Baptism in the Spirit

Friends are often surprised to find I am actively involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. “Surely that’s about emotions, and you are an unemotional person?”

Many testimonies of those now involved in charismatic renewal will tell of how that person invited God’s Holy Spirit into their life, and they received an overwhelming sense of God’s loving presence, after which they lost their inhibitions about raising their hands and expressing themselves freely during public prayer. Some call this experience of release a “baptism in the Holy Spirit“, though the same terminology might also be applied to the moment a person gets the Gift of Tongues for the first time, or to the act of laying on hands and praying for a person in the hope that such an experience will follow.

As an Aspie, I was already free of those “What will other people think?” inhibitions. I was always quite comfortable singing loudly and lifting my hands during prayer. I received the Gift of Tongues on a day when I handed over a personal obsession* to the Lord – but I did not receive, and to this day have never experienced, the overwhelming sense of God’s loving presence which so many charismatics speak about.

It seems to me quite fitting and proper that we make a joyful noise to the Lord (as Scripture tells us to) and we use the kind of music that may stir in many people strong positive emotions. Doesn’t God deserve that? Pope Francis does not want us to leave church with a vinegar face!

* For some months, the only topic of my prayers had been pleading with God to call back to faith a certain friend who was going through severe doubts about God’s existence. I had recently fallen in love with this friend, and although the discovery she already had a boyfriend was painful, her loss of faith was even more devastating. But one night I reached the point of saying to God “This is too much for me – my whole prayer life cannot be about pleading for her faith to be restored – I am just going to place her in your hands, Lord.” That’s when my burden was lifted, and I prayed in tongues for the first time.

Aspie Becoming Catholic

I read my way in to the Catholic Church.

When I was in my pre-teens, I encountered Jesus through a moment of deep prayer. This set me on a journey of reading both the New Testament, and a bunch of literature about the different kinds of Christian Church.

The Catholic Faith had a coherent body of teaching. That appealed to my Aspie tidy-mindedness.

The Catholic Faith said that Jesus really meant what he said at the Last Supper – “This is My Body”. This appealed to my Aspie literalism.

The Catholic Faith held that the Virgin Mary had appeared at certain places in recent history. As an Aspie, I am quite willing to trust authoritative assertions even when they aren’t borne out by my lived experience of how the world around me usually works. (I haven’t seen an apparition – but I’ve never seen a black hole, either.)

The Catholic Faith included a charismatic renewal wing. The Bible says that speaking in tongues and other charismatic gifts will be manifested by believers. This appealed to my Aspie sense that what the Bible says should come to pass in the world around us.

Of course, I didn’t know I was an Aspie at the time I decided to become a Catholic. But with hindsight I can see that many things about the Catholic way of being Christian will appeal to Aspies – or at least to Aspies like me. I wonder if there are proportionally more of us in the Catholic Church than among Episcopalians or liberal Evangelicals? (For similar reasons, might disproportionately many Aspies become Muslims?)

Once I became a Catholic, I discovered (to my horror) that the majority of Catholics didn’t seem to be living out the values the textbooks said they should hold. Perhaps a typical human being would have allowed themselves to be reconfigured to conform to the behaviour of surrounding Catholics. Not me! I trust the official teaching of the Church way beyond the watered-down examples around me. After all, the Old Testament gives ample evidence that God’s first set of Chosen People were pretty poor at obeying the commandments they were covenanted into, and human nature hasn’t changed much.

However, there’s one important caveat. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis warns us to put human reality before theoretical abstractions. I am not wrong to trust the Magisterium to define principles, but I must have regard to the lived experience of Catholics to show me realistic ways of putting those principles into practice.

From Catholic Charismatic Renewal, I have read many stories of people whose behaviour is so attractive that others have become Catholics because of them. No-one has told me personally that they have become a Catholic because of me. Does that mean I am so literally obedient that my way of being Catholic is offputting to others? It’s implicit in what Pope Francis is warning us about. Yet I put my trust in the words of St Catherine of Siena: Be what you are called to be and you will set the world on fire!