Baptism with the Holy Spirit is an empowering experience, equipping believers for witness and ministry. Extending from this is the belief that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament are to be sought and exercised to build up the church.
This is the story of such an empowerment occurring in the early 80’s as experienced by my mother and sister during a time of worship at a Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting in Florida. May it bless you!
Background: My mother was born in St. John's, Nova Scotia, Canada on June 13, 1917. During the Great Depression, she, along her parents and her many siblings moved to Melrose, MA, where my grandfather was able to find work. They were an Irish Catholic family submitted to, and formed by, the many legalistic conventions of the Roman Catholic Church which was then immersed in a philosophical and theological fundamentalism which was singularly cultic, and in which both shame and guilt were writhing appendages from which it was very often difficult to escape.
This fundamentalism shaped and formed my mother’s prayer life and her way of thinking. She was always ‘spiritual’, and endured her life with grace, but she did not know that a personal relationship with Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit was possible and only a stone’s throw away. She would one day discover this truth in a profound way, but only after she had passed through much of her own life’s journey. It was God’s plan that such a discovery would be indelibly linked to my own story of salvation.
Thus, it was that I, along with my brother and sisters, were also shaped and formed by our mother’s adherence to her deeply held religious convictions and by the rigorous legalistic spirit imbued in them. Ultimately, this authoritarian structure would be rejected by me (as it would be by many of my contemporaries) resulting in an unrestrained plunge into the ways of the world seeking its wisdom.
During this very ambiguous time, if you had asked me, I would have described myself as a Catholic Christian. However, the actual truth was that my Christian faith was primarily cultural, and my knowledge of Christ consisted of learned responses positing truth.
So, when in the summer of 1978, when in a singularly miraculous way through the ministry of Billy Graham, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit (following a time fasting and prayer). In the following years my mother was confronted with a son unrecognizable to her. This son carried a Bible with him boldly proclaiming it anywhere and everywhere he went. From her perspective this was a fearsome and frightful reality, and she was tempted to conclude that her son had lost his way. She was deeply troubled by all of this and believed I had turned away from the ‘one true religion’ found only in the Roman Catholic Church.
However, after several intervening years, and largely due to a terrible and troubling event, this deeply rooted fundamentalist perspective would be definitively expunged.
The Event: It begins like this. Sometime in 1983 my sister Pat, the wonderful mother of five children, was abandoned by her husband of many years who had decided to run off with a young girl. On the very day this occurred, I remember standing in my parlor in Marblehead, MA when I experienced a sharp piercing pain in my spirit. Perplexed, I wondered what it could mean. I would find out its meaning on the day following when my niece Kathy called me with the sordid details. As a result of this ominous disclosure I purchased a flight ticket to Florida to be with my sister to comfort her for a few days. In those intervening days I took my sister to a Catholic charismatic meeting of some wonderful older women who prayed for and comforted Pat. When leaving for home again, I suggested to her that she find a younger group to pray with in the days ahead. She mentioned (as I remember it) that she knew of a very large Catholic charismatic prayer meeting which occurred locally on Friday evenings and I encouraged her to attend. I then left for home.
I discovered later that Pat did not wish to attend this meeting alone and asked my mother to go with her. Because of Pat’s suffering and heartbreak, my mother said “yes”, and as an added declaration said she was also doing it to get me off her “case”.
The Gift: Well, God is amazing, and his timing is always magnificent. During the time of worship on this Friday evening my mother and sister were each visited (simultaneously it seems) by the Fire of God’s Love. Each had been ‘baptized’ in God’s Holy Spirit.
The following Saturday morning while I was still residing in Marblehead, MA came the call of calls from my mother.
Below is a transcript of the call as well as I can depict it:
The phone rings and my wife answers. Suzanne then calls to me:
“Peter, it’s you mother. She wants to speak to you.”
[I immediately wonder if something is amiss.]
Me: “Hello Mom, how are you doing?”
Mom: “Peter, the Lord told me to call you and to say thank you.”
[A stunned pause. I am trying to determine how best to respond to what I just heard.]
Me: “What, I’m sorry Mom, what was that again?”
Mom: “The Holy Spirit fell on me and Pat last evening, and I now understand the truth of what you have been telling me. The Lord said that I should call and thank you.’
Me: “Wow, that’s wonderful Mom. Let’s talk about this some more at a better time.”
Mom: “OK, Love Ya! Bye.”
Following my mother’s call, it took a while for me to grapple with my mother’s testimony which mystified me. However, from that time on it became increasingly clear that God’s love had transformed both my mother and sister to the core of their beings. Each would never be the same again. My mother became the evangelist of Pinellas County, rounding up older men and women and taking them to Life in the Spirit Seminars where they too would encounter the Holy Spirit and Pat became a powerful intercessor and profound lover of her new spouse —Jesus.
[Note: My sister Pat died of brain cancer in the odor of sanctity on October 27, 1986 at the age of 43. She had a passionate love for her new spouse—Jesus, and she offered up her suffering for the salvation of souls.]
The Letter: But that is not the end of this story. Following this call, I would later that week receive the following letter from my mother:
Incredibly, my mother had come to understand that she had been robbed of true intimacy with the Lord due to the religious formation she had received as a youth, and as it encompassed her entire life. This discernment also mirrored my own, as just prior to my salvation encounter I realized a certain level of anger perceiving that a controlling religious spirit had prioritized its own agenda, and by this had robbed me and many others of true intimacy with the Living God.
Despite this, none in the family left the Catholic Church to find ‘higher ground’. Rather, they loved the Church with the love of Christ, and sought to be used of God and to mingle their love for Jesus with service to the Church reaching out to others in need.
[Note: My Mom passed away on July 23, 1994.]
Reflection: It is essential that each Christian come to understand that God the Father loves each Christian to the core of their very being—as if they alone were the only focus of God’s infinite and passionate love. Pray and ask for this empowering experience of the Holy Spirit so that you too will come to know the unsurpassed joy of His transcendent love. Do not hang on to what the material world offers you. Jesus, by His death on the Cross, has obtained for you the gift of intimacy with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
This gift is yours for the asking!