Is charismatism good or bad?

Charisma or the ability to attract people, charm, suaveness, whatever —  is hailed as one of the desirable traits.  It is no wonder that the then-new, now-old, evangelical movement in the Kerala Syro-Malabar Roman Catholic church was called by the name ‘charismatic movement’ or simply ‘charismatism.’

It was the late 1980s, and Kerala Tourism had not officially coined the tagline “God’s Own Country” but the general socioeconomic conditions were quite close to that.  The state had its own television broadcasting station that was less than five years old, thus the culture and civilization were unaffected by the corrupting western influence. (Although that is debatable.) Due to the centuries-old Christian-missionary influence the state had very high literacy levels, high healthcare and low infant mortality rates on par with developed nations.  The standard of living was high.  And the Roman Catholics here (which consisted of the Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, and Latin rites) lived a pious life.

Along with other changes on the macro-level, a movement called “Charismatic movement” or Charismatism started to grow its roots in Kerala.  I am a practicing Christian, a Roman Catholic from the state who would like to chronicle the timeline like this.

At first a lot of people were skeptical about going to charismatic conventions but a lot were enthusiastic also.  The major factor that attracted the believers was the miraculous healing that took place on those convention sites.  People who had chronic illnesses testified of becoming healed.  The mechanism was like this.  We would hear a lot of in-person testimonies on stage.  If your illness is cured you are also supposed to come on to the stage and testify it before other people.  There was the news of a lot of healing, big and small, but no dead man ever came to life again.

Another news that spread during those initial days was that big businessmen, catholic businessmen, were the biggest sponsors of those conventions spending mind boggling amounts of cash.  What faith, and what a benevolence – it started to feel something like that during those days.

Now, I say something like this.  A businessman wants to make a profit.  If something is beneficial to him he spends money (or invests – in their parlance ) for it.

Then came one-on-one contacts.  One nun told me, “You are from a good family. You are a privileged person.  It is considered something fortunate”.

Now I know.  It is pride. One who obeys the law, the scriptures, is considered even more fortunate.

Another nun told me.  Everyone should come to this ashram and pray. After sometime this ashram will become a big house of prayer.  It shall become world-famous”.

What was that again? Ambition? That too in the Holy Catholic church?

Also people got ‘counseling’ in those initial days.  (Still gets from a qualified counselor.) People used to tell-all to an unskilled counselor only to let that person slip their secrets to someone else.

I once met our teacher, a Catholic priest, on the bus during my journey to another town which is 30 minutes away.  He was embarrassed, at least tried to conceal his embarrassment in his words.  He went something like this, “Some say there is a lot of virtuousness in these conventions.  Let me go and see.”  I saw him a few years ago.  Incidentally, he is the headmaster of the school.

Things changed very rapidly from those days.  Television broadcasting station with one-or-two channels (one-local and one-national) made way to Cable TV with multiple foreign channels, and now DTH services.  Internet and Windows PCs became ubiquitous.  Ladies dress’ changed.  Jeans and cotton-top clad ladies riding the scooter and driving the car became the norm rather than the exception.

People became more ambitious.  The charismatic movement and charismatism had its inroads to every facet of Catholic life in the state.  But after all these years, the church looks something different now.  Evangelists and believers both alike became business-minded rather than holy-minded.  It looks something more similar to Evangelical Protestantism than Catholicism.

As William James, the father of modern American philosophy puts it – you can’t have two opposites at the same time.  As Jesus puts it, you can’t have two masters at the same time.  A businessman wants to amass money, a saint wants to give ‘em all.

It is said that Judas Iscariot knew that Jesus was son of God.  “But why should I forgo 30 talents of silver? Jesus will save himself.  He has done it many times over.”

As Jesus said, if salt loses its saltiness it becomes worthless, only to be thrown outside and trampled under the feet of men.

We shall pray, Jesus saves the world.  Jesus saves the Holy Catholic Church.  Amen.