored, if we are to progress. His poems, which do indeed describe intense feelings of love for God, have to be read in light of the fact that the love He describes comes at the end of a difficult process wherein we are purged from attachment to things of the world and emotional experiences, as such things direct us away from the pure experience of naked faith, hope and charity.

    The “traditional” western Church is emptying.

    I think perhaps you mean the Church in the West in general. Traditionalist congregations and seminaries, whilst still relatively small (for obvious reasons), actually seem to be growing in numbers and support.

  8. Mark Tynan… The only reason the Pope’s and Bishop’s are letting the so called charismatics get away with so many abuses is that they are unaware of the damage that they are doing to unsuspecting Catholics. The amount of remedial catechetal work that had to be done locally to get Catholics away from false teachings was ridiculous. This has nothing to do with the experiential aspects of the Holy Spirit, but has everything to do with the false prophets who run charismatic renewal and protestantize the Catholic faith, and leave unsuspecting Catholics brainwashed as to the correct understanding of the Catholic faith. This is all about them leaving unsuspecting Catholics perpetually in the kerygma stage of spiritual development. Do not confuse St. John of the Cross with those who run charismatic renewal. They are not one and the same thing. Also, it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that the Holy Spirit only works in that part of the church.

  9. Mark Tynan…. You are also incorrect when you speak of the New Evangelisation and ecumenism. No! The New Evangelisation is not about dealing with ecumenism – this is once again another charismatic trick to hoodwink the faithful. The New Evangelisation is about prioritising re-catechising and re-evangelising a Catholic with AUTHENTIC church teaching so that they can then evangelise the world once again. It is not about putting the cart before the horse as all charismatic leaders would have you believe. These people are false prophets who are trying (albeit in many cases unwittingly) to move people away from authentic Church teaching. They are consequently extremely dangerous to a persons faith journey.

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