We know that we aren’t alone in this quest because St Paul has gone before us, referring to counterfeit apostles who were taking fees, unlike St Paul who was either supporting himself or receiving donations from other church communities: 2 Cor 11:13-15
‘These people are counterfeit apostles, they are dishonest workmen disguised as apostles of Christ. There is nothing unexpected about that; if satan himself goes disguised as an angel of light, there is no need to be surprised when his servants, too, disguise themselves as the servants of righteousness. They will come to the end that they deserve.’
St John also has a similar warning for us: 1 John 4:1-2
‘It is not every spirit, my dear people, that you can trust; test them, to see if they come from God; there are many false prophets, now, in the world. You can tell the spirits that come from God by this: every spirit which acknowledges that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh is from God;’
Perhaps it is worthwhile to note that it is at the high levels that this discernment is necessary, not at the mundane levels. It stands to reason that you only bother to counterfeit the high stakes stuff.
On the charism side, Fr Jim Esler s.m., now deceased, moral theologian, had the real thing. When he taught, the impulse was strong to receive that teaching on one’s knees, as was the urge to honour him as thoroughly as possible, because he walked with God, and he left you in awe of God’s mercy and wisdom.
An experience of hearing Fr Raniero Cantalamessa live in Kibble Park evoked similar interior responses.
Then there is the charism of suffering which radiates Jesus, which St John Paul II imparted to us, and which a layman I knew had something similar. There’s an inner radiance in holy people like this, and a weightiness that evokes awe.
Encounters like this, with true examples of holiness, we treasure and never forget.
On the charisma side, being in the presence of Bob Hawke and Blanche was a clear example. They weren’t doing anything but standing still, but still attention was drawn to them as to a magnet.
Maybe we learn more from the ones it took us a while to wake up to.
In this category goes a high-ranking American prelate who came to a Sydney based, but national event. Well-spoken, with gleaming white hair, neat, energetic, and with some excellent initiatives happening in his archdiocese. It certainly looked like he walked the walk, and talked the talk, and yet the homily he gave had none of the heart impact or vista-opening impact expected. You might say there was no Holy Spirit wham behind the glam.
With him goes Scott Morrison, elected as prime minister of Australia on a winning smile, folksy charm, and the hope that God really was no.1 in his life. But as information about bullying tactics and WEF internship grew, so did our disillusionment.
In a similar bucket was Barrack Obama as U.S. president. He looked so suave, cool, and nonchalantly in control. Yet bit by bit the amount of anti-life legislation passed under his administration caused a complete re-think.
Then there was the cleric, unusually gifted with music, and with the kind of gentle dramatic flair that could bring an auditorium of people into prayerful unison. Seemingly completely transparent and trustworthy, and yet now serving time for multiple offences against minors.
To which must be added the cleric with outstanding oratorial and intellectual gifts, preaching the truth brilliantly but not seeing a harvest of converted souls because the hearers either detected a lack of love or weren’t inspired by the content to give God a greater place in their hearts.
Many years it took for the truth to come to the fore for some of these.
Why am I currently mulling this over?
It’s like this: I went down an online rabbit hole recently and read about someone being totally impressed with the livestreamed replay of a pastor’s final session at a major church conference. Apparently there were manifestations of the Holy Spirit to an unusually high degree at this event. Before I commit myself to 2 hours’ viewing, I thought, I’d better get some background on this highly-rated pastor. I didn’t like what I found. Uppermost in those red flags were a lifestyle which included a private jet, and the beginnings of a blog-post - which due to a web page loop I couldn’t click through to the full-length version of - but was more or less saying that patient acceptance of sufferings wasn’t part of what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Take up your cross and follow Me’. Yet this pastor had a mega version of a mega church.
….And I ended up with a lot of questions:
How many of these manifestations of the Holy Spirit were true and how many were counterfeit?
How is it that God can seemingly work so powerfully through a red-flagged person?
How many of those who experienced manifestations of the Holy Spirit will produce a harvest of good?
How big is the risk that we seek manifestations and spectacular works of God, and that we neglect to seek God Himself for Himself?
Since I have seen true manifestations of the Holy Spirit, I know they are real.
On the other hand, if the evil one can counterfeit an angel of light, he can counterfeit anything lesser. Sobering, isn’t it?
I’m also reasonably sure that if what He wants to do in a person’s life is urgent, then God isn’t too fussy about the level of holiness of the means, as long as the means gets the person’s heart to open sufficiently for Him to act.
What else is certain is Romans 11:29: ‘God never takes back His gifts or revokes His choice.’
Which means that true charisms can be operating in someone, albeit at a lower and more mangled level if their lives aren’t corresponding to the degree of holiness necessary to match the charism.
This is rather amazing, because a friend of mine who operated in the word of knowledge charism said that the more her soul had been cleansed by repentance and confession, the more easily this charism flowed.
So what’s the bottom line?
Firstly, that we need to take seriously the need to pray for discernment; and I daresay to pray daily.
Secondly, that whenever we come across someone who appears to be operating in a charism of a higher order than average, that we then have a duty to pray for this person.
Here’s why: If they are already good, prayers will both defend them and help them to become even more effective in God’s service. If they are not so good, and yet they are having this level of impact, imagine how immeasurably greater that impact would be if they grew in goodness. Since often we don’t know if they are at the level of goodness which God desires for them, it makes sense to not bother too much about ascertaining this situation, and to bother instead about praying for them.
Will I watch that conference session video? Probably not.
I’d prefer to spend the limited time I have on content with a better track record of holy sources. But I can’t say never, because at some point in the future God may indicate that He wants me to watch it.
You see, I keep circling back to the notion that if that final night conference session was of the ‘God stepped in’ order of magnitude, then people would be talking about it all over the place; they’d have an inner compulsion to share it far and wide, and as far as I can tell that hasn’t happened.