FATHER BOB BEDARD says he used to be a “left-winger.” But then he had a profound experience of something with “two wings,” the Holy Spirit.
An experience of the Catholic charismatic movement taught him how to pray fervently and deepened his appreciation of authentic Church teaching.
Father Bedard, along with three other men, founded the Companions of the Cross (CompanionsCross.org). The canonically-approved society of priests based in Ottawa, Ontario, numbers 34 priests and has two related communities of sisters. They also run a parish in Houston, Texas. Register correspondent Anthony Flott spoke with Father Bedard.
Pentecost Sunday is upon us. What significance does this feast hold for the Companions of the Cross, given its charismatic roots, and do you celebrate it in any special manner?
We would do that in our parishes. Each parish tries to make a special day out of Pentecost Sunday because of the role of the Holy Spirit, which we feel is probably not fully understood by most people in the Church.
I think a lot of people are afraid of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Holy Spirit people will [come off] kind of nutty, and that turns everybody off.
How long have you been a priest, and what was it that drew you to the priesthood?
I’ll be 52 years ordained in June. There were a series of events in my late teens where the Lord grabbed me and pulled me towards the priesthood.
I had kind of a conversion experience when I was 17. I began at that point to get pretty serious about praying. I got Our Lady in on the praying end of it, saying a Rosary and stuff.
In the spring of my first year in college I was at Mass with my parents on a Sunday. One of the lines in the reading was, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own immortal soul?” [The priest] must have repeated it six or seven times. He was very sincere. It was hard to miss the point.
Next day, I headed off to school, St. Patrick’s College in Ottawa. As I walked to school that line was turning through my head. I couldn’t seem to banish the line. I was saying to myself, “That’s a question. What’s the answer to this question?” I realized right away the answer was “Nothing.” It doesn’t profit anything to gain the whole world.
As I kept walking toward school, I felt myself saying, “I think I might like to spend my life trying to make that question and answer as clear as possible to as many people as I can.
I found great peace with that. I kept walking and said, “What does that mean and what do I do now?” I said, “I’ll be a priest, then. That’s what I’ll do.”
From that moment on I never changed my mind. My discernment took about 11 minutes.
In what way were you introduced to the charismatic movement?
More and more frequently I would be running into people who seemed to be very fervent in their faith. Really involved in the Church, really concerned about the things that concern the Church. I always found that impressive, and I would ask them, “Where did that come from? Had they always been like that?”
As often as not the answer would be, “No, this is a relatively recent development with us.” I’d say, “Really, what brought about the change?”
They would talk about their participation in what at the time was known as the charismatic movement, which I had certainly heard of and maybe read a couple of articles in magazines about, and wasn’t terribly impressed with. It just sounded pretty far out. There were enough of these people I figured [that], “Maybe there was something to this charismatic thing. I’ll check it out one day.”
How would you describe your spiritual life and priesthood prior to this introduction?
I was about as far out on the left wing of things as you could get. To be quite honest, I was probably willing to compromise any teaching of the Church as long as we could get some more people coming back to church. Churches were suffering in attendance at the time, in the mid-’70s. It all began then.
In what ways did the Catholic Charismatic Renewal enrich your spiritual life?
The Holy Spirit did a number on me. He changed me completely to a fervent, down-the-road, totally faithful Catholic.
I began to say, “The Church doesn’t need to change. The Church needs to be faithful to the deposit of faith, to the Catechism, to what the Church teaches. To the magisterium.”
I was as far from that as you could get. I underwent a tremendous change. I began to understand what was changing people’s lives.
It was a specific, particular grace. Not to be confused with confirmation or baptism; it’s not a sacrament. It’s a special grace available to people who will turn themselves over to the Lord.
How do you define the charismatic movement to Catholics who don’t know what it’s all about?
What it’s all about is an attempt to draw people into an experience of the risen Christ and to give them support as that develops. Once it is an encounter then it becomes a relationship.
What do you think the average Catholic knows of the charismatic movement?
Practically nothing. It’s an experience. You can’t learn an experience. You have to have an experience in order to understand it.
It’s like riding a roller coaster. I’ve never been on it and I never will. I hear people. I see them yelling and screaming, having a wonderful time. But I don’t know the experience.
You can’t understand it; you just have to have it, then you can understand it.
Is there a fear of the movement by Catholics and, if so, what is the basis of that fear?
The fear is that they will turn into fanatics. They will turn into people who bother other people. They will lose their reputation.
What criticisms of the charismatic movement do you hear, and are any of them legitimate?
Sometimes people say, “These people throw their weight around. They think they’re better than everybody else.”
That’s not authentic at all, but some of them do get that way. They become very superior: “I have something you don’t have. I know the Lord and you don’t.”
This is the kind of teaching ... that has to go on within the movement. Make sure people are integrating. This is all very Catholic, part of the Catholic spirituality.
It’s not something new. The Holy Spirit didn’t make his debut in 1967. The Holy Spirit’s been around from the start.
Why is it that the Holy Spirit seems to get short shrift within the Trinity?
Because we don’t understand the Holy Spirit.
The persons in the Trinity are equal to one another. Equal as being God, but they’re not identical. They have different roles.
The Father is the Creator. He’s the one who plans his will that needs to prevail. Jesus is the One who has interacted with us. He has gained access to the Father. The Holy Spirit is the member of the Trinity that takes the orders from the Father and puts them into effect.
I know a theologian can do a lot better than that; that’s basic type of stuff. But it’s the truth. People don’t understand the role of the Holy Spirit. That’s why they’re afraid of the Holy Spirit.
I’m afraid we don’t have a very complete, spelled out and clear theology of the Holy Spirit. We do, but it’s kind of hidden in the books. It hasn’t been popularized. It’s not hard; it’s a matter of experience.
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the Church is 40 years old this year. In the United States and Canada, is it fizzling or sizzling?
It’s booming. In the beginning, people began to conclude that it was to be a prayer group movement. The whole Church would wind up being in prayer groups. That’s not the case at all. The prayer groups are collapsing on all sides and the conferences don’t draw as many people.
[Some say] the charismatic movement is in decline. That’s not true. The Lord converts people, brings people to himself and wakes up people one person at a time, and that is still going on. It happens particularly with the young.
I’m very surprised to be in a city where there’s stuff going on in the parishes where kids are alive in the Lord. It’s just amazing. I’ve never seen stuff like this before.
You say the Companions of the Cross’ prayer and ministry is, at times, characterized as being charismatic and Eucharistic in both style and focus. Is it one more than the other?
The four pillars of our spirituality are: First, Eucharistic, to celebrate Mass with enthusiasm and reverence and to promote adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Second, to be open to all the gifts and the ways of the Holy Spirit. Third, we’re Marian, consecrated to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And fourth, loyalty to the magisterium.
Our charism is evangelization, which has certainly come into front and center of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, who said at the outset the main task of the Church is to evangelize the baptized. He defined that evangelization as bringing people into an encounter with the risen Christ. An encounter: That’s a spiritual experience.
Anthony Flott writes from