It was a Saturday morning early in the summer of 1967, I was late for Catechism class. I was all of eight years old. I remember running from our classroom to the church across the street to catch up with our class when I was arrested by the presence of God. I stood there in the middle of the street suspended for what seemed several minutes. I was engulfed with a presence that I can only describe as being enveloped in God’s love. I was completely surrounded by and internally penetrated by this incredible love of the Father.
As I stood there motionless in the middle of the street my Heavenly Father spoke gentle words of the His incredible love to my heart. From that moment, I knew God loved me. I was left with an internal knowing of the love of God. There was more, much more that I wouldn’t understand until later in life. It was the first of many times over the years that I would experience God’s amazing enveloping and penetrating love. I couldn’t tell you how long the experience lasted but in that instance I was impacted deeply. I didn’t know it then but that one day set the course for my life.
I didn’t start speaking in tongues. I wouldn’t have known what that was even if it had happened. I was all alone in this experience. I didn’t have an adult to teach or guide me. All I knew was that God stepped into my life. I had accepted Christ as Savior earlier that year and was now receiving communion during Mass. I wasn’t indoctrinated into Catholic doctrine. I was eight years old. I wouldn’t have known doctrine if it walked up and kissed me on the cheek. God did, doctrine didn’t.
That one episode was impacting but it didn’t end there. For the next few years I was visited by Jesus. During those visits He told me about Himself. Later, when my ability to read was more proficient, I recall opening my little bible I got as a First Communion gift. I liked thumbing through the pages. It was several years before I could actually comprehend the King James vernacular but I liked the melody of how the words sounded, especially the Psalms. One day when I was reading somewhere in the gospel of John I remember getting really excited. “That’s what He said!!! I knew this, because Jesus had told me.” It was a passage which spoke about Jesus. I don’t recall the specific passage, after all that was more than fifty years ago. But what I do remember was that in that moment I knew that what Jesus had told me about Himself was written right there in the Bible. It was exactly as He had said it to me.
I have not lived a perfect life. I have not always pursued God. God, however has pursued me. Over the course of my life I can look back at those early days and remember the innocence of youth and how God revealed Himself to me. I have since experienced multiple encounters with God but none will ever surpass the days when Jesus came and spoke to me about Himself. Through my early experience with Jesus I learned that Jesus is the Living Word of God. He is who He says He is, and He is the Son of God. I learned that I could trust Him to always tell me the truth, because He is Truth. Most of all I learned that He loved me.
So what makes my experience Charismatic? First of all, it was in 1967 that the Catholic Charismatic Renewal had begun to sweep through the church. My Grandfather, my older brother and I used to attend the Sunday morning guitar services which were led by a Charismatic priest. But that doesn’t define Charismatic experience. I wouldn’t have worded it this way in 1967 but I received a measure of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t receive tongues, which was a common sign of being filled with the Spirit. While the Pentecostal experience leans heavily on the manifestation of speaking in tongues the Catholic Charismatic Renewal focused on having a relationship with Jesus and expressing the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Charismata (a Greek word for “gifts”) are still bestowed by the Holy Spirit today as they were in early Christianity as described in the Bible.
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.7But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
8For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
12For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
What I received through that first experience I would describe now as a gift of faith, word of wisdom, as well as the distinguishing of spirits. I had an ability to see things, spiritual things. Sometimes those spiritual things were demonic, sometimes they were of God. This was not something I could turn on and off like a switch. It was sometimes there and sometimes not. But I know what I experienced. Mind you, I was eight years old when this happened and I didn’t have anyone in my life who could explain these things to me. I can only look back and say I know now what I did not understand then.
The one element that was consistent with all of my experiences over the years is God’s love. Life was awful at times, so awful I didn’t know if I would make to adulthood. Every time I got to the brink of despair the Holy Spirit would remind me of the words spoken to me that day back in 1967. He told me that everything was going to be okay. He let me know that He was with me. For a little girl who often felt abandoned and misunderstood it was great comfort to me that God loved me and was with me.
I remember going to Charismatic meetings throughout my teen years with my Grandfather. Nearly everyone who gave testimony of having an experience with the Holy Spirit, or the presence of God all said the same thing. They experienced God’s love. Some said it was like liquid love that poured over them. Other’s described it as all-encompassing and penetrating. I don’t recall hearing a testimony of someone who received the Holy Spirit without also experiencing some kind of manifestation of God’s incredible love.
I recently ran across a small booklet from a Life in the Spirit Seminar from back in the mid 1970’s. Life in the Spirit Seminars were conducted a couple of times a year for those seeking more of God and wanting to learn about the Holy Spirit. It continued weekly for seven weeks. Day One of the Seminar always started with a focus on God’s love.
I have loved you with an everlasting love, so I am constant in my affection for you
Maybe it was that first experience, maybe it was subsequent experiences over a lifetime, all I know is that God cannot be separated from His love, because He is love (1 John 4:16).
37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May the Lord bless you and visit you by enveloping you with His everlasting love.