A Second Baptism in the Holy Spirit
by Father Raniero Cantalamessa

You are known in Italy and abroad not only as a preacher but also for belonging to the Charismatic Renewal Movement. How did you learn about that movement, and how did you decide to be a part of it?

Between the time of my appointment to the Theological Commission and becoming the Preacher to the Papal Household, an event occurred that changed the course of my life, so I want to spend some time on it.

It all began in 1975. I was the spiritual director for a lady named Vittoria Cagnoli. Returning one day from a retreat house, she told me about having met some strange people who prayed in an unusual manner, lifting up their arms and clapping their hands. As a cautious spiritual director, I told her, “Don’t go to that retreat house anymore.” She obeyed, but she was not easy to persuade.

One day when I was in Rome, I was invited to a meeting being held in a house of sisters. I was there as a critical observer. On the one hand, I was disconcerted, just as anyone who was formed according to a certain pre-conciliar style would be. On the other hand, I was fascinated because what I was seeing happen before my eyes seemed exactly what I, as a scholar of Early Christian History, knew had happened in the first Christian communities.

A very big critic of charismatic renewal
The leaders of the meeting advised those present, “Don’t go to that priest because he is our enemy; he is a very big critic!” But the people, seeing a friar, came to me for confession. And hearing the confession of these people was a shock for me. I had never encountered such sincere and profound repentance. After their confessions, sins seemed to fall off like stones from the hearts of these people, who at the end seemed reborn. It was evident that this was the work of the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus said, “will convince the world of sin” (John 16:8).

I continued with this attitude of being an observer for almost two years. I chose to teach a course at the university on the topic “Prophetic and Charismatic Movements in the Early Church” in the hope of understanding something more about what was currently going on. The members of the movement invited me to give teachings to their groups, even though they knew that I did not accept speaking in tongues (the gift mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and by Paul about expressing oneself in diverse languages they did not know), the lifting of hands, the embracing of one another….

Invited to the Kansas City Charismatic Conference
In 1977 another lady from Milan offered four tickets, all expenses paid, to go to America to attend an ecumenical charismatic conference being held in Kansas City. One of these tickets was offered to Professor Giovanni Saldarini, the future Archbishop of Turin. At the last minute his mother became ill and he was not able to go, so his ticket was offered to me. Wanting to go to the United States for my own sake to learn English, I accepted, saying to myself that it would all be over after a week.

On the plane from Milan to New York and from there to Kansas City, I read an issue of the magazine New Covenant published for the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. There was an article by someone named Patti Gallagher, one of the students who had participated in a retreat at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where the movement had originated in February 1967. She summarized her experiences with Jesus’s words: “Blessed are you who see what you see and the ears that hear it” (see Matthew 13:16). That troubled me. I thought, “These people must have discovered a secret that is bigger than themselves.”

...There were 40,000 people in Kansas City; 20,000 were Catholic and 20,000 were from other Christian denominations, many of them evangelical and Pentecostal. Every morning each church group met separately to celebrate their own liturgies. At night, everyone gathered together in the same stadium to hear the Word of God, sing, and pray.

There is a power in 40,000 people singing charismatic songs together that shakes the walls around one’s heart…. If on the one hand, I was convinced that certain things were coming from the Spirit of God, there were other things, especially on the part of Evangelicals, that I found myself still unprepared for and that left me perplexed.

I was witnessing a living prophecy
One night one of the presenters took the microphone and began to speak in a way that was strange for me at that point. He said, “Mourn and weep, bishops, priests, pastors, for the body of my Son is broken. Weep and mourn, laypeople, men and women, for the body of my Son is broken!” I began to see people fall to their knees all around me. In fact almost all the people in the stadium were on their knees, sobbing with repentance for the divisions among Christians that were so obvious. All of this was happening while an electric sign from one end of the stadium to the other read, “Jesus is Lord!”

That scene has always impressed me as a living prophecy. I said to myself, “If one day Christians will truly be reunited in one single church, it will be like this: everyone on their knees in repentance under the lordship of Christ.” It was there that I began to discover the kingdom of the lordship of Christ—that is, what it means to proclaim, “Jesus is Lord!” The companions who had come from Italy with me knew my state of hesitation. Therefore, when the assembly sang the song about the fall of Jericho at the sound of Joshua’s trumpets, they elbowed me and whispered, “Listen closely, because you are Jericho.” They were right!

“I am giving you this last chance to convince me!”
From Kansas City they invited me to go to a retreat house in New Jersey. I thought about staying there for a day and then visiting my Capuchin brothers in Washington. I looked forward to being by myself in the environment of my community to reflect on what I was seeing. But an Irish priest named Fr. Brendan Murray invited me very gently, saying, “Stay with us this week; there’s a retreat on the Trinity!” I remember saying to myself, “This is not a house of prostitution but a retreat house; it cannot hurt me to stay! Lord, I am staying. I am giving you this last chance to convince me!”

One day I was participating in a prayer meeting. So many objections were echoing inside of me. I said to myself, “I am a son of St. Francis; I have him as my father and a rich spirituality in my religious order. What am I looking for? What do I lack? What can these brothers possibly give me?” But first and foremost the idea pounding in my head was, “I already have St. Francis of Assisi as my father!” At that point one of those present, without knowing any of this, opened the Bible and began to read a passage at random. It was the passage in Luke’s Gospel where John the Baptist says to the Pharisees, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Luke 3:8).

I understood that the Lord was answering me. I stood up, and although I did not yet speak English, everyone seemed to understand as I said this prayer: “Lord, I will no longer say that I am a son of Francis of Assisi because I realize that I am not. And if to be a son it becomes necessary to make myself a child and accept that these brothers pray over me, I accept.” That is how I began to participate in the meetings that precede what is called “the baptism of the Spirit”; they are meetings about the great truths of the faith, about the love of God, conversion, holiness, and the charisms.

“Would you give me the reins to your life?”
In the course of preparing to be prayed with, one evening I was walking in the park near the house when an image formed itself in my mind. The Lord sometimes speaks through images, which is a very simple way to communicate with human beings. Nothing miraculous, but altogether unforgettable.

I saw myself internally as a man on a coach who is holding the reins of the carriage and is deciding whether to go to the right or to the left, whether to go quickly or slowly. I understood that it was the image of myself as a man who wants to have control of his own life. At a certain point it was as though Jesus climbed up next to me in the carriage and gently said to me, “Would you give me the reins to your life?” There was an instant of panic because I understood that this was serious. However, through the grace of God, I realized in the same instant that I could not be the one to control my life; neither could I be sure of tomorrow. Therefore I said, “Yes, Lord, take the reins of my life!” Then the moment came for me to receive prayer for a new outpouring of the Spirit….

During the prayer those praying asked me to choose Jesus as the personal Lord of my life. At that moment I lifted up my eyes and saw the Crucified One above the altar. Again there was a flash and an inner voice that said, “Be careful; the Jesus you are choosing as Lord is not a nice rose-water Jesus; it is I, the crucified Christ.” That was a help to me, because I still had some doubts that all of this could be something emotional and superficial. In that moment I understood, instead, that the Holy Spirit goes right to the heart of the Gospel, which is the cross of Christ. How many times in later years did I need to remind myself of that word!

“The Bible became a living book for me”
At the moment of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, many people experience particular emotions; they can burst into tears of repentance or of joy. For me, nothing in particular happened outwardly except the clear decision of entrusting the reins of my life to the Lord and renewing my baptism. Some brothers, while the prayer was going on, spoke some prophetic words over me. Someone said, “You will experience a new joy in proclaiming my Word.” Another person opened the Bible and read the passage where the risen Lord said to Ananias about Paul, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16). Up until that point, my preaching consisted almost entirely of a Sunday homily. I was not a preacher but a professor.

The next day I took a plane from Newark to Washington. On the plane I began to realize that, despite appearances, something new had happened. Opening up the breviary, the psalms seemed new to me, written just for me the day before. Later I realized that one of the first effects of the coming of the Holy Spirit is that the Bible becomes a living book. It is no longer a repository of doctrine, an object of study, but the living Word of God that sheds light on situations and the state of one’s soul and opens up new horizons.

[Excerpt from Serving the Word: My Life, (c) 2015 by Raniero Cantalamessa, English translation by Marsha Daigle-Williamson, published by Servant Books, an imprint of Franciscan Media.]

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. (born July 22, 1934) is an Italian Catholic priest in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. He has devoted his ministry to preaching and writing. He is a Scripture scholar, theologian, and noted author of numerous books. Since 1980 he has served as the Preacher to the Papal Household under Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. He is a noted ecumenist and frequent worldwide speaker, and a member of the Catholic Delegation for the Dialogue with the Pentecostal Churches.

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