After Christmas, Fr Kyle and I had a chance to take the whole week off. We canceled everything and took some time away.
It was wonderful.
I used that week to head up to Michigan and go to the Encounter Conference. It was a whole week of praising the Lord and learning how we can grow in the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.
It’s hard for me to put into words what God did for me at this conference, but I want to at least try to do my best to share my testimony.
I got totally ZAPPED by the Holy Spirit.
I got BAPTIZED in the Holy Spirit!
In our gospel this Sunday… God tells John the Baptist: “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will BAPTIZE with the Holy Spirit.”
I want to get to unpacking that Scripture… But first, let me tell you what happened to me:
It was the last day of the conference. And the LAST talk was scheduled for 8pm. Now, it had been a really really long week, filled with LOTS of different talks, and me and my priest friend were feeling kind of worn out and anxious to hit the road. We had a 3 hour drive ahead of us that night to get to our airbnb outside of Toledo.
I share all of this with just to make it absolutely clear:
I went into that last session not expecting a whole lot. I was not hyping myself up for any kind of emotional religious experience. If anything, my friend and I were pretty much ready to get out of there, and we even agreed that we’d just sit in the back row and we’re probably leave early.
But then the talk started, and eventually the guy up on the stage started praying over all of us for a fresh release of the fire of the Holy Spirit… and then it happened.
I got baptized in the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know how to describe it, and this may sound strange but…
Guys… I started to laugh and I couldn’t STOP laughing.
Now I’ve heard “Holy Spirit laughter” before at various conferences over the years, and I always thought it was really weird. “Somebody needs to go STOP THEM… Get them OUT of here… That’s so DISTRACTING…”
But there I was… suddenly erupting with a bizarre laughter that I couldn’t explain and that I couldn’t really even control.
Or at least… I didn’t WANT to control it!
It was such a deep and satisfying belly laugh — It came in waves of overwhelming, body-quaking JOY… It was SUCH A GIFT… it was A RELIEF. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t do anything special to unlock it or produce it. It just sort of… happened to me.
I told my friends afterward that it felt like I was laughing all my fear out! And all my anger and bitterness and frustration just… melted away… And I could rest… really REST… in the love of God. So much joy. So much peace. I couldn’t stop thanking and praising God…
My face HURT from smiling.
All of this is to say: I had never experienced anything like this before. God knocked me right off my feet. It was… amazing. It was surprising. It was beautiful. It changed my outlook on… everything.
Why do I share this personal experience with you all today?
Whatever graces I received from God at that conference, I want to give them to you! I want that to happen in YOUR life:
That joy, that knowledge of God’s love and closeness — I want it to be poured into YOUR hearts as well!
This gift wasn’t just about my relationship with God… It wasn’t just for me. It’s for the building up of the whole Church. It’s for my mission as a priest of Jesus Christ. It’s the reason I was sent here to St. Bede:
I want you all to be baptized in the Holy Spirit!
The late Pope Benedict XVI once said: “Christ’s entire mission is summed up in this: to baptize us in the Holy Spirit.”
Which brings us back to our Gospel this weekend.
John the Baptist cries out those familiar words — words we hear at every Mass: “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world!”
Because He is the One who will BAPTIZE us with the Holy Spirit!
Do you know where we find that word “baptize” for the very first time? Well, it might surprise you that it’s not in the Bible. And it’s not even in Jewish or some other religious source…
No, we find the word “baptize” for the very first time in an ancient Greek…… COOK BOOK! Yes! Believe it or not.
And it’s found in a recipe for PICKLES…
You take a cucumber or some other vegetable — and you BAPTIZE it — PLUNGE IT… DUNK IT… DROWN IT…IMMERSE it in the vinegar solution. And after a time, by this process, the vegetable is TOTALLY TRANSFORMED.
Try all you want, but you can’t change a pickle back into a cucumber!
No! Everyone knows that the transformation is PERMANENT. Or as Catholic sacramental theology would say: It’s an “indelible” mark.
This is what absolutely happens in our Sacramental Baptism. This morning at the 11AM mass, two beautiful little babies experienced this INDELIBLE… PERMANENT change through baptism by water and the Holy Spirit.
They started off as cucumbers. But then… they became PICKLES!
Original Sin was WASHED AWAY… and they were PLUNGED… DUNKED… IMMERSED into the Divine Life. They were transformed from the inside out. They became beloved children of the Most High God! This is what Jesus came to do for them!!!
But it isn’t magic…
One day, those children will have to come into their own personal assertion of this gift of faith they’ve been given. By the grace of God, and the holy efforts of their parents and godparents who will help raise them up to know and love God, these children will have the chance to one day freely accept Christ into their life and say to Him: “YES… I believe in You, Lord. I choose You. I trust You. I love You.”
Sometimes, for whatever reason, that doesn’t ever happen for some people.
In fact, for a lot of us, maybe we don’t feel like our sacramental baptism makes much of a difference at all in our daily life. Maybe we just think of it as a religious ceremony that happened a million years ago when we were babies. We don’t remember it, and it has no impact on us today.
And I think this is where the Baptism in the Holy Spirit comes in…
Baptism in the Spirit is different than our “sacramental” baptism by water, but it’s intimately connected. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a kind of STIRRING UP… it’s a RELEASE of all the graces we received at our sacramental baptism as infants, perhaps… or whenever we received that sacrament!
Raniero Cantalamessa, the guy who preaches to the Pope, once said that the Sacrament of Baptism is too often a “bound” or “unreleased” sacrament…
What does he mean by this?
Well, he means that all the graces are there. The Sacraments always confer grace. ‘Ex opere operato’ in the Latin. But for whatever reason, sometimes those graces are not tapped into by us, until some deeper encounter with God occurs. Not until some sort of event happens to us… where God becomes much more real. A life-transforming experience of the love of God.
This sort of experience has, in some circles, come to be referred to as the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
And the effects of this sort of event — this deepening — are profound. It brings about a new level of intimacy with the Father. It unlocks a deep, rich friendship with the Risen Jesus. It fills our heart with a sense of the wildness and the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit. It emboldens us! There’s a brand new zeal and hunger for Scripture and all the Sacraments, for learning about the faith, for sharing the Gospel with others. It fills us with a desire for holiness! It empowers us and equips us to live a supernatural life for the building up of the Church. The Spirit imparts new GIFTS and POWERS that previously would have been humanly impossible.
In other words, being baptized in the Spirit is a release — an UNBINDING — of all the graces we were first offered in our Sacramental Baptism…
Do you want that in your life? If so — we can pray for this release… this surrender… to happen!
It’s very easy.
As Fr. Michael Scanlan, the former president of Franciscan University once put it: “It is not something you do. It’s something God does for you, something he has led you to already and merely wishes to complete.”
All we have to do is ASK and then RECEIVE. God is so GENEROUS to us. He will show up.
He might show up by doing something dramatic like what happened to me at that conference…with overflowing laughter or shouts of joy! But He also might show up by simply giving you a gentle and serene peace. OR…He might show up, and it won’t feel like ANYTHING at all!
Ultimately, this is not about getting some sort of intense religious buzz. This is not a competition to see who can have the coolest Holy Spirit story.
This is about each person receiving the love of God in order to then be sent out on MISSION. No matter what God’s plan is, we can come before Him humbly and we can pray for His life to take deeper hold of us.
So if you want that… If you want your sacramental baptism to be unlocked and released in a new way, I’m going to end this homily by leading you through this prayer, and I invite you to repeat after me if you so choose:
“Jesus I believe that you died for me,
and that you want to live inside of me.
I give my life to you and I choose to be your disciple.
I want to belong to you from now on.
Have Your way with me.
I ask you to baptize me in the Holy Spirit.
Beautiful… thank you for sharing and may God continue to bless you in all ways!
The Catholic Church should offer Life in the Spirit seminars. When I was in college I went to one, 5 weeks of understanding the Holy Spirit, being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and my life was never the same. 45 years later.
Excellent homily, Fr Anthony! Truly your product is an example of your unleashing the Holy Spirit in you to shepherd us. I love the imagery “pickles” to help understand the transformation we receive in Baptism.
I’ll always look at a pickle now with a richer understanding of our Sacraments.
MORE, LORD!! I pray everyone who reads or listens to this homily will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. The conference was amazing, once again! ❤️
Julie Whitlock here…God is good, and I knew your day would come! I am over the moon happy for you!