The Life Giver
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
On Saturday evening, the 3rd of June 2006, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI welcomed half a million members of the ecclesial movements and new communities to St. Peter's Square, Rome, to celebrate with him the Vigil of Pentecost. In his Papal Homily he recalled how his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in a similar meeting on 30th May 1998, described their associations and communities as 'providential', especially "because the Sanctifying Spirit makes use of them to reawaken faith in so many Christian hearts and to reveal to them the vocation they have received with Baptism. He also helps them to be witnesses of hope filled with that fire of love which is bestowed upon us precisely by the Holy Spirit." The Pope's homily then took a practical turn. "Let us ask ourselves now, at this Pentecost Vigil, who or what is the Holy Spirit? How can we recognize him? How do we go to him and how does he come to us? What does he do?" To put it in another way: How do I know I have the Holy Spirit?
The Biblical answer is simple and even obvious: I know I have the Holy Spirit because I have a New Life (Rom 6:4). This is endorsed by the Nicene Creed at Mass: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life Giver (or Giver of Life). But then, What is life? Life is not just existence. A table exists but it does not live. Life is a quality of existence, of being. I came to understand this more clearly from a mother's complaint to me as School Principal about her son's lack of interest in his studies, "Father, when he sits with his books before him, he looks bored, seems half dead and even falls fast asleep. But you must see him on the hockey field - full of life. We can hardly believe he is our same son." I realized this even more compellingly from a retreatant's spontaneous testimony after being prayed over for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, "All these years I only existed. Now I feel I have begun to live."
But then what is this New Life? The NewLife (I prefer to put it as one word) is the life of the Spirit, the source and substance of which is so well described by Jesus himself at the Last Supper as: "The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name … to be with you for ever" (Jn 14:26,16); "… and he will be in you" (Jn 14:17); "and then we (my Father and I) will come to you and make our home with you (Jn 14:23). The NewLife is therefore nothing else (and nothing more) than the presence (and the concomitant or resulting love and power) of three glorious persons, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, living within a person who loves and obeys Jesus. "His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, emanates from him and enters our hearts, thereby uniting us with Jesus himself and with the Father, the Triune God. Pentecost is this: Jesus, and through him God himself, actually comes to us and draws us to himself. The Holy Spirit, through whom God comes to us, brings us life and freedom." (from the Pope's Homily).
But then how can one know that he has the Blessed Trinity living within him and consequently the NewLife of the Spirit? In three ways: Firstly, by the 'Signs of the Spirit', not because this is the most important indication of NewLife, in fact it is the least important, but it is often the most immediate one. The most common signs of the presence of the Spirit are a deep inner peace, a love that reaches out to others and a joy on one's countenance.
But on the one hand there can be great startling signs of the spirit, like being slain or resting in the spirit or the gift of tears or the gift of laughter. Like the Irish professor of St. John's Seminary, Hyderabad, who testified that after being prayed over with his seminarians for the Baptism of the Spirit he could not help crying and crying tears of joy and he added that he needed this sign. Or the Professor of Loyola College, Chennai, who after the Baptism in the Spirit on Pentecost Day to 135 Jesuits of Madurai province in South India, was laughing and laughing and could not stop laughing. His fellow Jesuits thought he had gone mad. So I asked him myself with some concern, "Why are you laughing?" He stared at me as if I was disturbing him and replied, "Because I am happy," and continued laughing. He became one of the most noted charismatic Jesuit preachers in South India. But these signs are meant mainly for the person concerned and are meant finally to disappear.
On the other hand however there may be no signs - and often the best sign is no sign because it then demands faith. Like the Italian Parish Priest of Kazipet in Central India who in reply to my question after being prayed over for the Baptism of the Sprit, "How do you feel", said, "I feel like a stone". The next day I asked him the same question and he replied, "Still like a stone". But two weeks later he wrote to me a beautiful letter in which he said that he was gradually experiencing unbelievable changes in his priestly life and ministry.
Secondly, (more important than the Signs), by the 'Gifts of the Spirit'; not the seven sanctifying gifts which are the confirmation of personal holiness and are meant for every Christian, but the nine charismatic gifts which are the workings of the power of the Spirit and are given as the Spirit wills for ministry within the church. But there are three of these gifts which I believe personally we should all be open to and even pray for: the gift of tongues which I prefer to call the gift of effective prayer by the Holy Spirit, the gift of prophecy, which I prefer to call the gift of effective proclamation of the Word of Jesus and the gift of healing, which I prefer to call the gift of effective love from the Father God.
Thirdly, (even far more important than the Gifts), by the 'Fruits of the Spirit' (Mt 7:16), the only indisputable evidence of the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), such as converted the sinner Magdalene into the Saint Mary and changed the persecutor Saul into the Apostle Paul, a spiritual transformation that will unfold itself in one's threefold relationship: with God, with others and within oneself.
With God the Father: in the sense that God, whom before one may have kept aloof or been fearful of, is now experienced as a loving Daddy, and so one discovers a new taste for prayer and experiences a new power in prayer, which is the verbal expression of divine Sonship. During the opening night adoration at the priests' retreat I was giving in Trichur Diocese, Kerala, a priest made a prayer that made everyone to laugh haltingly. I was afraid that Bishop Kundakulan, who was then wary about the Charismatic Renewal, would even stop the retreat. But immediately after an uneasy silence another priest was bold enough to make this prayer: "I thank God my Father that for the first time I have laughed in church, for I now realize that, if there is any place in the world where I should be most at ease, it should be in the house of my Abba, my Daddy". All the priests now laughed unrestrainedly.
With Jesus: How many have testified that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit at a charismatic retreat has made Jesus alive to them. And as a consequence the Bible has become the most important, if not the only, book in their lives. At a retreat, at Aloor, in Kerala, South India, a prominent layman, known as 'Louvain Doctor', because he had obtained his doctorate in Theology at that famous Belgian University, testified: "I recently attended a Theological Seminar to update myself. There I heard that many of the miracles of Jesus could be explained naturally, that angels and devils don't exist, etc. Now in this retreat I have got back my faith". When I was the director of the Catholic Charismatic Bible College in Mumbai, I often wondered how could these young lay leaders take leave to do the one year residential Scripture course and even resign from their lucrative jobs if they had not fallen in love with Jesus.
With the Spirit: in the sense that I will not remember the Spirit only once a year at Penteocst, but will be constantly aware of his presence and power working in and through me as my Paraclete (by my side, my advocate and my intercessor).
With others: The Baptism in the Spirit must also bring about a significant change in one's relationships, especially in one's marriage, one's family and one's immediate neighborhood. How many husbands have come into the Renewal because of the change they have seen in their wives, and vice versa; how many parents have done so seeing the change in their children and vice versa. A woman brought her three sons aged 8, 10 and 12 years for prayers at a priests' retreat in Tellicherry, Kerala. She told me that they would be fighting everyday not only with blows and but even with penknives, and everyday there were wounds to be dressed. Her husband could not control them, and he had taken to drinks; she herself had become a nervous wreck and even wanted to commit suicide.
I told her that if she wanted to change them, she had to change herself first. After the introductory talk and during the evening adoration at the retreat that she was invited to make at Spirituality Centre, Kottayam, Kerala, she now realized that the Lord himself had brought her here to be transformed. She stopped being anxious about changing her sons but surrendered them to the Lord to be changed by his Spirit. When she returned home after the retreat expecting the worst in her absence, she found instead a remarkable change in them. They still fought verbally but never with blows and much less with penknives.
Some years later I was conducting the Holy Week retreat at the same retreat centre. After the Easter Vigil service a young man asked me whether he could bring his sick mother to be prayed over. He drove the whole night to the town where they lived and brought her in time for the Easter Dawn Mass. I recognized her to be the same woman who had brought her three sons for prayer many years ago. "I want to tell you," she said, "that from after that first retreat my three boys were completely changed. Now this my eldest son, the leader of the prayer group in Kanjirapally, is bringing me to you for prayer."
Within oneself: Finally, if I hold that I have the Holy Spirit there must be changes within myself, especially a greater and progressive freedom from all types of burdens and bondages, a greater compassion towards those in need and a greater confidence in one's ministry, for God's gift to us was not a spirit of timidity but the Spirit of self-control and of love and of power (2Tm 1:7). The Superior of Sudeep, the Sisters Training Institute in Bangalore, had brought her nephew, hailing from a prominent family of Trichur, to be prayed for his compulsive gambling, which had made him a pauper with his marriage on the rocks. In answer to my query, he could not tell me why he was crazy about gambling, except that when he saw a pack of cards he had to gamble.
When I asked him whether he wanted to be freed from this habit, I could sense that his Yes was sincere and determined. As we were praying together to the Holy Spirit to set him free from the spirit of gambling, we noticed evident signs of a deliverance taking place. A year later I met the same nun who was now the directress of the Mater Dei Institute for Sisters in Old Goa. She told me with joy that ever since that day he was so completely freed from gambling, that now when he sees a pack of cards he feels like vomiting. And besides he has become the most religious man in the family, having started a prayer group in his home and going around the town evangelizing with his Bible under his arm. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the simple words of that familiar hymn:
He's setting me free this Holy Ghost power,
He's setting me free this very hour,
He's flooding my soul, He's making me whole,
He's setting me free, free, free this Holy Ghost power.
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