Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled with the Fullness of God by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

My summary notes:
1: Let us Drink the Sober Intoxication of the Spirit with Joy!

“Laeti bibamus sobriam profusionem Spiritus” ~ St. Ambrose

In 1975, addressing the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Pope Paul VI recommended this motto (above) as a way to revive the Church’s life, similar to that of the 4th century “golden age” period.

“[The Holy Spirit] has found you thirsty and He has intoxicated you. May He truly intoxicate you!” ~ St Augustine


Sober intoxication is an enthusiasm (from entheos, meaning “filled with God”) based on the cross and nourished by the cross (10). 

  • Spiritual intoxication is when a person is out of his mind, not because he is bereft of reason, as is the case with wine or drugs, but because he passes beyond reason into the light of God (5).
  • Spiritual sobriety is a type of humility, of realizing that everything is a gift. 

Let us say “yes” to sobriety but with intoxication; “yes” to the cross but with enthusiasm (20). 

Since Jesus attained a life “according to the Spirit” by His cross – that encompassed His whole life – our “yes” to the gift of God – the Holy Spirit – is not genuine or profound unless it has been declared by way of the cross (10). “God gives the Holy Spirit only to those who look like Jesus and only in order that they might become more like Jesus” (12). 

“No one comes to Pentecost other than by way of Easter” (12).

And how are we to become more like Jesus? By denying the flesh to live according to the Spirit (see Gal 5:24-25, Rom 8:13). This death is nothing depressing or sad; it is “being born again” to new life, living in conformity with the resurrected Christ. It means opening ourselves to others with humility, obedience, charity and brotherly service.

Two examples of real charismatics:

  1. St. Ignatius of Antioch: “Now I am beginning to become a true disciple… let me imitate the passion of my God… my earthly desires have been crucified… the living water [that is, the Spirit], which speaks inside me says, “Come to the Father!”
  2. St. Francis of Assisi: Perfect joy is not in doing miracles or raising the dead, it consists rather in being prepared to endure insults even from brothers in the monastery while maintaining charity.  “Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to His friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations and hardships for the love of Christ.

The secret of renewal in the Spirit, which is also the secret for holiness, is thus balance between:

  1. Enthusiasm (or abandonment to the action of the Spirit)
  2. Active, personal commitment. 

“The wine of the Cross is the only wine that produces the intoxication of the Spirit!” (14). 

“The Church is like a body of water, a sea. Like water, it has a marvelous capacity of weighing the objects that are thrown into it: The heavy materialistic things go straight to the bottom, but the light things, those that are devoid of themselves, that are humble, don’t sink. If a certain thing is from the Holy Spirit, it will keep afloat in the Church” (19). 


2: Humility

To fully understand the expression “sober intoxication of the Spirit,” we need to understand the precise meaning of sober

  • An intoxication of the Spirit, in the way it happened on the Day of Pentecost, depends on God;
  • being sober, however, is our part (22). 

An attitude of profound, sincere humility before God – making ourselves empty – is the only thing we can do to allow the Holy Spirit to come and experience another Pentecost. This is how Mary prepared the apostles to receive the first Pentecost. 

To discover the real root of humility, we need, as always, to turn to the only Teacher, Jesus. He said, “Learn of Me; for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). What did Jesus do to be and to call Himself humble? A very simple thing: He abased Himself. He “came down,” but not in His thoughts and speech – no, in His actions! (see Phil 2:6-8) Jesus continued to abase Himself all His life up to the point of death. Jesus proves that humility is not a matter of words but of actual deeds.

“Humility is the readiness to abase oneself, to lower oneself and serve the brothers and sisters; it is having a will to serve. This is all done out of love, not out of any other motives” (24).

Humility is the twin sister of charity; it is self-abasement without self-interest of calculation. Humility is abasing ourselves to serve in love. Evangelical humility is to use our gifts for the service of others.

Humility is always a “negative” virtue because it condemns the base instinct in us to elevate ourselves above our neighbors (26). Since this humility is rarely transparent and pure in us, it always involves something negative, for example, self-denial, a renunciation of anything that is wrong in our intentions and our actions, an abasement of ourselves before we move in the direction of others.

Humility is, above all, a spiritual sobriety, that is, a sober, healthy, non-inflated, non-exalted view of ourselves (see Gal 6:3, Rom 12:3). This humility-soberness consists, then, in a healthy realism that allows us to be truthful before God. Humility is truth. God loves humility because God is Truth and to be humble is to walk in truth.

Since humility means abasing oneself out of love, then God is humility because He can do nothing but lower Himself. Salvation history is a story of successive humble acts by God.

Even Pentecost is an act of humility by God. The Holy Spirit’s descent is a humbling of Himself, taking on the lowly signs like fire, wind, and tongues. He humbled Himself to dwell in needy creatures of flesh, making them His temples (29).

In discovering that God is humility, we have discovered the real reason that we should be humble. We must be humble to be sons and daughters of our Father, to resemble our legitimate Father (30). Being humble before God means being like children, the biblical anawim, that is, the poor who have no one but God to rely on (31).

The truly humble man is one who evaluates himself in God’s light, discovering in Him who he really is and then transferring that truth into his relationships with brothers and sisters (32).

“Humility in the renewal is as important as insulation in electricity. The higher the level of current that goes through a wire, the thicker and more efficient the insulation needs to be; otherwise, there is a short circuit!” (34-5)

3: The Outpouring or Baptism in the Spirit

“The outpouring or baptism in the Spirit is not an event in and of itself but rather the beginning of a journey whose aim is the profound renewal of life in the Church” (38). 

Renewal in the Spirit is an interior conversion of the heart (see Eph 4:23-24) by the power of the Holy Spirit (see Titus 3:5).

The outpouring or baptism in the Spirit is an actualization or revival of the sacrament of Baptism. Since the efficacy of sacraments is a result of a synergy, or collaboration, between divine omnipotence (that is, the grace of Christ and of the Holy Spirit) and free will, the rich collection of gifts we receive at baptism are sealed up until true faith is operative. We must be disciples for baptism to operate in all its power.

“The outpouring of the Spirit is a response by God to the dysfunction in which Christian life now finds itself” (47). 

Jesus “baptizes in the Holy Spirit” in the sense that he “gives the Spirit without measure” (see John 3:34). Jesus has “poured out” His Spirit (see Acts 2:33) on all of the redeemed humanity. This is the essential work of the Risen Christ. Only Jesus can give the Holy Spirit. 

Although the outpouring has a hidden, mysterious dimension that is different for each person because only God knows us intimately and He respects the uniqueness of our personalities, there are also three visible and simple signs in outpourings:

  1. brotherly love,
  2. prayer, and
  3. the laying on of hands (53). 

Simplicity is a mark of divine action. Simplicity should shine forth in prayers, in gestures, in everything. There should be nothing theatrical, no excited movements or excessive words (55). See 1 Kings 19 as an example (Elijah vs. priests of baal).

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

4: Charisms

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (Ephesians 4:7-8)

Christ, resurrected and ascended into heaven, has sent the Holy Spirit and has distributed gifts to men. 

“There is one Body and one Spirit… one God and Father of all… The gift he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists” (Ephesians 4:4, 6, 11)

The essence of the Church has 2 aspects:

  1. Koinonia = unity, or communion
  2. Diakonia = diversity, or service –> Charisms belong to this 2nd aspect, that of service (59).

God has established 2 distinct channels to sanctify His Church, or, one could say, 2 different directions (a dual movement) from which the Spirit blows:

  1. Sacraments – are those shared realities that enable the Church to be above all a communion and a unity (60). Sacraments are “from above” – the switches for electrical current from which an uninterrupted current of electricity flows – the redemptive sacrifice of Christ consummated on the cross. 
  2. Charisms – are particular (and unequal) manifestations of the Spirit given to each person (see 1 Cor 12:7). Charisms are “from below”, that is, from the Church (1 Cor 12:11). The Spirit blows “where He chooses” and whom no one can foresee or determine ahead of time.

“If the sacraments are the established outlets of grace, the charisms are the surprise outlets of grace and of the Holy Spirit… Sacraments are the gifts given to all for each one’s use, while charisms are the gifts given to each one for the use of all. The sacraments are gifts given to the Church as a whole to sanctify individuals; charisms are gifts given to individuals to sanctify the whole Church” (62). 

The purpose of charisms: They are to make the faithful fit and ready to assume the responsibilities of renewing and building up the Church. 

Charity is the more excellent way because:

  1. It makes me love unity – that is, the Church, and concretely, the community in which I live. In the context of unity, all the charisms, and not just certain ones, become mine.
  2. Also, if you really love unity, the charism that I possess is more yours than mine. Through charity, others possess the fruit of your charism without danger what we possess with danger to ourselves ( a reality of sin although we exercise the charism). Charity multiplies the charism; it makes one person’s charism a charism for everyone. 67

Charisms presuppose that a person is in a continuous state of conversion and charisms remain healthy and righteous only in a person who is in that state (68). 

Without charity, “I gain nothing” = the charism does not profit me at all but still may profit the Church.

The Exercise of Charisms

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7)

A charism is a manifestation of the Spirit – a partial but genuine mode of manifestation. The same Greek word used for manifestations of Christ.

Unless the charisms are spontaneous manifestations and natural reflections of the Spirit dwelling in a person’s heart and life, then they either are not truly present or will be quickly spoiled. The charisms can be detached from, or artificial in, the life of the one who exercises them. Even Jesus says that people can exercise charisms and still go to hell (Mt 7:21-23). This is what happens when the gifts of God are abused for one’s own glory or used without the acceptance of the stringent requirements that the Spirit Himself has set in place and that the gospel sums up in the word cross.

The difference between a Christmas tree (good for nothing and discarded as soon as the gifts have been collected) vs. a tree that grows along streams of water (bear new fruit, leaves do not wither, can even go through winter periods of no new fruit but persevere).

We must carry both to the extremes to keep them in balance:

  1. fully accepting the cross in the depths of our souls
  2. so that we can fully experience the Resurrection in the depths of our souls (71). 

All charisms should be exercised in obedience (72). 

Charisms do NOT go together with sin (73). 

5: Anointed

Just as Jesus became fully Christ – that is, anointed, consecrated – by His anointing in the baptism at Jordan, so too those who believe in Him become and are called “christs,” or Christians, through their anointing at baptism (83). 

But consecration is NOT an end in itself. Someone is always consecrated for something, for a purpose. Jesus, who is the source and model of our own consecration, reveals that we are consecrated to share in his triple consecration as:

  1. Priest – to offer spiritual sacrifices (Heb 9:14, Romans 12:1). 
  2. Prophet – to evangelize (Luke 4:18, 1 Peter 2:9)
  3. King – to fight against Satan and establish the kingdom of God (Mt 12:28).

“He is called Christ because He was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit” ~ Tertullian, 80

In the name of “Christ” is implied the one who anointed (Father), the one who was anointed (Son) and the unction itself with which He was anointed (Spirit). ~ St Irenaeus

“The Lord received ointment on His head that He might breathe the odor of incorruptibility into the Church” ~ St. Ignatius of Antioch

“Thus, every life can be rescued from banality and from emptiness if only it is consecrated” (88).

“Because of their consecration, Christians are qadosh, that is, different, holy, separate, set apart. We need to reacquire a sense of being qadosh” (89). 

May this anointing sanctify us and free us from our corrupt human nature so that, consecrated as a temple for your glory, we may spread the fragrance of a holy life” ~ Consecration Prayer for Sacred Chrism on Holy Thursday

6: The Healing Power of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit was the power, the dynamis, that came out of Jesus and healed people (see Luke 6:17-19, 4:14, 5:17). This power still now comes out of Jesus even more truly and more powerfully today, if we can say that, than when He walked the earth (95). 

The Holy Spirit wants to heal the whole man. A stanza of the hymn Veni Creator shows what components of man need healing:

“Light a light in our minds, Pour out love into our hearts, Healing what is sick in our bodies, By your eternal power.” 

Our minds –> light = certitude, truth –> to cure unbelief, idolatry, and superstition. 

Our hearts –> love –> to cure spiritual laziness, the will to power, and spirit of slavery. 

Our bodies –> healing –> compassion, according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, is the organ through which the charism of healing is exercised (112).

7: Pentecost: The Way to Conversion and Unity

We need to strive for both top-down unity (doctrinal – formula) and ground-up unity (ecumenism – lived reality).  Acts of the Apostles (see 2:42-48) outlines this lived reality of unity: People lived together in simplicity and joy, sharing everything. 

4 stages:

  1. The infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). To say that all “were filled with the Holy Spirit” is to say that all were filled to overflowing with love. The Holy Spirit is love. When He is poured out, love is poured out (see Romans 5:5). 
  2. Proclamation of God’s works (Acts 2:5-13). A reversal of the Babel experience (Genesis 11) – from wanting to make a name for themselves to wanting to make a name for God alone – the Copernican revolution. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to perform this Copernican revolution in us too. Let’s make Him our center and proclaim His great deeds. This is why the Holy Spirit was sent! Proclaiming God’s might deeds is also a great antidote to sin. Praise is what best helps us to focus on God.
  3. Conversion (Acts 2:14-18). The Holy Spirit reveals Himself in 2 ways in Scripture: (1) Sanctifying work, (2) Charismatic action. When speaking of charisms, Paul exhorts those who don’t hold charisms highly (1 Thess 5:19-21) and disciplines those who do so (1 Cor 12-14). People need to live in a continual conversion of heart for charisms to stay active.  
  4. God has made Jesus Lord (Acts 2:22-36). We are seeing the kerygma here in its nascent state. “The Holy Spirit has raised up the charismatic renewal chiefly for this: to rediscover and proclaim that Jesus is Lord” (131). Genuine unity revolves around this nucleus. 
8: “Repent, and You Will Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit” 

Repent! With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can change our way of thinking and judging and receive God’s way of thinking and judging. We must offer to God a contrite heart. It is the best gift that you can give Him.

Repent and be baptized…” Peter united repentance to the sacrament. The sacrament is the place in which pardon is proclaimed, celebrated and certified by the Church. 

9: We Were All Made to Drink of One Spirit

In Christian tradition, the theme of sober intoxication of the Spirit is connected to the Holy Spirit insofar as He is “spiritual drink.” An intoxication of grace that makes a man steady at doing good. We must be led by the Spirit. 

Sobriety” is the means through which spiritual intoxication is obtained; the part that man must accomplish is the ascetic change, abstinence from things of the flesh, moderation, and fasting from the world.

We need to practice sobriety (purgative stage) for an extensive period before being able to experience intoxication (unitive stage) (152-3). At the same time, we can remain open to a second path – from intoxication to sobriety – the way that Jesus made His apostles follow. 

The Baptism in the Spirit is the principal instrument by which the renewal is changing people’s lives. It is a kind of epiclesis – that is, an invocation of the Spirit upon a member of the body of Christ. It is a renewal and an actualization of the whole Christian initiation and not only of baptism (158-9). 

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