William Cardinal Baum has admonished more than 1,000 leaders of Catholic charismatic communities and prayer groups to be sure that their spiritual experience is not something below standards that the church teaches, and is more than a projection of their individual psychological needs.
The leaders had gathered last weekend for a charismatic renewal meeting in Rockville.
The prelate's warning was particularly significant to the Catholic charismatics because the movement is the fastest growing spiritual phenomenon not only among Roman Catholics but among Protestans. It places special emphasis on the gifts, of charisms, of the Holy Spiritual as sources of spiritual strength and of power for ministry.
There are fears by many Christians outside the movement that there can be too much stress on spiritual experiences and not enough attention to the more conventional ways of building faith or serving the needs of society.
The audience, made up of leaders of communities from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, broke into thundering applause and shouts of "Praise God," and "Hallelujah" as Cardinal Baum prepared to speak.
Nothwithstanding the admonition, the prelate commended the charismatics for showing the way in the Catholic Church toward a renewed emphasis on the need of conversion as the bedrock article of the faith.
Nationwide, the Catholic bishops - aided in large part by the zeal of the charismatics - have launched a campaign to make converts of as many as possible of the 81 millions Americans who have no close relationship with a church or synagogue. The country's 40 million evangelicals will launch a $1 billion campaign toward this goal, which is expected to extend to the end of the century.
Cardinal Baum told the charismatics that without the firm ground that the church can offer, "the Jesus of my experience needs, whose worship could be idolatrous. This is a serious problem faced by an increasing number of ecclesial communities, namely the rejection of the church by those who make their experiences normative for the following of Christ."
He indicated there is deficiency in the Christian witness even though the charisms of tongues, healing, prophecy and the other hallmarks of the charismatic renewal are present, if there is no deep concern for Christian morality and Christian social concern.
The three-day Mid-Eastern Regional Service Conference, is an umbrella group for the diversified charismatic groups in this area.
It closed with an ecumenical service that featured, among others, national leaders of such denominations as the Mennonites, the United Methodists, and the three major denominations of Lutherans. Some estimates indicate that there are 500,000 charismatics in the United Methodist Church alone. Estimates for the Catholic Church are about 700,000.
In comparison to regular Catholic services, the charismatic gathering was punctuated with exclamations of praise, spontaneous singing, and spontaneous prayer, hundreds of people employing their individual "tongue" or prayer language. Clapping to the music at times all but drowned out the instruments. A common sign of a charismatic is both arms raised heavenward in prayer or praise.
Again, as last year, Auxuliary Bishop Eugene Marino of the Archdiocese of Washington was principal celebrant of the mass. In the cloakroom, several of the participating permanent deacons laid hands on him in the charismatic fashion invoking God's blessings on his ministry, each using glossolalia, or praying in tongues, to invoke that blessing.