Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: Sober Intoxication of the Spirit – Pt II

Like the first part, this book is a collection of teachings given at conferences of the Catholic charismatic renewal.  I know that “charismatic renewal” might sound scary to some Catholics, with visions of people speaking in tongues and waving their hands like they’re crazy, but I assure you that is not a proper vision of those participating in the renewal, nor is this book strictly for them.
Fr. Cantalamessa begins his book by first clarifying the word “conversion”: under the Old Testament conversion was committing your life to the Law, but in the New Testament it is committing your life to Jesus, to be like Him.  “We no longer say, ‘Do this and that so that you will be saved’, but ‘Do this and that BECAUSE you are saved.’”  He explains how good works naturally flow from conversion, “working through love.”  I liked the comparison he made of a faithful follower to a living tree, bearing fruit, but which “must undergo, like actual fruit trees, defoliation in winter, pruning in spring, and heat in summer – that is, it must go through the cross.”  So many who have converted their hearts and received blessed consolations yearn for this joy to always be so, but it will not.  Receiving His Holy Spirit also requires receiving His cross.
For myself, I found Cantalamessa’s description of the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives to be almost like a Christmas carol.  He sets the mood, like the Christmas season with all the decorations and peace, and then he writes familiar words that sing, but ever new and always beautiful.  I am familiar with the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church, but for some who only heard general descriptions of it, he makes it real.  He explains how the Holy Spirit touches hearts, and it is a beautiful thing.  “The charismatic renewal … helps believers rediscover not only who they are but also the divine reality that they bear within themselves, (and) enables them to accomplish what the gospel asks of them more easily, and to do it not out of a sense of obligation but out of gratitude, not out of fear but out of love.”
I happened to be having a bad day dealing with the demands of caring for my mom, listening to friends and neighbors woes, and generally feeling somewhat burdened when I read Cantalamessa’s words on love.  “In this sense, love is a law, a commandment:  It creates in Christians a dynamic that leads us to do all that God wants.”  As I read I reflected on my morning prayer” “Make me an instrument of Thy peace,” but when given opportunities that day to be His peace to others, I was anything but loving --- I was having a bad day.  And then I read “The lover flies, runs and rejoices’ he is free and nothing can restrain him … Love feels no burden, would like to do more than it can do, … in fact, is ready to do anything.”  Humbled by these words, I realized that they did not in any way describe my actions that day, towards those who needed love, who needed peace --- the peace I had asked God to enable me to give.  He gave me the opportunities to do His will, to be His peace, and I failed Him.
As I read Cantalamessa’s words, they often hit deep in my heart.
There was once a time in my life when I knew the teachings of the Catholic Church well.  Twelve years of Catholic schools and a number of books by saints had planted much knowledge in my brain.  Like my geometry and algebra and trigonometry classes, it all added up like a large equation.  Like the math formulas, I had my faith’s teachings memorized.  Then there came a time, late in my high school years when I took classes in physics.  Suddenly, what I knew of math changed.  The math formulas, surprisingly, could be applied to life:  they described how oxygen renewed my body, how planes flew and how the moon and stars all related to one another --- what happens to one impacts another, even in the farthest reaches of space.  Suddenly the math formulas were not just memorized facts, they were part of reality, and all around me.  That awakening eventually led me to choose physics as my college major.
My knowledge of the Catholic faith underwent a similar change.  I knew my faith like a math formula, doctrines on the left side of the equation all added up together to equal the Church on the right.  You could not subtract something from the left of the equation without changing the right (although some Catholics today don’t understand that --- but I did).  Then one day the Holy Spirit came to me, and suddenly I knew, deeply within my heart, that my faith isn’t just an equation.  It is real!  These teachings and doctrines I memorized could be applied to all reality, all creation, and even beyond physics, to all eternity.  They weren’t just like blocks you could stack up, they were a unified thing which had inseparable pieces.  And that awareness that overcame me was beautiful, for the faith was beautiful. 
I could never describe the beauty of that conversion in my heart, a gift of the Holy Spirit, but Fr. Cantalamessa’s book comes close to what I would say.  And it too is beautiful.
I like to quote meaningful words in reviewing a good book that I have read.  In this book, however, there are too many words I could quote.  I read this book with its six short chapters over a period of two weeks.  For a short book, it gave me much to meditate upon.  I urge you to take the time to read it and meditate upon it yourself, and perhaps you too will feel the “Sober Intoxication” of the Holy Spirit, which Fr. Cantalamessa invites you to experience.    

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