"Somewhere Under the Rainbow" - reflections by Colin Sutton
Now we come to what I really wanted to share and write on; the beginning and development of The Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community.
Sometime in ’69, our family drove to Melbourne to visit Fr. Dominic Nolan, our Columban friend. This was quite an excursion for us. As a part of this visit we called on the family of a young man, Paul Feain, who had just left the Columban Seminary. It was here that we got to know his family and in particular his mother Kathleen. Paul was going through the experience of leaving the seminary and had decided to go to Sydney for a while and asked us for a lift when we returned. So we squeezed the children and Paul into the car and went home. Paul was going to stay for a few nights, and finished staying for 18 months, something we were very pleased about. So began a warm relationship with the Feain family and, in particular, Mrs. Feain. Paul stayed with us until Emma was born in ’71. This was really something as only a few short years ago my life had been in doubt.
Around this time my real estate career took a dramatic change as I became an executive of a development company on a large salary.
We are introduced to the Renewal.
Some time later, in October 1974, Val became ill with painful gallstones and needed an operation. We were blessed when Mrs. Feain offered to come and stay with us to look after the family while Val was in hospital. It was during this stay that Mary Feain told me about a new move of the Spirit in the Church. I think she referred to it as The Pentecost Movement. Somehow we found there was a prayer meeting at The Holy Name church in Wahroonga, so off Mary and I went. I later returned with Val.
There has been much written about first experiences at charismatic prayer meetings and I recall ours were something the same: the unusual hands up, spontaneous prayer, tongues, prophecy and beaming faces. I remember Val’s comments vividly:”I don’t know what these people have, but I would like to have it too”. The idea of husbands and wives being together appealed to me and as there were many young present, it could also incorporate family.
In those early days the vision of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, as it was now called was new, fresh and exciting. (There had been much discussion in Rome to this name instead of The Pentecostal Movement.) To many, including me, it was a part of the fulfillment of the 2nd Vatican Council’s vision for the Church renewed, the CCR’S role and function being that of renewal, to bring a renewal, to be a part of the new Pentecost that Pope John 23rd prayed for at the beginning of the Council.
Wow! That’s what it really was in the 70s. There was, I believe, an extraordinary grace and power, something like a rocket blast to get it off the ground an event which was happening all over the world. I see it as something initiated by God and not man. That is why I don’t call the CCR a ‘movement’ because a people start movements.
When we first became a part of this renewal via the CCR, the gifts of the Holy Spirit descended as if from heaven and seemed to fall on whoever sought them. We saw many miracles and some of us were frightened. However by the time we were involved, in 1974, the leaders of the CCR (10,000) from around the world gathered in Rome in 1975 for a meeting which concluded in St. Peter’s with Pope Paul 6th accepting the CCR saying: “This authentic desire to situate yourselves in the Church is the authentic sign of the action of the Holy Spirit…. How could this ‘spiritual renewal’ not be a ‘chance for the Church and the world`? And how, in this case, could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so”. The CCR taking itself to the Church and submitting itself was of great importance and encouragement to me.
There has been much written about the Renewal’s move through the Church. It is not the purpose of my writing to go over it all again. I was, and still am, convinced of its authenticity and acceptance by the Church, and am happy and relieved to always place myself under the authority and teaching of the Church. It is wonderful to see that our present Pope John Paul 2 has continued to support this move of God for the renewal of His Church that began in 1903 with Pope Leo 13’s response, via a publication Provida Matris Caritate in 1897 and again in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum illud munus where he, in both cases, asked for a solemn novena to the Holy Spirit in every parish in the Church. My information on this came from a book written by Fr. George Kosieky called The Spirit and the Bride Say Come.
I believe it is fair to say that our lives changed when we started going to the Wahroonga prayer meetings. I see life being full of conversion opportunities presented to us by God. Each one of these that we accept brings us one step closer to God. We are in fact being converted/changed more and more until we become like Him, before we meet Him. First, we receive the Holy Spirit, which is the beginning of our new life; as this spirit grows within us we change and hopefully continue to change.
During the next three years we became more involved in the Renewal. The prayer meeting moved from Wahroonga to Waitara and I became involved in leadership, being the leader of the prayer meeting, the Coordinator of the Sydney CCR. So with six wonderful children, an executive job and our involved and committed life and role in the Renewal, life was’ to say the least, busy.
I recorded in my journal 28-6-77 some of the changes that happened in those first three years [page 5-8]
What does being a Christian mean?
Some years ago my response to that question would have been: If you believe in Christ then I suppose you are a Christian. But the next problem I came across was how to live the Christian life. Maybe the question could be: Do we Catholics live a Christian life? Are we receiving all the graces we need? Are we entitled to be called Christians?
This is where my problem became more apparent. I’m not sure whether I didn’t know what to do, or, whether I did know what to do but didn’t understand how to do it or, indeed, whether I wanted to do it and found too many things preventing me from doing so. I feel that maybe I am a better Christian. Certainly I feel freer than I was three years ago, not because of any good I may have done but, because of my participation in a Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting, I have had a different relationship with and understanding of, my God.
When I first attended the Wahroonga prayer meetings, I found people sharing their prayers, people who were talking to God, not only talking about Him. There was a distinct presence of God in the room---something I had had a glimpse of at various occasions in my life. Here, it was more sustained. The people didn’t seem embarrassed to mention the name of Jesus or to praise his name aloud, or pray aloud a prayer from their heart. I found myself a little awestruck and unaccustomed to the atmosphere, the praying in tongues. Hearing someone speak prophecy in the first person, I began to have some doubts. However I knew something was happening and that I should find out more, so I came back again and again to find out more. That’s another story, a long tale of my growth in the Renewal. Over the last three years I found I learned that:
- God loved me. That might not mean much to some, but I was all too aware of my bad points;
- God wanted me to be holy, (an impossible task I thought);
- As a child of God I was part of his family. In fact, Jesus prayed that my relationship with the Father would be the same as His was with the Father;
- If I wanted, I could become a disciple of Jesus;
- I could become a part of the Kingdom of God;
- God was bringing His people together in a very special way;
- God wanted to heal His people;
- God was pouring out His spirit all over the world, in all His churches, not just the Catholic Church;
- The Bible was the most exciting book I had ever read and I was virtually eating it. I was reading it at every opportunity and the words were jumping out of the pages;
- God wanted me to make Him the center of my life.
- God wanted me to be filled with His Holy Spirit. That’s what would make me holy, not merely following the rules;
- God wanted me to have the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As gifts, I didn’t have to earn them or they weren’t gifts but rewards;
- Using these gifts and graces, I would be able to be a better Christian;
- The gifts, graces, love and happiness I received were not just for me to keep to myself, but to give away to others, to share and spread;
-My outlook was changing; I could feel God working in me;
-I was being given a part in God’s kingdom;
- God didn’t want me to work for Him but with Him.
I could go on and on but I can only give a glimpse of what God has planned for us. Maybe He is calling YOU! I know that God doesn’t lie, that He doesn’t have favorites. He wants us to be happy and holy, and being holy means being filled with the Holy Spirit. Then, maybe, we can carry out the great commandment: “ Love one another as I have loved you and, by this, will all men know that you are my disciples.”
I believe that God is renewing His church--- in my case, the Catholic Church. It is not a new religion; we are not an elite group; the Renewal should not be set apart from the Church but be incorporated as a renewal of the Church by way of God’s outpouring of His spirit like a new Pentecost. If God wants to renew my faith, if God wants to fill me with his Holy Spirit, if God wants to draw His people together, then I say, “Praise the Lord!” This, as I said, came out of my prayer journal which I began in 1977. What I am attempting to do is tell the story as and how it happened, to try to keep alive the original call and vision, and let it unfold as it happened over the years.
While writing this I am conscious of the very normal parts of life that we were living, with a growing family, work and balancing the budget. However this story is about a journey of faith, specifically with the CCR and DOJ.
From 1974 to 1979 I was very busy in the CCR as the leader for Sydney and a member of the National Service Committee. There were large conferences with international speakers in most of which I had a major role. It was all very exciting. In one of these we joined with a Protestant group called Temple Trust. We invited Cardinal Freeman to be present at a closing Mass with some 120 priests concelebrating. After Mass the priests formed large Congo type line and danced through the crowd of 4000, the Cardinal and five Bishops quietly looking on.
The renewal was booming at this time with prayer meetings popping up all over the world. In Sydney I saw thousands come to know the Lord in a personal and powerful way. There were healings of body and mind being given by God, and a hunger for scripture and knowledge of God drawing people together.
It appeared that the Lord wanted to build something, He was about calling a people for a mighty work. The church as outlined in the 2nd Vatican was being changed, and the laity were being given a major role in bringing this renewal about. One way was the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. This was the way the Lord called me. This was where I was going to have an incredible conversion and change of life.
Some extraordinary happenings.
There are many events I could recall but time for the moment will not permit. There are a couple that quickly come to mind.
We were members of a prayer group that started in Wahroonga parish, later moving to Waitara. We as a group used to pray weekly that the Lord would send someone to us whom we could help in His name. He answered that prayer regularly. The following is one of these answers:
Val said that the Lord never sent anyone to her and then, one day, the Lord did. I was sitting in the lounge room reading from the book of Ruth when the doorbell rang. Answering the door I found a young woman who, to my astonishment, said. “Could you please help? I was driving on the expressway when my eyesight went and I could not see, and yours was the first house I saw. Could you please help, maybe to take me to a doctor?” Well! To say the least, I was surprised. Val heard the bell from the bedroom, and called out, “ Who is there?” I told her that there was a young woman at the door who could not see and who was asking for help. Val replied, “ well ask her in.” When Val came out the woman repeated her story. I should explain that our home in Edwards Rd. was a long way from the expressway and would not be en route. So, on Val’s instructions, I phoned our doctor explaining what the women had told me and requested an appointment. Whilst the doctor thought the story to be a bit odd, he did (we knew him quite well) examine her saying that yes her eyesight was impaired and suggested that could have been caused by extreme strain, or some kind of trauma. He suggested that she shouldn’t drive, asking if it were possible for her to stay overnight at our home.
While I was at the doctor’s Val noticed her car in our driveway, so she had a look and saw a Jerusalem Bible on the seat. Val thought that maybe the Lord was in this strange happening.
Val invited the woman to stay the night, and she accepted, even though as she didn’t know us.
That night we were supposed to go out with two priest friends who were coming off the first Priests’ Retreat held by the CCR in Sydney. We decided to stay home.
The next morning Val had the opportunity to talk with the woman who told her story. She had been a nun for thirteen years and had recently left the order, and was now on her way back from Qld. where she had been talking with the order about her situation. This had distressed her. On her way home to Melbourne her eyesight started to fail; she was scared. Ours, she said, was the first home she saw. She stopped her car, walked down our drive, and rang the doorbell. When I opened the door, she saw a crucifix and a small plaque of Our Lady. She felt safe and at peace.
The next morning we prayed for her and we all went to the Columban Seminary for Mass with our two friends.
Some weeks later we received a letter from the order confirming everything, saying that they had been most concerned for her, as she had been very upset and depressed, but when she returned to Melbourne there had been a tremendous change in her and that she was fine.
Some time later she called back to see us on her way to Darwin as a Palm missionary.
I record this to give glory to God and thanksgiving for answering Val's prayer.
The Renewal grows and questions are asked.
The Renewal was growing at an amazing rate. Things good and not so good, were happening. A coordinating body was formed in each state, each having a representative on a National Service Committee. This all functioned well. There was an International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office in Rome and, bingo, we were becoming part of the Church. With this came many criticisms, some valid, others not. I remember I was constantly being challenged, some of which I recorded on June 77 on page 9 in my journal as follows.
What’s so new about the Charismatic Renewal?
How Catholic is the Charismatic Renewal?
What do you think Jesus would have to say about the Charismatic Renewal?
(Please remember that I am recording my thoughts of 1977.)
I’m used to criticism. I remember when I became a Catholic twenty-one years ago, a lot of my friends and relations thought I was wrong. I remember being aware of the presence of God and having a desire to find out the truth about the Catholic faith. I saw that my Catholic friends really lived their faith so, as I mentioned earlier I visited a priest once a week for six months to find out what it was all about. I became a Catholic. I have experienced criticism through my involvement in the Renewal also, not quite as vocal … more of a silence when any mention of a prayer meeting is made. I understand this attitude because most of us like to be accepted by our friends; most of us want to do the right thing where God is concerned. Sometimes this can be difficult. We are swayed by the thoughts or acceptance of our peer group. Nor is this the problem only of the young or the uneducated.
One of my first impressions of a prayer meeting was that perhaps people were too emotional. It appeared that some had problems! This had a tendency to turn me off! I wondered where Jesus was going to draw these people? At such a meeting how many people do you want to see who have problems? Try walking up to a stranger or even a friend and saying, ”Look will you sit down for ten minutes and listen to my problems?” I found that Jesus wanted us to give Him our problems. He was interested; He loved us; He wanted to heal us, and He wanted to be our brother…. How does that make you feel? A little emotional? What about when you’re healed and all the hurt and heartache are replaced with joy and peace? Heaven forbid you might even put your hand up in the air and say,“ Praise the Lord!”
I have seen people released from years of burden and pain, that much counselling could not fix, but through the love of Jesus, they have been completely healed. I’ve seen people with physical ailments both instantly and progressively healed, and we judge them as being too emotional.
I have found that God does things His way, not mine. I have tried to direct Him but he insists on doing it His way. Are we guilty of wanting God to conform to our way of thinking? Do we think that God should be restricted to work only in areas of which we approve? Do we have private ownership of Jesus? Of course not. The Spirit moves where it will.
I learnt not to get hung up on what I wanted or didn’t want. Take the gift of praying in tongues. I thought Lord I like the peace of these meetings, the people and joy, but I’m not too sure about Tongues. Did I really think that, after forty years of being patient with me during my clumsy journey through life, Jesus was going to thrust a new language upon me? (I now have the gift, but that is another story) The gifts of the Holy Spirit are available, true, but the Lord won’t give them if they’re wrong for us. I believe that God knows what is best for me; if he doesn’t, then I’m in trouble.
I realised I had to learn to grow in the Spirit, and to continue to grow all my life. I will never be able to say that I have grown enough, that I have reached the fullness that God wants me to attain. It is a continuous thing for all of us no matter what stage we have reached, or what vocation we have. We should be growing all the time.
I found that, coming together with a community of people in prayer, people who want to grow, can be healed, be a part of God’s Kingdom. They are able to share and hear others share, to help and be helped, to love and be loved, to be drawn closer to the Father, to hear what it is that Jesus wants. This is what can happen at a prayer meeting, and it was here, through the Holy Spirit and the charismatic gifts, that I have been enabled to grow. I will continue to relate some of my early-recorded experiences of the Renewal, as I see that I was being given a great privilege.
Great men and women, upon whose shoulders we now stand, were laying foundations. By the grace of God I knew many of these people. Somehow I’m still around and have this opportunity to keep alive some of the Vision and Call that came alive to me.
Next: I wonder what the Lord would say?