I remember Fr. Harold Cohen sitting down next to me at a Day of Renewal in the Science Complex Building at Loyola University. It was August 2, 1970 – fifty years ago this month. He told me that he had been advised to form a Pastoral Team and he wanted me to be on it. I asked him, “Do you think this is God’s will?” Fr. Cohen said, “Yes, I think so.” At that time I made a commitment to work together with him for the kingdom of God and the spread of the gospel – a commitment which lasted until the Lord called him home on January 16, 2001.
In the days that followed, we met together for prayer and discernment to pick members for the first CCRNO Pastoral Team. Those selected were: Brother Cyril Ory, FSC, Sister Rosemary Wesley, SCC, and Benny Suhor – all of them gifted and faithful servants of the Lord who are now receiving the reward of their labors in the Lord’s vineyard. As I approach this 50th anniversary of the formation of the Pastoral Team, I look back, reflect and ask myself the question, “Why did I make that commitment to work with Fr. Cohen back in August of 1970?” I think the answer is simple…GOD!
GOD, THE BLESSED TRINITY
The Holy Spirit – I made a personal re-discovery of the Holy Spirit and His role in the Christian life and in my life. I came to appreciate the Pentecost phenomenon in the Church and realized how important it was to have a “personal Pentecost.” I praise God for the “promise of the Father” (cf. Acts 1:4) and the “power from on high” (cf. Luke 24:49).
Jesus is Lord – The Holy Spirit is poured out to focus our attention on Jesus, who said,“He will glorify me for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). The Baptism in the Holy Spirit taught me what St. Paul meant when he said, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit makes possible a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Abba! Father! – It is the Holy Spirit who lets us experience that we are sons of God. “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’, it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16). “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6).
I once heard a speaker say that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is like a “personal introduction to God.” And indeed it does help us to understand, appreciate, and experience the love and life of the Divine Persons of the Trinity in our souls.
Along with God Himself, there were other attractions that drew me toward the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and helped to motivate me these past 50 years. What were some of these?
Faith – On February 22, 1967 – just three days after the Duquesne Weekend – Pope Saint Paul VI proclaimed a Year of Faith, which ended on June 30, 1968. This Renewal in the Holy Spirit was born, literally, as the Church universal was emphasizing a renewal of faith – both doctrinal and personal. Amidst all the post-conciliar turmoil and uncertainties, I was attracted to a movement which celebrated and strengthened the great gift of faith.
The Word of God – There has always been an intimate relationship between a renewal in the Holy Spirit and a renewed emphasis on the Word of God in Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit. One of the primary effects of being baptized in the Holy Spirit is an attraction, (sometimes more like an addiction!), to the Holy Scriptures. I was blessed with a love for Scripture from my youth and this was mightily reinforced by the Renewal.
Praise – One of the earmarks of the Charismatic Renewal has been praise and worship of the Lord. I’ll always remember the experience of those early national conferences and being part of hundreds, then thousands, who were freely praising God “with the mind and with the spirit also” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:15). Praise is a priceless fruit of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Charisms – To say that charisms or spiritual gifts would have been an attraction to the Renewal might seem rather redundant or obvious. After all, “Charismatic” is part of the very name! But the experience of charisms was a profound one for me. In the early days of the Pastoral Team, each member was assigned different gifts to study so as to be able to give teachings on them. I was assigned the gift of tongues and I used to lead many “tongues workshops” to help people yield to this gift. I was also asked to research the gifts of prophecy and revelation. One of the most memorable assignments I had, however, was to learn about “spiritual warfare,” discernment of spirits, exorcism and deliverance from evil spirits. This was indeed an introduction to a whole other world! To this day I treasure that time of study and training in the “school of the Holy Spirit,” which has served me well over the years.
GIVE THANKS WITH A GRATEFUL HEART
When I agreed to work with Fr. Cohen in August 1970, I had no idea where that decision would lead me. But I am profoundly grateful for the blessing and privilege to have served CCRNO for the past 50 years. I thank the Lord for Fr. Cohen and the original Pastoral Team, as well as for the many others who have served as members over the years. I want to close this by honoring and thanking our present Pastoral Team members, all of whom have decades of service to their credit. First of all, I thank my wife Patti. There is not sufficient space nor time to adequately honor her for her initial “yes” on the Duquesne Weekend, for her worldwide ministry since then, and especially for her 50 years of invaluable work for CCRNO. I likewise want to thank and honor Bob and Sheila Butler, Wayne and Merce Trosclair, Bernard (Slick) and Linda Oubre, Tom and Terry Canale. I have said it before and will repeat it here…nothing that CCRNO has been able to accomplish over the years would have been possible without the grace of God, of course, and the dedicated time and effort of the members of the Pastoral Team. Thank you all!
Happy Anniversary! Ad Multos Annos!