"Today I would like to extend this invitation to everyone: Let us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit; let us be aware again of our baptism and our confirmation, sources of grace that are always present. Let us ask the Virgin Mary to obtain a renewed Pentecost for the church again today, a Pentecost that will spread in everyone the joy of living and witnessing to the Gospel!
- Pope Benedict, Regina Caeli Message, Pentecost Sunday, May 11 2008
When I arrived on campus at FUS on a hot August day in 1991, I was a clueless eighteen year old whose main ambition was to be the best guitar player on campus. But God had other plans, and the next four years would set me on a blessed trajectory I could never have imagined.
So for me, returning to campus for the priest retreat all these years later had special significance.
The priest/Deacon/seminarian conference was the first of the summer conferences started by Fr Mike Scanlon after his baptism in the Holy Spirit began to renew his life and ministry as President of FUS. Though numbers have dwindled in recent years, the 135 or so men who participated experienced robust worship and powerful prayer supplemented by solid presentations.
Much emphasis was on the fiftieth anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic renewal, which began at nearby Duquesne University. It was from this powerful outbreak of the Holy Spirit that Fr Scanlon received his anointing to lead FUS to help fulfill God's big plans that have led to such abundant fruit.
We were blessed to have 'patient zero' tell the story of what happened those fifty years ago. Patti Mansfield, fresh from the anniversary celebration at St Peter's with Pope Francis on Pentecost Eve, spoke of her powerful experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit as a young college student and being on the ground floor of the new current of grace that began flowing into the church and world as a result.
Best of all, Patti led us in prayer as we opened ourselves to receive similar graces and carry on God's saving work in our own lives and ministry.
Fr Dave Pavonka, heir apparent to Fr Mike's evangelical legacy, did a great job as the host and frequent speaker.
What most impressed me was the clarity and strength of the insistent proposal of baptism of the Spirit, which 'makes real and in a way renews Christian initiation.' (Fr Cantalamessa) While it's not a sacrament, it's a biblical concept and it helps unbind and fully release the graces of the other sacraments, especially baptism.
Before the evangelizing church, there was Pentecost. In a similar way today, before we can have a new evangelization, we need a new Pentecost. Baptism of the Holy Spirit facilitates this new Pentecost on a personal level, helping people experience the love of God in Jesus Christ in powerful new ways.
The Spirit is a person whom we must get to know more intimately if His guidance and accompaniment are to be fully experienced. This is why the retreat speakers, following the lead of Pope Francis, so strongly encouraged us to both experience and promote Life in the Spirit seminars culminating in baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Along with the pleasant nostalgia I got from being back at the place so influential on my life and ministry, I loved the prolonged unabashed worship with my brothers. I appreciated the energy of so many Kingdom-hungry men of God coming together to seek renewal in His name. I enjoyed the many conversations with brother priests who displayed unusual authenticity and willingness to be vulnerable and real with one another. Most of all, I felt the energy that hope brings as new possibilities and dreams re-awakened within me.
Another realization I had was seeing the debt I owe to Fr Mike Scanlon. Although I rarely interacted with him personally, I can look at my life now as a forty-three year old and see just what a spiritual son I really am to this great man of God. The retreat theme was from 2 Tim 1:6-7: 'Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.' As Paul spoke these words to Timothy, I felt like Fr Mike was now saying them to me.
Finally, taking the road trip and sharing the retreat with my great friend Fr Anthony enhanced the experience exponentially. We had so much fun laughing, complaining, sharing dreams and struggles, and just taking in all the wonderful things God is doing in our lives!
Last week was my first time attending the Steubenville clergy retreat and I was not disappointed. Fr. Charles Klamut and I immediately hit the road after our last Masses on Sunday from the Quad Cities to Ohio. We had a great time talking about life, laughing, and praying in the car.
One thing I asked him somewhere in Indiana was: How would you summarize your spirituality? His relationship with Jesus includes the 'white man's rap' that is his indie folk music, a desire to live out apostolic vision and strategy, and a love of meeting Jesus in Eucharistic contemplation. He then ask me about mine. I'm an ADHD kid that is rooted in the lives (and methods) of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Luigi Giussani, and St. Philip Neri.
St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, offered concrete practical methods of meditation and discernment, was a true man (a fighter and adventurer), and a decisive visionary.
Monsignor Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation, focused his attention on looking for and inviting the encounter with Jesus. Like Socrates, he questioned everything but always in the context of friendship and in view of the infinite needs and desires of the human heart. He always looked for the question that comes before the question we are pondering.
St. Philip, the Apostle of Joy, loved the Scriptures and desert Fathers, was rooted in play and holy laughter, was hyper Sacramental, and wanted nothing more for his disciples than to enjoy their own second Pentecost.
This soupy mess of a spirituality isn't something I chose but is an expression of the weird bits and pieces that make up Fr. Anthony Co. In daily life it looks like me going to Confession once or more a week (Philip Neri) and then trying on a chicken suit (Go ADHD!) to do a promotional video to get people to go themselves. At a Steubenville retreat it looks like me bebopping around as I worship Jesus. One might think the circus left me behind when they passed through Peoria.
The point of all this is that we only know we belong to God when we learn to worship him with complete abandon. I know deep within my heart that Jesus gets me, I have a place, and I'm not alone. But I only came to know this after having deep and profound encounters with Him.
In the Charismatic circles (25% of all Christians) this encounter is called being 'baptized in the Holy Spirit.' Pope Francis defines this baptism as a 'personal encounter with Jesus that changes our lives.' It starts with inviting the Holy Spirit to stir up our Sacramental graces.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit isn't a "charismatic thing.' It's a Catholic thing, a Holy Scripture thing. It's at the heart of the New Evangelization and echoed by our last popes. And, frankly, there is no 'New Evangelization' without a new Pentecost. All new missions require a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to equip us for it. This is why the Blessed Virgin Mary needed the first Pentecost to carry out her mission to be the mother of all.
So have you been baptized in the Spirit? Can you worship with great freedom like David did dancing before the Ark? Are you easily able to tell others that you love Jesus? And are you able to tell others that you love them?
So that's what I saw at my first Catholic Charismatic retreat. 135 men willing to worship with complete abandon. They were men who could be vulnerable to each other about their struggles and dreams. All of them, while uniquely different and with varying degrees of complexity in their lives, were able to call out aloud: 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit I want more of you!'
It's time for us to be baptized in the Spirit. Not just once or twice but over and over again. Find a Life in the Spirit Seminar or something like it. In your time of prayer keep praying: 'Come Holy Spirit, come Holy Spirit, come Holy Spirit...' Or if you like: 'Hey, I know you're in there somewhere! Come on out, friend!' Then get ready for some fun.