Continuing in the Spirit
by Patti Gallagher Mansfield
Thirty-two years ago at this very season, I was preparing to make a weekend retreat that would change forever my life...
At the time of course, I did not know that the grace of the Baptism in the Spirit, which we would experience on the Duquesne Weekend, was a gift destined for the whole church. I knew only this: I wanted God! I wanted to know God and be led by His Spirit like the first disciples were, like the saints were. I dared to believe, with what seemed no bigger than a mustard seed of faith, that what I asked for, I would receive (Lk. 11:9-13). We were told to bring to that retreat an expectant faith... a confidence... that God would act on our behalf and send us His Spirit. We believed and God acted!
A priest friend of mine thinks that this expectant faith is the most outstanding characteristic of the Charismatic Renewal. I can attest that immediately after being baptised in the Spirit when I heard a sermon in which the preacher was explaining that the miracles of Jesus didn’t actually take place, expectant faith rose up within me. I wanted to stand up and shout, "You are mistaken. This Jesus whom I have just met personally, has power and authority to give sight to the blind, heal the sick and even raise the dead... not just when He walked the earth... but today as well. Jesus is alive and Jesus is Lord!" I had not yet seen such miracles, but knowing Him was enough to convince me that there is nothing impossible for Him to do... nothing!
What I knew then by faith, millions of us can witness to now from first hand experience. This living Lord Jesus continues to work miracles of physical and spiritual healing when His friends turn to Him with expectant faith and ask! This is a mystery that is uttered even in the Spirit. An American nun I know once had her gift of tongues recognised by a Polish man. He told her what she was proclaiming in Polish: "My Father is a King and He can do anything He wants!" The Spirit was inspiring in her the confidence and boldness of a child who knows what it is to call God, "Abba!"(Gal. 4:6-7).
We want to do more than begin in the Spirit; we want to continue in the Spirit. Could it be that our problem is the same as that of the Galatians? For what did St. Paul chastise them? For their lack of faith! Consider his searing words. "How did you receive the Spirit? Was it through observance of the law or through faith in what you heard? How could you be so stupid? After beginning in the spirit, are you now to end in the flesh? Have you had such remarkable experiences all to no purpose? Is it because you observe the law or because you have faith in what you heard that God lavishes the Spirit on you and works wonders in your midst?" (Gal. 3:2-5).
At a prayer meeting recently I felt the Lord say to me, "If only they would dance before me, I would set my people free." This was an unexpected word, one that I didn’t want to hear and didn’t want to give. I looked at the people, an older crowd of fairly conservative folks, and thought, "They’ll never respond. They’ll never dance." But I couldn’t rid my mind of this "prophecy." Then I looked at myself. "I’m not energetic enough to lead them in dancing. How could I be the one to proclaim such a message?" There was still no peace. Finally, I looked at the Lord and stepped out of the boat. My husband was leading the meeting and he is not a dancer! When I whispered this message to him, I thought that would be the end of it. Instead, he directed me to the microphone and he himself led the 200 people dancing around the church. Never in 30 years had we danced at this particular meeting! Joy, gladness, jubilation broke out. Praise reached a new level. People (even these "old" people) were refreshed. And I was humbled and grateful to have exercised faith (O ye, of little faith!) in proclaiming that word.
On the vigil of Pentecost last year, our Holy Father met with a half million representatives of the ecclesial movements and reminded us of this: "Whenever the Spirit intervenes, He leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness: He radically changes persons and history." When is the last time you were "asonished?" Be ready for His surprises!
Just as the Charismatic Renewal was the result of a surprising intervention of the Holy Spirit, there is more in store for us if we are willing to approach the Lord with expectant faith. While I would have felt more comfortable giving a teaching on joy, the Holy Spirit wanted the people to have a taste of joy by dancing as children before the Lord. The challenges facing us as we enter the third millennium are daunting... but not too daunting for the Spirit of the Living God! This God of ours has mercies that will surpass the miseries of our times. Remember, "The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent; They are renewed every morning, so great is His faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). But where is our expectant faith?
In order to keep all the marvellous charisms from disappearing in our midst, we must go back to what we learned in the beginning...to "give the power back to God" (Ps. 68:34), to exercise expectant faith. From St. Peter’s Square on the vigil of Pentecost, 1998, the words of our Holy Father resounded, "Open yourselves with docility to the gifts of the Spirit! Accept with gratitude and obedience the charisms which the Spirit never ceases to bestow on us!" And what is this obedience if not the obedience of faith?
"God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (I Cor.1:27). Too often we survey a situation according to a worldly wisdom rather than the wisdom of the Cross. Just recently I was trying to launch a publicity campaign for our annual conference. I chose the most energetic, articulate, experienced members of the prayer group to assist me. God chose a young crippled girl on crutches, new to the life in the Spirit, to assist Him. This young girl posted one of our brochures in a local church where a man who has a radio program spotted her. He was so impressed with her courage and desire to spread the faith that he invited her to do an hour interview. Before her accident she had been away from the faith and spiralling downward fast. But through the love and witness of friends, who brought her to our prayer group after her spinal cord injury, she found the Lord. "Now I awaken every morning burning with desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and burning with desire to read God’s word." This "weak, foolish," in the eyes of the world, child was a more convincing publicity agent than anyone on my list. And why did I overlook her? Because "My thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord" (Is. 55:8).
Do you have people right in your midst that God wants to use? Who has a testimony to share? Who has received a healing? Who has this "burning desire" to please Jesus in any way possible? It may be "an older someone"... an Anna or a Simeon. It may be "a younger someone"... a "Daughter of Jairus" or a Timothy. I am thoroughly convinced that there are people out there whom God will use far more powerfully than He’s used any of us up until now. They’re just waiting to be discovered... by those who can see with the eyes of faith!
We have someone who can help us to obtain this expectant faith and her name is Mary. What belongs to a Mother is shared freely with her children. Let’s ask that Mary’s expectant faith may be ours. Yes, Mary, give us your own faith that frees the Holy Spirit to act and to overshadow us with His power. Let’s learn from our Blessed Mother an attitude of prayer and humility and service so as not to spoil the beauty of God’s work. She beckons us to join her with these words, "O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together!" (Ps. 34:3). Let us respond by saying, "Now to Him who by the power working within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we can ask or think, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen!" (Eph. 3:20).