Baptism in the Holy Spirit goes beyond the charisms

by Ralph Sharafinski

The last issue of the Concourse included an article about how both charismatic and traditional elements are necessary to the life of the Church—a position with which I fully agree. It also, however, communicated a notion of what it means to be charismatic that I find incomplete. One is left asking, “Does the term charismatic only apply to someone who possesses and exercises charismatic gifts? Or does it mean something more than that?”

The foundational grace for a charismatic is Baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is described as first and foremost coming to a personal, living awareness of the reality of Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God who loved us and gave Himself for us, who is the Risen Lord of the universe and head of His body, the Church.1   This awareness manifests itself in an increased docility to the Holy Spirit, a personal appropriation of His power to live a transformed life, and an exercising of His gifts.2

Coming to this living awareness of Jesus Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit, who indwells the Christian as a result of Baptism and Confirmation. It is experienced as an activation, as it were, of the graces received from these sacraments, which may have been only latent in the life or consciousness of the believer. St. Simeon (d. 1022), a great Christian mystic, speaks of this new consciousness as a breaking in of the light which is the Holy Spirit. He identifies Jesus’ gift of the water “that shall become a fountain within him leaping up to provide eternal life,”3 as a reference to Baptism in the Holy Spirit. In commenting on this passage he contrasts this Baptism in the Holy Spirit with an “unconscious” reception of the sacrament of baptism. He says that “If someone were to say that each one of us believers receives and possesses the Spirit without knowing it or being conscious of it, he would be blaspheming.”4

Scripture gives abundant testimony to this grace of revelation. We can see what effect Baptism in the Holy Spirit had for Peter. During the Passion of Jesus, Peter denied knowing Jesus and fled the scene. Dramatically empowered at Pentecost, Peter testifies before thousands of people that Jesus was established as Lord and Christ by His death and resurrection. This newfound ability to “confess the name of Christ boldly, and never be ashamed of the Cross,” is one effect of the sacrament of Confirmation,5   though, experience shows that it does not necessarily coincide in time with Confirmation.

The early fathers used another analogy to speak about this release of the Spirit. They compared it to a green log that is thrown on a fire. It will not ignite immediately because it is wet. As it lies on the fire it dries out and eventually bursts into flame. The bursting into flame is Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It comes to the point of being consumed by the fire, and then generates light and heat.

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well also shows how the Spirit continuously reveals Jesus (John 4). Though the woman was aware of the life that comes from the water drawn from the well, Jesus tells her about another type of water. He tells her about the water that He gives that satisfies and wells up from within to eternal life. The woman asks for this water which is the Spirit and from that point on, Jesus is revealed to her more deeply. She initially calls Him Sir, but as her knowledge of Him grows, she calls Him a prophet, Messiah, and finally the Savior of the world.

Even though I manifested charismatic gifts of the Spirit, I did not say with certitude that I was baptized in the Holy Spirit until I had a living consciousness of being joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This did not occur until I had gone through the Life in the Spirit seminar for a second time. Then I knew that I possessed a new life, and that it was made available to me as a result of what Jesus did on the Cross. I could say with Paul that I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me and I can now live by faith.6   This newness of life was characterized by a new joy, a new love, a new hope and a new peace. It is not so ethereal that it cannot be experientially grasped. Because it is concrete and tangible, it can be lived. At the same time, I know that it is nothing that I produced on my own, for it was so new that I could not have imagined what it would be like, let alone produce it on my own power.    

Most of us have received sacramental Baptism, so is there a need for Baptism in the Holy Spirit? In the Acts of the Apostles there are several instances of Baptism in the Holy Spirit recorded. One account (Acts 1:15) follows a pattern of first being baptized with the baptism of John. After heeding the command of Jesus to wait, they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit a few days later. A second account, in Acts 10:44-48, shows the baptism of the Holy Spirit unexpectedly falling on the household of Cornelius before they were baptized with water. It was that experience that drove them to seek baptism with water.

So how do these two accounts answer the question of whether or not Baptism in the Holy Spirit is for everyone? In these stories, it does not seem to matter which comes first, water baptism or baptism of the Holy Spirit. God is not bound by what baptism comes first chronologically in the accomplishment of his objective. He can do whatever He wants and in whatever way that He wants. Yet, the Apostles seem to think that both are desired or even necessary. Acts 19:5-6 further illustrates the point. Apollos is baptized into Christ and receives the Holy Spirit at the same time. The text distinguishes between the baptism into Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit. However, they both occur at the same time and so no need for a further baptism of any kind is mentioned.

The new awareness of Jesus brings with it an openness and docility to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Instead of being motivated by the drives of the sinful human nature, one can knowingly be prompted, led and guided by the Spirit of God. Living “according to the Spirit” impacts every area of life, but I want to address one area that is particularly relevant to our campus life, namely, the way we participate in the sacraments.

Let’s use a practical example of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we examine our conscience with our own effort, we apply our mind to review our lives against a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” However, when the Spirit helps us to examine our conscience, we are convicted of our sin in a way that goes beyond what we ever thought sin was. It leaves us feeling humbled by the truth and aware that we can no longer make excuses for our ungodly behavior. We are gripped by an interior conviction that we are dependent on God, and realize intently that we need His forgiveness in order to become pure. Along with this conviction comes a power to turn away from the sin and walk in newness of life. Sin itself takes on a new meaning. It is no longer a violation of a moral code, but something that separates me from the love of God.

This understanding is well attested to by the tradition. St. Augustine’s treatise on baptism says “it is possible for someone to be baptized in water and not be born of the Spirit ... this can happen within the Church, for it is obvious that those who are holy because of justice and those who are impure because of avarice do not have the same Spirit when, though they have received one and the same baptism.”’7   St. Simeon recognized that sacramental Baptism makes us children of God and a member of Christ, “but as a dead reality if not given life in the Spirit.”8   He had a similar belief regarding the Eucharist. He believed in the Real Presence, but insisted that communion should be what Thomas Aquinas called a “manducatio spiritualis,” which is a “partaking with an understanding that is full of the Spirit.”9

In conclusion, the grace of Baptism in the Holy Spirit is much more than the possession and exercise of charisms. It gives us an awareness of Jesus and a share in the life that He shares with the Father.

Ralph Sharafinski is a student in the MA Theology Program.

  1. I Corinthians 12:3b ↑
  2. Francis Martin, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (Steubenville: Franciscan University Press, 1986),1.  ↑
  3. John 4:14 ↑
  4. Ethical Treatise X(129, 297) ↑
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1303 ↑
  6. Galations 2:19-20 ↑
  7. De Baptismo contra Donatistas 6, 12, 19 (CSEL 51, 310, 12-22.) ↑
  8. Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999), 98. ↑
  9. Ibid, 98. ↑

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