Due to family obligations, I recently found myself in a Catholic church for mass on a Saturday afternoon. Amid the mental gymnastics of trying to remember what to do and say when and deciding how to balance being respectful without being hypocritical, I found myself touched by the celebration of the Pentecost.
The Pentecost story is from chapter 2 of Acts, where the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles and a bunch of other people in a gust of wind. Then there are flames that look like tongues on people's foreheads and whenever someone talks, everyone else hears it in their own language. Kind of like a backwards Tower of Babel.
I grew up aware of Pentecostal churches. I knew that the speaking in tongues, which is mocked in some circles as being among the more ridiculous of christian practices, was based on a bible story and that it was supposed to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It's a denomination that always struck me as theoretically experiential.
In theory, the catholic church is the same way. The bread and wine aren't symbolic of blood and flesh, they are actually transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. I know very few Catholics who actually believe this, but that's beside the point.
I'm not convinced that everyone who speaks in tongues is actually being moved by the Spirit to do so every time any more than I believe that transubstantiation happens during every mass. I'm not about to say it never happens. I'm definitely not going to say it can't. I believe that the Holy Spirit is capable of creating events which appear irrational or impossible.
The priest had some lovely things to say during his homily about experiencing the Holy Spirit. He then clarified that we all knew what he was talking about because we'd all been baptised, confirmed and taken communion in the Church. Well, not quite.
Maybe the only reason I have experienced the Holy Spirit is that I was baptised with water as a baby and fed some leftover Host as a toddler. But I happen to believe that the movings of the Holy Spirit in me and my life have more to do with His plans than anything that my mother and/or a couple of priests did before I was old enough to remember or understand. Whatever the reason, whatever the means, I am grateful for the presence of the Spirit in my life and for reflections of my experience in the experiences of others.