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The Spirit and the Seminary

John-Paul Evans, a final year seminarian at Oscott seminary outside Birmingham, shares his experience of the Life in the Spirit seminars that were run there in Lent 2014.

I think it is fair to say that I have always had a fairly traditional view of the Church and the celebration of the sacraments.

Some years ago through a personal encounter with Christ Jesus in the Gospel, I began to realise that the Lord was calling me to be a priest and for the last five years I have been studying in the seminary.

When it was announced that we would be having Life in the Spirit seminars in college, I knew that it was something that I wanted to be involved in.

However I was a little apprehensive as I feared what others would say if I went.

But I thought, “I want to go to the Life in the Spirit seminars so I’m going regardless.”

As the weeks went on and I contemplated what was being said, I felt that there was something stirring inside me.

I knew God had a plan for me and it was my role to respond.

I remember thinking about what may change. What happens if God does something in my life that I don’t like or don’t want, or worse takes something away that I do like?

As I was reflecting I was reminded of something that Pope Benedict said after he was elected.

He quoted Pope St John Paul II some 37 years earlier: “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?”

And once again the Pope said: “ No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”

Hearing these words I resolved to give myself fully to The Lord.

In the lead up to the Baptism in the Spirit, I remember several sleepless nights.

One night I woke up from a dream in which I saw a white snake with a beady eye staring at me.

Since being very little I have had a fear of snakes, but seldom do I have dreams, let alone ones like this.

I told a friend who said, “this is good! If the devil is after you, then God must have something good planned!”

I wasn’t sure how to take that, but I knew that I was determined to carry on going to the seminars.

Baptism in the Spirit

When the time came for Baptism in the Spirit I knew that this is something that I wanted to build on the gifts given to me in baptism and confirmation; to renew the life of the Spirit in me, and to present myself, fully open to whatever God wanted to do in my life.

I went to be prayed with by Paul and Barbara Mason, a married lay couple.

They prayed over me as I opened my heart to the will of The Lord.

They placed their hands on my head and prayed in tongues.

First Paul invoked the protection of St. Michael, the Archangel - my patron chosen at confirmation - then Barbra prayed that I be filled with the strength to go in whichever direction that God was guiding me.

As I closed my eyes I was aware of everything around me - the prayers, the singing, people moving about.

I said to God “Lord I may not be very perceptive and I am often forgetful, please send a true friend to me to remind me of your will!”

I can only describe this time as a joyful time sitting in prayer and contemplation.

I am usually quite reserved and like St. Philip Neri I don’t put much stock in visions and ecstasies. I would rather just be quiet and pray in quiet contemplation.

But as I sat there soaking in the joy that I was experiencing, I just felt so peaceful.

Then I heard Barbara say “we’re going to move over here, you just stay there”.

At that moment I realised that I couldn’t actually stand up. I couldn’t move, but neither did I want to move.

Yet I was still totally aware of what was going on around me.

After what seemed like a short period of time I knelt down, facing the Tabernacle with my hands in the air just praising God.

I realised I was praying in tongues. I didn’t know what I was saying, but I was aware of my tongue moving inside my mouth forming the sounds of letters or words, but not any of the languages I know.

For the next few days I found that the more I prayed in tongues the more peaceful I felt afterwards.

Not-so silent retreat

Then came the time for the college Lenten retreat.

I was looking forward to this to try and work out what had happened to me.

It was a silent retreat, but I remember saying to my director I just want to sing out loud joyfully... He said well, if you’re not disturbing people, go for it!

Then midway through the week I received a letter. It was amazing.

A very good friend wrote to me to tell me he was praying for me at that moment in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and that “ although it seems an unlikely image, God wants you to be a warrior!” Wow!

Then I looked at the date... The letter was actually written before the Baptism in the Spirit, but only posted after!

We always say God knows what we need before we even ask, but I never really believed that until then.

Now I find I often want to pray in tongues and to sing praise and worship songs, but I also want to continue to pray in Latin and sing plainchant too.

How it’s expressed is irrelevant, I just want to praise God, and give myself completely to Him, that above all things His will, not mine may be done.


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