Last weekend, I was privileged to assist at a retreat for teens preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Although I began working in high school ministry about eight years ago, I experienced something on this retreat that I’ve never encountered.
Our parish is involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, colloquially known for its “Pentecostal” style of prayer. I, however, am still quite new to ‘extraordinary’ manifestations of the Holy Spirit, since I was raised without exposure to charismatic prayer, and have only recently begun attending this parish.
The teens had gone to Confession, and after celebrating Mass, our retreat had reached its climax. Four teams of adults and youth leaders were to pray over individual retreatants, invoking the Holy Spirit. Not five minutes after this began, I was asked to lead one of those prayer teams!
My mind became a bit scrambled. We’d all received instruction for this moment, but I’d never been in such a position, and I don’t consider myself “a charismatic Catholic”. Nevertheless, I pushed aside my qualms and trusted that God knew what He was doing.
That’s when it began to happen.
I raised my hand over a teen’s forehead, and began to praise God. Slowly, I felt like God was whispering words into my heart, and my mouth would speak them: prayers for healing, prayers for joy, words of encouragement and love. Sometimes, our team would stand and wait for a retreatant to approach us. In that silence, I would “hear” God speaking to my heart. “The next teen has fear—much fear—in their life. Assure them that my family is their family.” These words stirred in my heart until a teen approached—and asked us to pray for his incarcerated family member.
I received many such “words of knowledge” in my heart. Sometimes, the truth of those words were confirmed by the teen’s specific prayer request. Other times, I saw confirmation only in their tear-filled eyes. Several teens initially seemed astonished at what had just occurred. That would quickly morph into an incredibly peaceful smile, and they’d hug us in gratitude. Some of them would “rest in the Spirit” as I prayed, falling down or backwards, and my husband would gently catch them. Many later testified that they’d seen beautiful visions or experienced a release of their anger, pain, worries, or fears — a feeling they described as “light” and having been touched by Jesus’ love.
Perhaps this all seems strange to you. If so, I understand! From that night, I learned several truths experientially which I had previously known intellectually:
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) – Interpersonal communication intimidates me; especially with people I don’t know well. Yet, the Holy Spirit made up for my weakness 1,000-fold! While prayers came from my heart and mouth, I knew without a doubt that it was God working through me.
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit…To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4,7) – God gave me extraordinary gifts that night. Those gifts were not meant for me to keep; they were meant for me to share. I felt as if God’s goodness flowed through me. I didn’t know why I said certain things, but I trusted that God had placed those words in my mouth for that teen. Other leaders exhibited other spiritual gifts; only God knows why!
“All of us who have received one and the same Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, are in a sense blended together with one another and with God.” (St. Cyril of Alexandria) – A profound unity grew among the teens. We saw imaginary lines created by stereotypes and cliques, dissolve, as they comforted and cared for one another. I myself felt exactly as Cyril describes: “blended together” with everyone.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) – As I prayed, I exhibited all of these. No words can describe exactly what that felt like. All I could do was praise and thank God.
If you’re in need of hope, comfort, joy, patience, or anything… pray to the Holy Spirit. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit. Say a simple prayer and invite the Holy Spirit into your heart. As someone who once felt unsure when speaking about the Holy Spirit—and who considered charismatic prayer downright strange, I want to encourage you to not be afraid of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Father & Jesus’ gift to us. You received this same Spirit when you were baptized. Don’t be afraid… don’t hesitate any longer: unwrap your gift!