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What is a charismatic Catholic?

April 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Charismatic, Fr. Bartunek, Movements

Dear Father John, could you help me understand what a charismatic Catholic is? When I CarloDolciTheHolyFamilyWithGodTheFatherAndTheHolySpiritWGA06376think of putting charisms to work in our lives, as gifts from God, I think the apostles are charismatic. But what is this ‘charismatic movement'? It appears to hold some differences from old fashioned Catholicism. And again, thank you for The Better Part; it continues to bring breadth and depth to my relationship with Jesus.

I don't think anyone could give you a single definition for “charismatic Catholic.” But within the panoply of movements and associations that find their home inside the Catholic Church, there is a fairly new one called the Catholic Charismatic Movement. This Movement has grown and spread within the Church, and with periodic papal encouragement, since 1967. I can point you to this website for plenty more to read about its nature, history, mission, and spirituality:

From a more general perspective, though, I can make a few observations about your concern regarding the relationship between new movements, like the Charismatic Renewal (but it's not the only one), and what you refer to as “old-fashioned Catholicism.”


An old medieval phrase describes the Church as “semper reformanda,” or “always in need of reform.” Welcoming, living and spreading the message of Jesus Christ are activities at the heart of the Church. But in this fallen world, those activities are not easy to do. In fact, a spiritual battle rages, and our spiritual enemies are tirelessly working against our growth and missionary progress. As St. Peter puts it: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith” (1 Peter 5:8).

The Holy Spirit, as the real protagonist in the life of the Church, continually works to keep the Church young and vibrant in the face of the obstacles and challenges that this state of spiritual warfare engenders. He protects the Church's sacramental ministry, its governing ministry, and its teaching ministry – these are the basic foundations of the life of the Church in every age.


But the Holy Spirit also breathes new inspirations into members of the Church in different periods of its history. In accordance with the needs and opportunities of the various places and times in which Christians have to live and work, new charisms (spiritual gifts given primarily for the good of the body of believers) can be poured out by the Holy Spirit.

This was the origin of the monastic movement in the early centuries of Christianity. This gave rise to the mendicant orders (like the Franciscans and the Dominicans) in the Middle Ages. Likewise, all the vast and beautiful array of religious orders, missionary and apostolic associations, and ecclesial movements that have cropped up and keep cropping up are manifestations of the Holy Spirit's constant renewal activity. New devotions and spiritualities are also part of this activity – like Devotion to the Sacred Heart when it began a period of expansion in the 1600 and 1700s, and Devotion to the Divine Mercy, which received a powerful impulse through St. Faustina in the early 20th century. The Church is “semper reformanda,” and the Holy Spirit is the director of that ongoing reform.


Every time a new outpouring of the Spirit gives rise to something new in the Church, it also causes a kind of disruption. The monastic movement was new; it was different from “old-fashioned” Catholicism of the time. St. Francis and St. Dominic had to work hard to get their new Orders approved by the Church, because many people were suspicious that their new-fangled ideas were out of tune with ancient traditions. St. Teresa of Avila suffered terrible resistance when she was moved by the Holy Spirit to spearhead a reform of her Carmelite order (in her case, she wanted to go back to older traditions, and some of her contemporaries were against it).

And in our own day, many of the new ecclesial movements have had similar experiences: rough sailing as they find their way into the main stream of Catholic life. This is why the mere fact of something being new and different, in its forms or approaches to living out the faith, is not sufficient reason to discount it; the Holy Spirit can be extremely creative.


On the other hand, not all movements of reform and renewal are driven by the Holy Spirit. Throughout history, many heresies and schisms have plagued the Church and wounded the Body of Christ under the auspices of reform.

The clearest sign of authenticity that we can look for, if we ever have any doubts, is obedience. If members of a new movement show consistent obedience and docility to legitimate Church authority, and especially if they receive official approval from that authority, we can be fairly certain that the Holy Spirit is with them. But if they don't, we can rightly be suspicious. This is because the Holy Spirit will never contradict himself. He guides the normal governing and teaching ministries of the Church, so he will not at the same time inspire a new charism, a movement of renewal, that stubbornly contradicts those ministries.

Of course, just because a new movement or order enjoys official ecclesiastical approval doesn't mean that all of its members will be saints. Not all Franciscans or Carmelites have been canonized, and some of them have even been heretical or caused scandal. But those individual cases don't negate the action of the Holy Spirit in gifting the larger charism to the Church.

I hope this answer wasn't a complete divergence from your original question. If it was, maybe some of our readers can give you something more satisfying than I did!

PS From Dan: The best book I have read on the Charismatic movement is by the current preacher of the Papal Household and his name is Fr. Cantalamessa. His book is called Sober Intoxication of the Spirit.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • RobinJeanne

    I am a member of the Christian Community of God’s Delight, a Catholic
    charismatic group in Dallas, Texas. I’m not real good at explaining some things
    but I’ll do my best. We are under the authority of our bishop who reports our
    activities to the Vatican. We are obedient to the magisterium of Holy Mother
    Church and the coordinators, leader are careful to make sure no false teachings
    or doctrine get spread in the community. This year we are celebrating 40 yrs of
    covenant life with the Lord. I am new, just 5 years there.

    For me, from the moment I stepped foot in the meeting place, I new I was
    home. For the year prior to going, I felt the Lord calling me to the Charismatic
    (I though the Lord was crazy, me be apart of those wild people and I said I
    don’t think so) but He did not give up on me. Throughout the next year (as I
    kept my ears listening) suddenly there were talks and people on EWTN talking
    about the Catholic Charismatic Movement (Catholic? I thought) and so I listen.
    These people seamed normal, didn’t do freaky things, so long story short, I was
    directed to CCGD, finally went to check them out and have never left.

    I have heard many others talk of the different mini groups, Catholic and non
    Catholic groups were popping up all over the place in the late 60’s and 70’s,
    some going to CCGD(it was a great mixture of both groups, catholic and non
    Catholic in the early days) but didn’t stay with them. Because these smaller
    groups were not under the guidance of the Bishop, much non Catholic spirituality
    formed these Catholic souls, sometimes leading to disobedience.

    Yes, there are some there who prophecize, which simply means “one who speaks
    for God” it can be corrective but mostly encouraging. For me my Sundays are
    truly the Lord’s day. I am fed the Word and Body of Christ at Mass and at CCGD
    fed the Holy Spirit, both giving me an opportunity to praise, honor and adore
    our most awesome God, who is Lord and Ruler of our lives, who wants nothing more
    but to be united to us, to bring us to eternal happiness.

    I’ve heard some Catholics say…. well that Charismatic stuff may be for you
    but not for me…… but it is for everyone since the birth of Christ church on
    that first Pentecost when the holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, without this
    empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the Church would not still be here.

    Well I guess I’ve said enough. If anyone out there feels my info was a little
    off, please correct me, I hate giving false info.

    Thanks for listening

    Praise the Lord!!!

    Robin Jeanne

    • RobinJeanne

      Something else I thought of…. I hear people all the time saying they wish this
      were more lively in the Mass, in the songs and such and so they search sometimes
      out side the Church. We are soooo blessed to be in the Catholic Church. She is
      so full of diversity and charisms. If you like the active singing, praising,
      look into the Charismatics, if you like the more quiet contemplation, maybe the
      3rd order Carmelites, if your in to being “green” check out the Franciscans,
      want your work life to have more meaning Opus Dei, the list goes on…. so
      before one looks out side the one True Church for what fills them, do some
      research, make an effort because She has everything that is authentic and true
      and has more to offer than any other religion and some things only we have, the
      real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
      So Go to Mass in the morning, our more reverant and awe worship….. and express yourself in the afternoon with a more freer form of worship and praise (with out the wild and crazy stuff one may have seen on TV).

    • Dom C

      In a diocese where we used to live, we attended at service at a church with a traveling missionary speaking and conducting healing, where many of the people there were speaking in tongues.

      Isn’t that a significant part of the charismatic movement?

      • RobinJeanne

        I don’t know if it’s a “significant “part but it is wide spread. I have heard
        my brethren say it’s the easiest gift to receive, though I have not yet, My
        spirit may have some resistance but my husband says I had been given the gift of
        teaching. On occasions I have been gifted with discernment. Paul puts it well in
        1 Cor 12:4-11, these 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for ourselves, as the 7
        gifts of the Holy Spirit are as in Isaiah 11:2-3. The 9 charismatic/spiritual
        gift are for the building of the Body of Christ.

        The 7 gifts are…. Wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude,
        piety, and fear of the Lord. The 9 spiritual gifts are, tongues, interpretation,
        prophecy, discernment, knowledge, wisdom, healing, miracles, faith. But as Paul
        says, it’s all the same Spirit and having on or more, or this on or that one,
        makes no one person better than another. It’s not about us but using these gifts
        to build up the Body of Christ, for the good of others, to bring authentic
        love/Jesus into their lives.

  • AnnieB

    I tripped over the catholic charismatic renewal movement in the UK in 2010 and it has transformed my faith. The events of the Acts of the Apostles are for now and not just a matter of history. Seeing healing, witnessing people of all ages and backgrounds, living lives of radical Christianity is so uplifting. It’s not all about noise and hand waving, it is devotion to all the riches of our tradition which includes silent adoration. We are all called to be charismatics by our baptism, it’s not supposed to be just for some. The trouble is that it can been seen by both sides as a kind of sect which is very sad.

    • RobinJeanne

      Amen! sister you put that beautifully… it is a way of life. Since being part of CCGD, I have always felt that this should be in all Catholic parishes. We have teachings all the time, to help us walk this journey, to help us learn about the spiriutal life and our faith, how to live it. It’s about oneness/community/unity in the body of Christ, through Him, with Him and in Him!!!

  • patricia

    Hello Father and everyone. I am inspired to ask for prayers as to help with discernment of the movement of the holy spirit in my life. I am now aware of the Litmus test and I thank Father for clearly explaining this to us. I have for some time felt God is calling me to be ever close to him and I have been going through two rescent deaths of loved ones and crises I have not given much time to God yet he won’t let certain inspirations in my soul to disappear. Please pray to the holy spirit that I have accurate discernment and grace to know and follow the movements of the holy spirit. Thank you!

    • $1650412

      I’m praying for you Patricia!

      • patricia

        Thank you! May God Bless You!

  • LizEst

    Please pray for the dead and those injured, and all their families, by bombs close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon today.

  • The charismatic movement brought my husband and I into a new relationship with God while living in California in the 1970’s. When we moved to Iowa in the 1980’s we were fortunate to find prayer group operating in all the gifts. Since it disbanded, we haven’t had access to another such community, but the Lord has lead us in new directions. I will always be grateful for learning to listen the the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

  • Steve Gee

    The Charismatic Movement was responsible for my return to the Church after a 13 yr. absence. It changed my life when I was in the pits of depression and feeling I was bound for hell. I can’t say enough about it’s worth as a legitimate movement within the Church and Pope’s have even recognized it’s validity. What most Catholics fear is their sudden exposure to a freedom in worship that the more formal and orthodox church has a hard time accepting as anything but Protestant in nature. There are books and articles that give the history of the movement. I was fortunate enough to become involved in the early days of it’s beginning. It’s amusing to me in a way how many of the old timers like myself have gone on to be recognized as more orthodox leaders in the Church and even teach in universities now. One being Dr. Ralph Martin who contributed much to the movement in the early days. Many priests were involved too.
    I have to admit that I have followed in the same path from Charismatic zeaot to a more orthodox approach to my faith yet realizing that without my exposure and appreciation for the Charismatic Movement, I wouldn’t be where I am today, a deacon and the Spiritual Assistant to a Secular Discalced Carmelite community.
    Some of the members look in dismay and wonder how I ever came from such an extreme. I remind them that our Invitatory opens with “Come let us sing to the Lord, and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us. Let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving and sing joyful songs to the Lord.” If that’s not Charismatic in tone, I don’t know what is.

    • Deacon – St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Denver? – Thank you for your positive note. Some offer shallow judgements of the movement based on a singular experience. I know many people like you who have greatly benefited from their experience.

      • Steve Gee

        as No, sorry Dan I’m not that deacon, I’m a Texan but I’ve been in the movement for a long time and gradually, transitioned into a more orthodox approach to my faith primarily through my training as a deacon and out of necessity, realizing that some people including our priests, really fear or resent the Charismatic movement no matter how you approach them on the subject. So, I had to be careful in my local parish in the way I expressed myself in the things I said. I couldn’t keep it out of my homilies though and because of my “personal encounter” our “Christ experience”, I was able to touch many people.

        I finally came to the conclusion that there is a time and place for everything and it was the working of the Holy Spirity that changed me and opened my eyes and I had to allow Him to do the same for others. He speaks to us on many levels and in different ways. It’s where you’re at and how open you are to the transformation that will either enable or disable His work within us. Sometimes we have to be “hit in the head” as in my case and other times a “gentle breeze” that opens us to so many beautiful things about God and His Church.

        Gradually from reading and studying and much prayer (yes even in tougues) yet still trying to satisfy a thirst for a deeper relationship with Christ I was led to the Carmelites and the rest is history. Still going at 72 with a desire to serve Him and the Church. Praise be Jesus Christ !! (That’s both Charismatic and Carmelite by the way) 🙂

  • In the service of God

    Thank you so much for posting this Father. I have been extremely blessed by the Holy Spirit and I pray that this widespread movement continues to grow throughout the church. So much beautiful fruit has already been birthed. My brother and I, with the permission of out parish priest, are opening a prayer group in our church in NY. Please pray for us!

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