I was asked recently, “What is Baptism in the Holy Spirit?” My earlier blog on the Baptism of Jesus began the answer to this question. To help explain further, I will post a series of blogs from a theological point of view. For now, I would like to share my personal experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
I first learned about Baptism in the Holy Spirit while reading a book by Ralph Martin titled, The Catholic Church at the End of an Era: What the Spirit is Saying. I read this book two weeks before my ordination to the priesthood. Although I had attended Catholic elementary school, Catholic high school, Catholic college, and Catholic Seminary, and I had never once in my entire life heard anyone use the term Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
One of the things that intrigued me about this book written by Ralph Martin was the number of credible Catholic sources, mainly bishops and cardinals, that were quoted. One priest in particular, Raniero Cantalamessa, was quoted extensively. Cantalamessa, a Franciscan Capuchin Catholic Priest, was the personal preacher to Pope John Paul II for 17 years and has continued as the personal preacher to Pope Benedict XVI for the last 6 years. A priest serving in this capacity for this time frame is noteworthy, because traditionally the pope selects a priest to preach to the entire papal audience every week during Advent and Lent for only 1 year.
Fr. Cantalamessa is also a card-carrying Charismatic. I thought, “If I can’t trust the man who the pope chooses to preach to him, whom can I trust?” Before Fr. Cantalamessa served as preacher to the pope, he was head of the Patristic Deptarment of the Catholic University of Milan. Patristic is the study of the church fathers. What warmed me up to the Charismatic Movement was discovering how Fr. Cantalamessa described the early church fathers speaking about people’s experiences of the Holy Spirit.
On May 18, 1996, I was at my ordination. Laying prostrate before the bishop, I prayed, “Jesus, I know that I’m going to be a priest in the sacramental sense, but I want to be Baptized in the Holy Spirit in the Evangelical, Pentecostal sense, too. I need this Holy Spirit.
Two days after my ordination, I went to St. Charles Parish in Clarendon, Va, where Fr. Richard McAlear was leading a prayer service. I walked into the little chapel, and Fr. McAlear put his hands on my head. Then he did something that I had never heard before: He prayed in tongues.
I remember feeling the Holy Spirit go through me from my head to my toes. I felt a power go thru me. I was filled with the greatest joy I had ever known. I was forever changed. I had personally experienced Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. I knew that what I experienced was no less than what the disciples experienced at Pentecost. I cocelebrated the Mass that night with Father MaAlear, and the first reading was St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. St. Paul asked the people in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became a believer?” They answered, “We didn’t even know that there was such a thing as the Holy Spirit.” Then St. Paul laid his hands on the people, and they prophesied and prayed in tongues.
I began my homily that night by saying, “Twenty minutes ago, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Holy Spirit.” What I meant is that I could have explained the Holy Spirit from a theological point of view, but now I knew the Holy Spirit as a Person. I can have a relationship with the Holy Spirit. We can know the Holy Spirit personally. The Holy Spirit is our friend that never leaves us.
I remember feeling like all of heaven was open and poured into me. I knew in my heart that I was forever changed, and that God had anointed me for spreading the Kingdom of God.
Come Holy Spirit and Renew the Face of the Earth