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Interview with Bishop Sam Jacobs: CCR in the Church

Bishop Jacobs, you travel widely within the United States, how do you see Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the United States today?

I think it is still very strong. It is not as strong as it was in the early days when people just flocked to it, but I think we have passed the honeymoon stage and now we’re in the rooting stage, trying to come into a fuller understanding of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and sharing it with other people. I see it very vibrant in the ethnic communities in the States — the Hispanic, the Filipinos, the Koreans, the Haitians. We see that this manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit, the power of the Spirit, the Baptism of the Spirit, this grace of Pentecost, is moving very rapidly and very strongly in these ethnic groups. In the Anglo groups, not as much, but it is still strong.

I also see it in our youth, at least in our local area. I see the young people coming into the fullness of the gifts of the Spirit, and being open to the Spirit and witnessing and reaching out, praying for healing and coming together for a time of prayer, sharing and fellowship. It’s exciting to see young people turned on, it’s exciting to see the groups turned on. It’s exciting to see anyone open up to the gifts of the Spirit.

How has the attitude of the U.S. Bishops toward CCR developed over the years?

Well, I think it is an interesting phenomenon the way the Bishops of the United States responded to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Charismatic Renewal. Early on, back in, I’d say, 1974–75, the Bishops of the United States began to speak of the need to have a Liaison in each Diocese. Now, there is no other movement that has a Liaison for that movement in Dioceses, and yet the American Bishops felt that, because of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there should be a Liaison that would connect Renewal to the Bishop. He would be the Renewal’s liaison with the Bishop and the Bishop’s liaison with Renewal. Of 180 Dioceses in the States, over 170 would have Liaisons — some active, some not, but at least someone named as a Liaison.

There’s an Ad Hoc Committee of Bishops that has been in existence since 1974/75. An Ad Hoc Committee is supposed to last only a few years and then die out, but every three years when it is brought up “should this committee continue,” the overwhelming response has been “yes.” I am presently the chairperson of this committee, and we meet twice a year and we look at what is going on in Renewal and see how we can support it and pastor it. We wrote [a document on Catholic Charismatic Renewal, entitled Grace for a New Springtime,] in honour of the thirtieth anniversary of Renewal in the States.

How has Grace for a New Springtime been received by the Bishops?

It’s interesting. I had the opportunity to present this statement to the Administrative Committee which is made up of about fifty Cardinals, Bishops and Archbishops. When I presented it to them it was very well received. There were very few minor additions and clarifications they said they would like to see in the document. But their response was overwhelming, “yes, go with it.” And we were authorised to print it, not as a document of the Conference, but as a document of the Ad Hoc Committee with the approval of the Administrative Committee. It was really affirming to us when we presented this document and our brother Bishops said “yes, we approve.”

How has Catholic Charismatic Renewal influenced the Church?

Well, what are the fruits. If you look at the fruits of Renewal, I think you will find in many parishes, if not in all parishes, that many people who are involved in ministry have, at one time or other, experienced the Baptism of the Spirit in their lives. Many people who are Eucharistic ministers, lectors, visitors to the sick, many people in parish councils, many people in the religious education program — many of these people will say that something happened in their lives, and they were Baptised in the Holy Spirit, and are open to the gifts of the Spirit, and are now ministering in the Church. And so I think that is one of the ways in which we see the fruits of the Spirit.

I think we are beginning to see where people are becoming more conscious of the gifts of the Spirit. Before it was limited to the seven gifts in Isaiah. Now people are more conscious of all the gifts. People who may have difficulty with Charismatic Renewal and say, “ah, that’s not my thing. I don’t feel comfortable with that prayer style,” or whatever — yet they’ll call the prayer line of the Charismatic Renewal prayer group and say “would you pray for such and such.” Where’s that coming from? There’s a sense of “you’re a prayer warrior and I need your prayers. Could you come and pray over this person who is sick with the gift of healing.” Although some people are hesitant to become part of, or allow themselves to experience, this grace of Pentecost in a fuller way in their lives, they may be the first ones to ask for those in Renewal to minister upon them.

I think we are seeing more and more Healing Services, and more and more people being healed. I am really seeing this permeating more and more into the life of the parish, where the gifts of the Spirit are becoming more evident in the parishes.

There seems to be an underlying openness to healing prayer among Catholics. Do you agree?

But I think they are coming with a great expectation. I see people coming not only because the healer happens to be in town but because there’s a Healing Service. The expectation is ‘I need healing, and I don’t care who’s praying. I need healing.’ People will probably be coming in greater numbers when the man or woman who has the ministry of healing comes to town, but I am also saying that more and more people are exercising the gifts and taking advantage of the gifts, and not waiting for the healer to come in.

Looking now to the local parish prayer group — we have over 80 groups here in Melbourne based in parishes — what would you like to say to them? What is their mission?

I think their mission is to bring this grace of Pentecost to as many people in the parish as possible, and one of the ways of doing it is through the Life in the Spirit Seminar, and to exercise the gifts of the Spirit freely, under guidance, with discernment, helping people to open up to the gifts of the Spirit. But I think that a lot of prayer groups are dying or static, because they have forgotten their purpose. They have forgotten why God sent them out, and when you forget your purpose and you’re no longer doing that which God called you to do, then you will tend to die or become stagnant.

I think many prayer groups do not really enter into a time of praise and worship in an abandoned way. It’s like they say “let’s praise God for ten minutes and then do something else,” whereas it should be “let’s abandon ourselves to worship the Lord in praise and song and tongues.”

Many prayer groups don’t really exercise the gifts of the Spirit. They say, “we’ll let Brian do it, because Brian always gives a prophecy, and so we’ll let Brian give the prophecy. Or we’ll let Mary give an exhortation because Mary knows how to give the exhortation.” But what about me? God may want to use me, and I must be open that God may use me to give a prophetic word, or a word of exhortation, or whatever. If I wait for someone else to do it, I may stifle the gifts of the Spirit. Likewise, they’ll say, “well, if anyone wants healing, Joe and Mary are in the back of the room, and they have been set aside to pray for healing.” The gifts are in the body — why aren’t they all praying for this outpouring of power upon this person? So if we no longer exercise the gifts in the prayer meeting as well as outside the prayer meeting, then the meeting will begin to die.

When there is no more teaching, and people are not fed and not formed, people say “why am I going to prayer meetings? I’m not getting fed? I’m here to praise God, but I’m also here to receive from God the word he wants to form me with.” There are a lot of prayer groups that do not have teaching or formation going on, and so they begin to die.

Also, people aren’t encouraged or empowered to exercise ministry gifts. The same people do the same things all the time. The same people set up the chairs, the same people give the teaching, the same people do the book ministry. We have these new people coming in, and they say, “well, I guess I’m not really needed because no one asked me to do anything. They’re always asking so and so, but I’m never asked, and so I don’t feel part of this group.” If leadership is not helping people to exercise these gifts, and calling people forth so that they become part of the community and not just an observer, things will begin to die.

If you don’t have a Life in the Spirit Seminar on a regular basis, things begin to die. People should be bringing new people into the prayer meeting every week. People should be encouraged to bring new people into the prayer meeting on a regular basis because they witness to that person. It’s the ‘come and see’ of the Gospel, where the woman at the well said to the people of the town “come and see.” She didn’t do the teaching. She brought them to Jesus. Jesus evangelised, and they finally said, “We came because you told us to come, but we believe because of his word.”

We need to have people going out to the highways and byways inviting people through witnessing how Jesus touched their life, what Jesus is doing in their life, how Jesus has made a difference, and then to say “come and see.” And as people come, we need to have a Life in the Spirit Seminar going on, so that people can go through the Seminar and hear the Word of God and what God is doing and what God’s plan is, and be open to the possibility that God may want to indeed baptise them at this moment in his Holy Spirit.

I run across prayer groups in the States and say “when was the last time you ran a Life in the Spirit Seminar?” “Well, maybe two years ago.” “How large is your group?” “Well, we are about five or six.” “Do you understand why you’re dying? You’re not replenishing yourselves. You’re not doing what God told you to do.” There’s one prayer group in Rhode Island whose pastor said, “well I will start a Life in the Spirit Seminar every week if there is one person new each week.” He had 52 Life in the Spirit Seminars in a year, and he had a different group each time working with him. He may have had one, or he may have had twenty. He said to the prayer group, “You bring me one new person and I will start a Life in the Spirit Seminar for that one person to bring them into the fullness of the gifts of the Spirit.” That’s the attitude we have to have — not to wait for a hundred to come, and not to wait for someone to come from outside. We go out to them and witness to them, and say, “Come and see.” And as they come to share in the experience of the prayer group, if God is going to touch them in this way, he’ll touch them. But they need to be present to get that touch.

[Also important is] the ministry outside, the ministering of signs and wonders outside the prayer meeting. So those are some of the things that have helped prayer groups either flourish or, if they are not doing them, become stagnant.

How can people in prayer groups give confidence to others so that they will come to the prayer meeting? How can the ‘fear factor’ be overcome?

Well I think part of the thing is to make a friend. You first become a friend to this person. You befriend them. You support this person. They begin to feel comfortable with you. And when they feel comfortable with you, you stay with them. You don’t just drop them off, and leave them hanging, but they must feel the support of a friend. They can say, “Brian, I was having problems with such and such last night. What was that all about?” and walk them through it, and help them. If they say, “I’m afraid of this tongues” — walk them through it. As people who have been befriended and walked through and cared for and pastored, then when the grace of God falls upon them, they’re open to receive that outpouring of the Spirit, because someone was there with them. They say, “If I know I have a support system, and you’re going to be with me, then it’s easy for me to walk the journey.”

What is your hope for CCR?

I would hope that we would just continue to grow and everyone would be Baptised in the Spirit, and that the Life in the Spirit would be evident in everyone of us, and that the power of God would be manifested in and through us. If we are living an active life in the Spirit and we follow the lead of the Spirit and are moving in the gifts of the Spirit, then the Church is going to be transformed. It’s an ideal. That doesn’t say we’re not going to have struggles. That doesn’t say we’re not going to have valleys. That doesn’t say we’re going to do everything perfectly. The early Church had the vision and the early Church struggled. But they moved in the power of the Spirit. When they abused the gifts of the Spirit, Paul had to correct them, and then they moved in the power of the Spirit.

That’s what my vision is — that the day will come where our parishes will be very alive to the power and the presence of the Spirit, where Parish Council meetings are meetings where people are atuned to the voice of the Spirit, and so suggestions and recommendations that are being made to the pastor about how they should move in this parish is because the Spirit has spoken, and people are open and are sharing either prophetically or an exhortation or discernment or whatever — exercising those gifts, and their focus is not administration as much as ministering. When we can come into parish life where we are following the lead of the Spirit in ministry, then administration will take care of itself. God will give the gifts of administration to people to care for it, but it’s a parish that is full of life.

I think that one of the reasons that some of the other Churches are growing rapidly outside the Catholic Church is because many of them are open to the gifts and power of the Spirit, and people hear and see and are attracted, and people go because people want to go where life is. Many of our own parishes are dead in many ways, because we have locked ourselves into a corner, and we do the same things the same way, without life.

Do you see particular liturgical change?

I think we’re going to see the spontaneity in worship coming into the Church more and more. I think we are going to see where the gifts of the Spirit are evident in liturgy, where the word is preached with anointing, where a prophetic utterance will come from the body of the believers, where people will be praying with expectancy of healing after Eucharist. As they say, “say but the word and I shall be healed,” let’s put that word into practice. And where we’ll see a more joyful spirit in the presence of God.

One of the things I try to do in liturgy is, when people come to Mass, I want them to leave with the sense “I met God. I was in the presence of God. Something happened to me while I was here, and it was God. He spoke to me in the homily. I felt his presence whenever we went into worship. I sensed the very presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. I experienced his healing.” Whatever, [I want it to be] that people experience something and then they go out to do something that will touch the lives of other people.

I see that, liturgically, we are going to come more and more into a more spontaneous type of celebration. And we are going to struggle — there are those that want a quiet celebration, and there are those that want a more spontaneous celebration, and both are good. But there are times for contemplation and times for joyful celebration, and we have to learn how to balance the two and encourage people to move in the fullness of worship.

Do you have a particular message for priests?

I say to priests not to be afraid. God is calling us priests to pastor the various groups and movements that come from God. That which is of God needs to be pastored so that things continue to be done the way God wants it to be done. Priests do not necessarily have to be involved in the Charismatic Renewal movement, but if there is a prayer group in their community, and there are people who are baptised in the Spirit evidently, they need to pastor those people and continue to form them and teach them, and free them to use the gifts, but give them some pastoral guidance so that they don’t go off track.

My experience is that when they come to a priest having experienced being baptised by the Holy Spirit and say, “Father, I need your help,” they really want to remain plugged into the Church. They don’t want to go off, but when the priest rejects them, when they don’t include them, but play down that experience, and laugh at it or mock it, or say that it is not of God and “I forbid you to do X, Y and Z,” then that person may go to where they are accepted, and they may go to another Church — not because that is what they want to do, they want to root themselves in the Catholic Church, but they get rejected. And so pastors must not reject, even though that’s not their experience, they are called to pastor it, no matter what the experience is. If it is of God, it needs to be pastored and not put down.