Every other Sunday, after Mass, The Community would come. As far as I know that was the group’s only name, The Community with a big fat capital T and C. The Community, a conglomeration of people who thought of themselves as Charismatic Catholics, consisted of two families with other children besides my own family, and a handful of scary older men and women. Most of them wanted to hug me, and though I didn’t like hugging, I didn’t dare say no. I would catch it if I ran away.
The Community brought a keyboard and a few guitars, and a stack of stout white books containing humiliatingly terrible hymns from the 1970s. Everyone had to sing; I would catch it if I didn’t sing. In between singing The Community prayed in tongues, and here I was at a shameful loss, because I could not pray in tongues. I waited and waited for the Holy Spirit to infuse me with the gift, but the Holy Spirit had other ideas. I stood, reverent as I could be but silent as a tomb, while everyone else prayed in tongues. I hoped no one would notice me, but they did. A well-meaning older woman handed me a tambourine– I suppose so that I could make some kind of joyful noise, if not tongues. I didn’t want it, but I didn’t dare hand it back. I would catch it if I refused to play the tambourine. My brothers teased me about the tambourine for weeks afterward.
After, and sometimes between, the humiliating songs, there were “prophecies.” Two people in our group were “prophets,” an old maid and one of the mothers. I did not like to be in the room during the prophecies, but I would catch it if I bolted and hid, so I stayed rooted on the spot. The prophecies I remember were grim, and pointed to the coming days, days of deep persecution and horrible suffering for the Church, “but do not be afraid.” I was afraid. I was terrified; I’m frightened even now just thinking of the prophecies. After prophecies, the children were shuffled out to play while the grown-ups had a lesson, and we would catch it if we played too loudly. Then there was a potluck. The Community sat around my living room, eating and talking about how terrible things were, how horrible public schools and Disney movies were, how weak the bishop was– in short, how everything was wrong except for them.
The Community and those prophets were responsible for most of the horrible ideas I had about God growing up. I was told about unapproved Marian apparitions, and I would catch it if I refused to believe every word of those apparitions as though it were gospel. I was told about the devil, who was more or less in charge of everything not directly to do with the sacraments, the Bible and Marian apparitions. The devil was in secular music; he was in subliminal messages, video games and many cartoons. The devil could pass from hand to hand if you accidentally shook hands with an afflicted person, or jump on you as you crossed the threshold of an afflicted house. He could possess you if you so much as looked at an Ouija board, or watched horror movies. I was also told plenty of nonsense about the sacraments themselves. Most damaging, I was told that before every confession, I should ask the Holy Spirit to “accuse me of my sins.”
I obeyed my training. I fled the room when a commercial for an Ouija board came on television. I didn’t dare touch the part of the newspaper that had the horoscopes. I prayed Hail Marys to protect myself from doorways and handshakes. And before every confession, I prayed to be accused. There are no words to describe what I suffered as a result– agony beyond measure, fear like you wouldn’t believe, terror that I would catch it, I would catch hell and be caught by hell and burn for all eternity. The shame had me bolting out of the church without going to confession, bolting out of the church to hide in the bathroom during Mass, so afraid that the terrible, fearsome Deity would avenge Himself on my sinful, evil soul if I dared to receive Communion. This was an embarrassment to my family, and I caught it.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
Who is this mysterious Person I was so afraid of, the One who I’d presumed had something to do with bad music and frightening prophecy? Who is the Holy Spirit? No mortal tongue could explain the Mystery. I don’t know what to say about the Holy Spirit, and here it is almost Pentecost, and I still don’t have a word. I wanted to go to the Bible, but I didn’t know where to start. So I googled it. And I got a list of Bible verses that mention the Holy Spirit, and I chose two verses at random, and I thought about them.
Isaiah says: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” So, the Spirit of God comes down upon someone and anoints them, and then what happens? First of all, that person preaches good news, encouragement. Encouragement is from the Holy Spirit. I don’t think scary end times prophecy never comes from the God, but if that’s all someone can talk about I would take it with a strong dose of salt and wait to see what happens, before blaming the Holy Spirit. The person filled with the Holy Spirit binds up the brokenhearted; he comforts people. Jesus Himself called the Holy Spirit the Comforter. If I have ever been comforted by prayer and the sacraments– and Lord knows I have, in spite of the stranglehold of the accuser all those years– then that was a gift from the Holy Spirit. If you know consolation, when you unite your suffering to the cross, the consolation is from the Holy Spirit. The person filled with the Holy Spirit proclaims freedom for the captives– so, the Holy Spirit is the spirit of freedom. If something is making you pent up, trapped, constrained, like a little girl who runs from the church and hides in the bathroom, that is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes you free. Not always free with the license to do just as you please; free to do as you ought, free to repent without terror, free from the artificial constraints and inhibitions that stand in the way of love. That’s part of what the Holy Spirit is.
Christ said, in the Gospel according to John, But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Ooh, I like that one. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate. Not the accuser, the Advocate. The Holy Spirit doesn’t accuse us at all, the Holy Spirit advocates for us. Could that be? That the Spirit of God advocates for me, before God? Oh, blessed be the Name. There’s nothing to be afraid of here. God pleads to God for me. I’m not going to catch it after all. The only thing I could catch would be a greater outpouring of the Spirit of God, and I actually want that. Come, Holy Ghost. I actually want that.
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