"A lay Catholic perspective"

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Interview with Father Stan Jaworski

by Cecile Flater


Monsignor Stan Jaworski, Pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, has been active in the Charismatic Renewal for many years. He was interviewed by Christine Kaskiw and Cecile Flater of Olive Leaf, who focused on how the Charismatic Renewal has affected the life of his parish and his life as a parish priest. The following is Cecile's account of their meeting.

OL: Father Stan, how did you become involved in the Charismatic Renewal?

That's a very interesting question. It's absolutely amazing how I did and how God works. I was parish priest in Souris, Manitoba. There were three churches in one setting. There was St. Mary's Catholic Church, St. Paul's United Church and Gospel Tabernacle Church. Maurice Jacobson from the Gospel Tabernacle Church could see from his church the light in my office so he came over one evening. He asked me, "Do you want to know what's going on in the Catholic Church?" He brought me a tape from the Duquesne University from l969. I listened to the tape. It was a commentary about these Duquesne University students who went on a retreat and how they were touched by the Holy Spirit. Low and behold, shortly afterwards I got a call to go to Winnipeg to John XXIII Parish. The secretary there was Florence Polsen who had been to a Life in the Spirit Seminar, and she was floating on cloud nine. She was talking about this and I kept thinking to myself, you have to come back down to earth some more. She was really excited! Bless her because that woman was a real evangelizer. She encouraged me to take a Life in the Spirit Seminar which was taking place on Lydia Street at the Sacred Heart Parish in Winnipeg around l972 or l973. So I took the Life in the Spirit Seminar at that time. I was deeply touched. I like to think of what St. Paul says that you should fan into a flame that which God has given to you. There are different occasions in one's life where you are touched or your faith is deepened. The Life in the Spirit Seminar was one of these great experiences for me in which not only was my faith deepened but my vocation as a priest was also strengthened.

I remember being prayed with and moved by those who prayed with me and coming home filled with happiness and enthusiasm. At the same time I was attacked. I was getting opposition immediately from places I'd least expected it.

I attended the l973 Notre Dame University Conference. There were 23,000 or more people there. Some people came from Winnipeg. Sr. Imelda Samson, Milly Dumas, and I travelled together. I was having back problems so it was painful to drive all that distance. It rained and poured before we got there for the last two days. But when the conference started, and they began to sing "Come Holy Spirit", the sky broke through, the clouds opened up and the bleachers were all dry. I'll never forget this conference. It was non-stop rain before we got there and when the conference started, it all stopped! When I came home from this experience, I was riding on cloud nine. I was greatly touched by the enthusiasm, the singing, the music, and the talks.

In l975, I went to Rome with a whole bunch of people from Winnipeg and all of Western Canada. Over 100 people came on that plane. Florence was one [of the people] who organized this. There were about 10,000 people from different countries of the world who came to the conference that was being held at the Catacombs of St. Callistus.

I remember when Pope Paul VI entered St. Peter's Basilica on Pentecost Sunday of l975. He was being carried on the Sede Gestatoria (the papal chair) by Swiss guards. The choir or schola was singing the entrance antiphon of the Mass. Then 10,000 people started singing "Alleluia". When the Pope preached he said, "This Renewal is a chance for the Church."

The petitions were said in nine different languages. When the Pope finished his homily he said in English, "JESUS IS LORD!" Everybody clapped. During the Mass, which Pope Paul VI was saying, a dove flew in the window of the cupola in the dome. It hovered around the top and settled to the ledge. How beautiful!

OL: How do you see the Charismatic Renewal being integrated into the parish?

We're trying. Some people think that this is a fringe thing, only for some people. This Renewal is for everybody. Not everyone has the same style of praying and it doesn't mean that everyone has to do the same thing. But this is what Pope Paul VI said and others have said since then, that this is a work of the Holy Spirit, in our time. This is a chance for the Church to come alive, to really come alive.

We have many people who are involved and yet there are some people who are busy and they don't take time to get involved. We've had different occasions where we've had a Life in the Spirit Seminar which is basically "Romans 8". It's all there talking about how we are to live a new life in the Spirit. That's what it's all about! But sometimes people get reservations and they hold back. I remember some people, whom I admire and respect, preaching about this as something that's meant to be down the main aisle of the Church. It's not meant to be a fringe thing or something off to the side in small groups. It's meant to bring life to the Church. It is a true work of the Holy Spirit in our times right now!

We've had some special speakers. We still try to bring in people. This year we had a retreat with Sr Nancy Keller and Sr Pauline Cinquini. Now Sr Nancy was involved in Rome. She was stationed there at the International Centre for the Charismatic Renewal. She came here from Asia, and after leaving here she went to Brazil to speak to 30,000-40,000 people. So these are people who have a message for us to hear and listen to. She was remarking on how, in Haiti, the people would get up at two or three in the morning and they would walk miles and miles to come to a conference and then they would sit in the hot sun all day long just to be there. She talked about Tanzania in Africa where witch doctors would come into a conference and they'd bring up their tools of witchcraft and leave them there.

OL: How does the Charismatic Renewal affect the life of your parish?

A lot of people who have been touched by the Renewal are reading scriptures. Many of them come to daily Mass when they are able to. Theyíre involved and generous with using their gifts and talents. Certainly they are not bench warmers. Many of them are more prayerful. There seems to be a greater hunger and thirst to know more and to grow in their relationship with the Lord. It deepens their faith so that Jesus is not way off there someplace. He becomes personal. The relationship with God changes. It's more trusting and loving.

OL: What spiritual resources would you advise someone make use of who is just coming into a conscious awareness of Christ, so that they can grow securely in the Lord?

It's true that the experience is not necessarily going to last all the time. Some people think that emotion is a bad thing. Emotion is okay. But not emotionalism, and we're not involved in emotionalism. It's interesting to note what St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, had to say about feelings and emotions. In one of his rules for spiritual growth he declares, "it is not extensive knowledge that satisfies the soul and gives it fulfillment, but the feeling and savoring of things from within." (Rule 2)

I think just living your life with the various trials as a Christian, especially today, is difficult. We come down to reality pretty fast. The reality of living out the Gospel and trying to be Christ-like in the world today is a challenge.

The Sacraments are a source of strength and I see many people come to the weekday Masses more frequently. I find the scriptures and the hunger for the word of God very helpful. Those who have shared with me are more open to hear what God is saying to us in scripture. The scriptures do help to ground people in the Lord more, teaching them how to live the Gospel and carry their cross daily.

OL: How open do you find priests are to the Charismatic Renewal in their own parish and having prayer meetings there?

Sr Nancy Keller remarked how many of the priests in Asia and Korea were involved in the Renewal. I feel it's very important that the priest be involved because if they're not then sometimes the direction that should be given is not given — therefore, it's a loss to the Church.

I guess I have to be honest. I'm happy that there are some priests who are open and encouraging and I'm also sad that there's a lot of resistance to the Charismatic Renewal for whatever reasons. Sometimes it's because some people have gone off in the past. You see, the Church is always going to attract people who have problems and may be struggling with difficulties, even various neuroses. So, you'll find that happening wherever the Church is. But because sometimes there hasn't been the direction that should have been given to the Renewal, some people and priests look at that and then they just wipe their hands clean and won't have anything to do with it.

OL: How can parishioners support their parish priests better?

By trusting that the priest doesnít want to lead people astray. He wants to help them to grow in their relationship with God and with each other. Sometimes there is mistrust. Like, what is this all about? What are you trying to do? Are you trying to make this parish a charismatic parish? You see, that attitude won't work. All that charismatic means is that we are exercising the gifts that God wants to give us. The whole matter of the Renewal is just yielding to these gifts, to what God wants to do with us. The Charismatic Renewal in a sense is "living out our Confirmation."

Sometimes it's there as a latent gift. Some people use the example that it has to be stirred up. We talk to the Confirmation candidates and we tell them that if you've got all this chocolate at the bottom of a glass of milk, you don't get chocolate milk until you stir it up. Well, that's an example that we have to be stirred up or awakened and not just be trudging along. I like the example that God has called us to fly like eagles and yet we're happy and satisfied to be like chickens scratching in the dust.

OL: Your enthusiasm for the Charismatic Renewal is evident. What gives you such joy about it?

It's helped me as a priest. I feel that God has been good to me. I am very grateful for all your prayers for me and all the priests. For instance, the Sister that we buried today used to tell me that she prayed for me every day. So, that is an encouragement. There are people like that who remember. Hurt comes when you get attacked because you are trying to do something you believe God is calling you to do. You feel this is God's work and there's a resistance to it.

What we forget is that before the turn of the century, Pope Leo wrote an encyclical on the Holy Spirit. He was encouraging every bishop in the world to have their diocese have a novena to the Holy Spirit before the feast of Pentecost. I often think because we didn't take that seriously enough, God wasn't going to stand back and wait. One example of what happened is an outburst of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Topeka, Kansas, in the Pentecostal Church. And now we have all these Pentecostal Churches which even among themselves are sometimes divided, unfortunately.

Before the turn of the century we were reminded of the forgotten person, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus himself says that he won't leave us orphans . He will send to us the advocate, the comforter, the paraclete. He must go because if he doesn't, he can't send us the Holy Spirit. We read all that in the Holy Scriptures, in 1 Corinthians about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some people get all hung up on tongues and they say, "Well, whatís this all about?" But that's only one aspect of the Holy Spirit and the scripture says that's the least of the gifts. There are all kinds of gifts and the greatest gift is love.

OL: We're approaching the Jubilee Year 2000, what further contributions do you feel the Charismatic Renewal will offer the Church?

There are all kinds of predictions being made as there were before the year 1000. But what encourages me is that our Holy Father knows what goes on in the world. He's in contact with all the bishops of the world. He is a man of hope and he tells us not to be afraid. In other words, he's talking about a new springtime in the Church and that's what gives me hope. I look forward to that bursting forth of a new springtime when we will really appreciate what we have as Christians, as Catholic Christians. And this will all become vibrant and effective in our lives.

Ralph Martin has written a book called, The Catholic Church At The End Of An Age: What is the Spirit Saying? In the first part of his book, he talks about all of the things that have happened in this century and it's amazing. God is showing us that in spite of all the wars we've had, he is still pouring out his Holy Spirit as he never has before. It's important for us to be aware of that and to counteract the misery. I strongly believe that there is a warfare going on, a spiritual battle for souls. And it's evident all around us. Pope Paul VI wrote in the l970's that the devil is not a figment of the imagination. There's a real force in the world. That's the battle that's going on.

OL: How has the Charismatic Renewal affected you personally, as a priest?

It's helped me in the way I pray. I belong to a group of priests called the Fraternity of Priests. But we are so far away from each other. To get together is difficult. But we do manage to meet to pray together sometimes. We also share our faith at these gatherings. In the Fraternity of Priests we are called to spend an hour in prayer. That's not counting the breviary or the rosary. Personally I thirst and hunger for prayer. I don't always make as much time for prayer as I would like to. I continue to experience a deep call to give more time to prayer.

The Charismatic Renewal has also helped me because some of the conferences I've taken in have changed my way of preaching. Even the way I pray before preaching has changed. Also now, there is more life to the scriptures. When I reflect on the scriptures, even in the daily readings it really speaks to my heart. I thank God for that.