Ralph Martin has been a central figure in the Catholic charismatic renewal for almost 40 years.
He founded Renewal Ministries and teaches at Detroit's Sacred Heart Seminary and several universities.
The noted author, lecturer and television host spoke to Register correspondent Patrick Novecosky about the growth of the charismatic movement, his meetings with the Holy Father and what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in our time.
How did you get involved in the Catholic charismatic renewal?
After graduating from Notre Dame and starting grad school at Princeton, the auxiliary bishop of Lansing, Mich., asked a friend and me in 1965 if we'd help him set up the first national office of the Cursillo movement.
We also started doing campus ministry at Michigan State University. Some friends at Duquesne University invited us to do a retreat. The following fall, in 1967, that same group of students and professors were the ones who had the first experience of the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church.
In 1968, while doing ministry at the University of Michigan, we began working in the dormitories. Soon hundreds of people were coming to the student center. Out of that came a charismatic community; out of that came an international center for the Catholic charismatic community; and out of that came New Covenant magazine.
How did you end up in Belgium?
In the early '70s, we received a rather mysterious visitor — a Belgian priest named Father Michel Dubois, or so we thought. Later, he revealed his true identity. He was Cardinal Leo Suenens, the primate of Belgium — one of the four moderators of the Second Vatican Council.
He invited us to establish an international center for the renewal in Belgium. From 1976 to 1980, I lived in Brussels with my wife and two children. We had another two children there: our “Brussels sprouts.”
I was the first director of the International Council for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. In 1980, we came back to the United States and I wrote a book called The Crisis of Truth and founded Renewal Ministries. The office moved to the Vatican in 1981, where it still is today.
What does the charismatic renewal offer the Church?
Cardinal Suenens once said, “The purpose of the charismatic renewal is not to perpetuate itself, but it's a witness in the Church to what belongs to the whole Church” — that the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are not the property of a particular movement.
The Pope talks about it as a rediscovery. In 1998, he invited all the renewal movements in the Church to come together. More than 50 different movements and 500,000 people came to Rome.
Speaking there, he said the Holy Spirit led us to rediscover the charismatic dimension of the Church at the Second Vatican Council. He quoted Lumen Gentium where it says that the Holy Spirit works to bring salvation, not just through the hierarchical institutional dimension of the Church but also by giving gifts and graces to ordinary people.
He went on to say that the charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church are co-essential. He was saying that the Holy Spirit is bringing us to rediscover that the Church has these two dimensions and both are important for its health. The charismatic renewal has been a spark plug for a discovery of a more balanced theology of how the institutional and charismatic work together.
How does Renewal Ministries aid in that rediscovery?
Our mission is to bring about the renewal and the evangelization [expressed by] Vatican II, summed up by the Pope in [his 2001 apostolic letter] Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium).
We're trying to help Catholics discover their faith in a deeper way and live it in a more committed and more wholehearted way. In the early 1980s, somebody mentioned that we could reach more people through television and radio. So we started “The Choices We Face” television program in 1984. EWTN has been carrying us the whole time. We're coast-to-coast in Canada and we're on international satellites and a lot of other broadcast stations.
We have a daily radio program, books, tapes, conferences, seminars and missions. We're also working in more than 20 countries right now establishing centers of renewal and evangelization at the request of bishops. We're mainly working in Eastern Europe and Africa, but we're also working in other countries where the Church was weakened by communism, poverty or persecution.
Is the charismatic movement in the Church misunderstood?
In some circles — which is puzzling because bishops' conferences around the world have issued all kinds of official statements recognizing it as an authentic fruit of renewal of the Church. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have written dozens of statements recognizing the good that is happening through the renewal. John Paul regularly has people involved in the charismatic renewal to attend his private Mass and he asks them to pray in a charismatic style.
You've met the Holy Father numerous times. Which meeting was most memorable?
In 1995, I had just written a book, The Catholic Church at the End of an Age: What is the Spirit Saying? I was in Rome and had a chance to meet with him. I gave him a copy of my book and he said, “I've read it already,” which really surprised me.
Then he said, “Ralph, what is the Spirit saying to the Church?” I know he didn't want the whole 300-page answer. I felt like the Spirit gave me one word to say. I said, “Holy Father, I think what the Spirit is saying to the Church is: Jesus.”
He took my hand and he said, “Jesus.” I said, “Jesus.” And he said, “Jesus.” We just stood there saying the name of Jesus together. It was a moment of prayer, communion and like a proclamation of Jesus. It was a very moving moment — the hierarchical and charismatic dimensions of the Church uniting in the person of Jesus and proclaiming him together.
What is the Spirit saying to the Church as we move further into the new millennium?
Ever since my meeting with the Pope, I spent a lot of time studying the mystics and Doctors of the Church. John of the Cross said, “The Father has said everything he needs to say in Jesus. To want anything else except Jesus is to miss the point of the treasure that's been given.”
So, what I said to the Pope remains even more relevant because there are inexhaustible treasures in Christ. The Pope says the starting point of the New Evangelization is the person of Jesus. That's where it all begins. That's where it all ends.
Patrick Novecosky writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.