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When the Holy Spirit poured over the Apostles during the festival of Pentecost, it was dramatic and sudden. With sound and glory, they were baptised in Spirit and Flame. Pentecost formed a strong foundation as these first Christians built our Church.

Those of us who feel they have experienced the Holy Spirit each have a story to tell, and there’s one occasion I always think about at this time in the liturgical year.

It happened 33 years ago in a small, terraced house in Leicestershire. Several of us were lying around my friend Helena’s bedroom. There was a mix of boys and girls, 17 years old and all good friends at Catholic College. We were talking nonsense and laughing, just the normal stuff of spotty teenagers. We hadn’t been drinking (it was too early, like in Acts). Helena’s mum had probably supplied some snacks.

Suddenly, this tremendous feeling of peace and warmth descended upon me and filled me up as if I was vessel. It was almost physical. Conversation stopped.

Ben broke the silence. “Can anyone else feel that?”

“Can you feel it?”

All I could muster was a nod.

A gentle boy called David, who is now one of the top concept artists in Hollywood, whispered, “I can feel love. I can feel this amazing love. I can’t breathe.”

Helena asked, “Is it God?”

We sat together for some time, surrendering to this spiritual connection between us, and basking in the glow. We were one, feeling the same overwhelming love.

I’d like to say that we remained a friendship group and entered a period of Christian activism together, spreading the message of the Gospel, but we did not. Over the following days we collectively dismissed the experience as some sort of weird euphoria and didn’t speak about it again. We all went off to different universities after a year or so, and unintentionally found each other decades later thanks to Facebook.

Not all of us. I only know about David’s success because I stumbled across a magazine article about him. He had wept during our moment of bliss, his arm slung around Ben’s shoulder as they rested against Helena’s enormous poster of Morrissey.

I imagine it was a tiny fraction of what the apostles experienced at Pentecost. But was our experience really the Holy Spirit, as I like to think?

There needs to be an element of discernment. With the Spirit comes gifts: for example, at Pentecost the Apostles spoke in many languages, all at once, and were understood. I’ve seen people, filled with the Spirit, talking in tongues. It’s never happened to me. All I can do is look at the road we each travelled after that day in Helena’s bedroom and properly consider if it was the Holy Spirit, or something else. What gifts did we receive?

Helena became a missionary and met her pastor husband in Africa. Ben became a carpenter and a teacher (he even has the beard). Ursula regularly posts prayers as her FB status. The others seem happy enough posting about their families and holidays; they are all good people. David may earn his money in Hollywood, but he still lives in his hometown in Leicestershire, where he runs art workshops for youth.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit can come with sound and glory, but they come quietly too. Whether our experience was real or not, we have been led to live the values of Christ in our own imperfect ways. There is no greater gift than this.  

Readings for today:  Acts 2:1-11   Psalm 103    1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13    John 20:19-23

By the way, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. 

Source: Pentecost

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