Story by Carly York | Correspondent
“Come Holy Spirt, let the fire fall,” more than 650 faithful sang jubilantly as they gathered Sept. 23 in St. Mary Mother of God Church, Middletown.
“Jesus is Lord,” shouted the congregation and guest speakers in attendance for the New Jersey Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference, which was also celebrating the movement’s 50th anniversary in the Catholic Church at large.
Photo Gallery: NJ Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference
The gathering, held Sept. 22-23, included praise and worship, teachings, healing prayer, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. Keynote speakers included Father Jeffrey Kegley, pastor of St. Mary Parish; Father John Large, parochial vicar in St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan; Sister Lucy Lukasiewicz, who has served as superior general of her order, the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, for six years, and Father John Gordon of the Archdiocese of Newark.
“Today is another Pentecost for us as we gather for the 50th anniversary of the New Jersey Catholic Charismatic Renewal,” Bishop O’Connell said in his homily, which focused on the traditional Readings for Pentecost Sunday. “For us, really, every day is Pentecost because every day the Holy Spirit fills our hearts.”
Pointing out the influence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the apostles and in the lives of Christians today, he said, “The Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost gave those first apostles a new language that overcame all previous confusion and barriers to God’s communication. It was a language whose first expressions were words of peace and forgiveness and unity.
“‘Peace be with you.’ ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ‘Forgive.’ That was what God, in Christ through the Holy Spirit, wanted for his holy people,” the Bishop said.
He encouraged the faithful members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal to “remember that in both the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel, the apostles not only received the gifts of the Holy Spirit but also went forth to share the fruits of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth: preaching, teaching, baptizing, doing good works – some even to the point of death. That commission extends in time to us who are the Church in time.”
Power of the Spirit
As this was the first year the Diocese of Trenton has hosted the statewide event, Debbie Gaudino, executive director of the diocesan Catholic Charismatic Renewal, said it was her hope that the conference would celebrate the accomplishments of the movement and help the faithful remember that God always has more in store.
“I hope we see that God has a deeper conversion for people available through this movement and conference,” she said.
Conversion was on the mind of Sister Lucy Lukasiewicz, who traveled from her motherhouse in rural Texas to speak at the conference.
“God is so interested in our happiness,” Sister Lucy said. “Following Jesus is the joy of our life.”
Discussing the power of the Holy Spirit, Sister Lucy explained how the founder of her order, Mother John Marie, grew up a Methodist before becoming an atheist during her college years at Columbia University in New York City. However, a fellow university student, who was a nun, told Mother John Marie she was praying for her. Eventually, those words caused Mother John Marie to open her heart to the Holy Spirit.
“We can do so much when we say, ‘I’m praying for you,’ or ‘You are loved by God,’” Sister Lucy said. “Let’s use our words to bless people we meet, not tear them down.”
Sister Lucy explained that in the past 50 years, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has taught Catholics to be missionary disciples. “We are disciples because we are always learning. We must study the Word of God in our Bibles so that we are ready to speak to people and console them with the Word.”
Father Kegley, diocesan liaison for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, echoed Sister Lucy’s words.
“The gift that the renewal movement brings to the Diocese as a whole is an experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “It is transformational when people respond to the grace that they received in their infant Baptism and allow the Holy Spirit to truly move in them, so that they become missionary disciples.”
Father Kegley explained that in working with the diocesan movement, he has seen what Pope Francis calls a “current of grace” flow into the entire Church.
“Ministries of evangelization in the Diocese are often led by this movement. I have also seen how the renewal has had a positive effect on family life, as the domestic Church comes under the Lordship of Jesus,” he said.
In his witness talk to the congregation, Father John Large, who grew up in the Charismatic community in St. Mary Parish and is a graduate of Mater Dei Prep (formerly Mater Dei High School), urged anyone unfamiliar with the movement to keep an open mind and heart.
“On a scale of one to 10, the Charismatic Renewal is a 10,” he said. “Without an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, the Church doesn’t have life.”
“The Scripture says, ‘you will know a tree by its fruit,’ and there has been a lot of good fruit that has come out of the renewal movement,” he added.
Benefits of Grace
Susan Chaney of St. Mary Parish said she felt called by the Holy Spirit to attend the conference after hearing about it on social media.
“The benefit for me attending an event like this is not just for me, it is for my whole family. If I can impart to them even a little bit of the grace and peace that I receive here, it is a win-win for everyone,” she said.
Megan Conlon of St. James Parish, Red Bank, said that while not part of a regular Charismatic group, she does occasionally attend events like the renewal conference.
“It is important to make sure Jesus is the center of your life and not let outside forces get you down,” Conlon said. “I would encourage other people to attend events like this because they help you connect with other people and stay rooted in God so that you have hope and aren’t discouraged.”
Added Mary Jean Johnson, a member of St. Veronica Parish, Howell, and its Marathana Prayer group for more than 30 years, “It is important to get together and praise the Lord like this. I always learn something new.”