Reflection: Experiencing the Spirit

Francis Pompei, OFM Features

"Pentecost" by Waiting for the Word/Flickr

“Pentecost” by Waiting for the Word/Flickr

For Pentecost, marked this year on May 15, a friar who has been leading missions and retreats for more than three decades describes the importance of discerning the difference between our will and that of the Spirit. He gives examples of how to learn to experience the Holy Spirit, putting on paper some of the thoughts he has shared at parish programs. 

“Who knows what you’re gonna do when the ‘Holy Ghost’ gets inside of you! Do I hear an Amen?”

As we think about Pentecost, it is important to realize that the Holy Spirit is an experience, not a theology. To help understand what Jesus said and where we fit in, here are some ideas that I hope are helpful and, perhaps thought-provoking.

The fulfillment of salvation is not just the incarnation, not just Jesus’s teachings, not just his suffering, death, resurrection, not just the forgiveness of original and our sins, not just his conquering of death and evil, but the restoration and free gift of experiencing the unconditional love of God that completes the divine void in us.

According to Jesus, the Scriptures and the early Christians, the new covenant is all centered on the Holy Spirit. Here are some examples:

  • “I will place my Spirit within them, and write the law upon their hearts.”
  • “Wait here for the fulfillment of my father’s promise. He will send you Holy Spirit, the advocate, who will teach you all things.”
  • “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to witness boldly and without fear.”
  • “The place where they prayed shook, because they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (experienced the Holy Spirit).”
  • “It is the Spirit that gives life.”
  • “How much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”

To appreciate this, it is important that our goal and our daily assignment be:

  • To learn how to experience the Holy Spirit
  • To learn how the Spirit reveals God’s will
  • To learn how to discern the Spirit: what is from us and what is from the Lord.
  • To know the difference between my/our thoughts and will and the Spirit’s.
  • To learn how to let go of my will (see below for the specifics), and seek God’s will every day, all day. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus who lives in me.”

Experiencing Salvation
When we do this, we can experience the salvation the Lord won for us and the way he liberates us from the old way of the law and the world’s way, and recreates us by “putting on the mind of Christ,” as St. Paul says it.

What is “bearing fruit” like? How is it manifested? Some examples are:

  • Senior woman (a widow): “It’s hard to explain what it feels like to actually experience and feel God’s love in you. My husband died five years ago and the loneliness was unbearable, but I’m not alone any more. Thank you Jesus.”
  • Parish staff member: “We are not just another parish staff, council or meeting. Experiencing the Holy Spirit with and in each other when we pray has created us into a family. Isn’t that what Church is supposed to be?”
  • Teenager: “Praying and talking to Jesus with the other kids is where I found and experienced God. Jesus helps me big time with my decisions and guides me through tough times. He has become my best friend and is always there for me and with me.”
  • Teenager:I talk with Jesus all the time — in school, when I’m on the football field, and when I have problems. And he always listens to me and gets me through all my problems, even if they don’t work out the way I want them to. I wish someone would have taught me how to pray and live this way when I was younger.”
  • Young couple: “We talk to Jesus every day, and many times, if not all, we really experience the Holy Spirit and his unconditional love for us as we look into each other’s eyes. We really experience being one with Him and each other. If only all married couples were taught to do this.”
  • Adult man: “Experiencing the Holy Spirit is indescribable. I have never felt so complete in my life.”
  • Men’s group: “Experiencing Jesus on a regular basis with other likeminded men has been a Godsend for all of us. The Holy Spirit continues to teach us — through the scriptures and through each other — how to be better men, disciples of Jesus, husbands, and fathers. All of us thought we were doing pretty good when it came to going to Church and faith, but experiencing Jesus and the Holy Spirit has turned us 180 degrees in our relationship with the Lord and how we live our daily lives.”

The Lord tells us to let go of what we think and want to do, and let the Lord reveal his plan and will.

Jesus is teaching us to think, live and pray this way:

  • “I have come to do the will of my Father.”
  • “Father, not according to my will, but your will.”
  • “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

Revealing the Lord’s Will
What about the fruit of the Spirit in our relations with others?

What all of us need to let go of continually — especially at meetings dealing with policy making, and when we are dealing with problems, situations, and issues — is our focus on ourselves. Instead, we need to focus on the Spirit and to learn how he reveals the Lord’s will. Think about:

  • Not a democracy where majority wins
  • Not who has the best idea and can convince everyone else
  • Not always the most practical, efficient, or logical idea
  • Not always the way we were taught
  • Not just because it’s a good idea
  • Not always because it’s the way we’ve always done it
  • Not always because it is the safest way and a way that I’m comfortable with and can control
  • Not always because it worked in the past
  • Not always because it’s a theologically correct idea, ritual, or service
  • Not always because I’m the pope, bishop, pastor, deacon, religious, director, or person with authority and everything I say or decide is from the Holy Spirit, so everyone must not only obey, but agree with it

Jesus opposed these:

  • “My ways are not your ways says the Lord.”
  • “You treat manmade laws as if they were God’s commandments.”
  • “Do not lord your authority over people like the Pharisees.”
  • “You put heavy burdens on people, but do not lift a finger to help anyone.”
  • “If the fig tree does not bear fruit, cut it down. (Stop doing things that way, even if it is a good idea and may have worked in the past.)

From what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of his Father’s promise, he’s telling us it’s not just enough to believe in him, go to church, and live good lives, but to experience intimacy with him through the Holy Spirit, like they did on Pentecost, and have a personal daily relationship with Jesus and experience him with others whenever two or three of us gather in his name.

On a personal note, I can’t teach others what I, myself, have never been taught or experienced. I think that the Church and all Catholics and followers of Jesus need to learn how and what specifically to do to experience the Lord and the Holy Spirit whenever we gather together. The true test that we are on the right path is that every time we meet, the room should “shake” because we’ve learned how to experience the salvation and presence of the Lord who said, “I will never abandon you and will be with you every day until the end of time. Praise you Jesus, Halleluiah!

francis-pompei-tFr. Francis, who professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 1985, is stationed at St. Patrick’s Friary in Buffalo N.Y. He founded and is the director of the Franciscan Mystery Players

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic — a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal theme — are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at The newsletter’s previous reflection, by Sean O’Brien, OFM, described a service trip with college students.

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