I have learned to watch for the Holy Spirit’s involvement in my life. The way Luke tells it in his gospel, the Spirit keeps very busy moving in peoples’ lives. He overshadowed Mary, he flooded Elizabeth with his presence, inspired Zechariah to prophesy about his son, guided Simeon to the infant Jesus, revealed the child to the prophetess Anna and so on (see Lk 1: 35, 41, 67; 2: 26, 38).. So I start every day by inviting him to take the lead in my prayer time.

I learned about the Holy Spirit as a boy. Sister Angelica, my first grade teacher at St.AnneSchool, Castle Shannon, Pennsylvania, taught me that at my baptism the Holy Spirit had made me a child of God. At the time that fact made little difference to me, although it really was eternally significant. Then at age twelve, when I was in seventh grade, Sr. Johnnette prepared me for the sacrament of confirmation. She told me that the sacrament would make me a soldier of Christ. At the bishop’s hand I would receive the Holy Spirit and high-sounding gifts such as wisdom, piety, and fortitude.

On the day of the big event, I lined up in church with my friends, girls in white dresses and boys in blue suits with bright red ties. With fear and trembling I approached the bishop who touched my forehead with oil, quickly wiped it off, and patted me on the cheek. That afternoon and the next day I kept trying to feel like a soldier of Christ. But since I did not experience any new strength nor recognize any gifts, my preteen brain decided that nothing had happened. I thought that if I couldn’t feel the Spirit, he had not come to me. I concluded that somehow he had taken bad aim and missed me.

Of course, I had received the Spirit in the sacrament, but I did not know how to relate to him or to exercise his gifts. I allowed him to remain dormant, because I had not learned to expect him to act in my life. But years later as a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame I received the experience of the Spirit I had wanted as a kid.  He came to me as a gift that transformed my life.

Renewed in the Holy Spirit. A little background will help me tell how the Holy Spirit renewed me. Shortly after I enrolled at Notre Dame in Fall 1963, I connected with an informal community of students and faculty very much like Chi Rho. For a year I split my time between studying and doing what I believed was the Lord’s work on the campus. In Spring 1964 I married Mary Lou Cuddyre, my high school sweetheart, who shared my Christian commitment and experience. To my surprise, a year later I flunked my master’s exam, a disastrous first for me, who had always been an “A” student. I raged at God because I thought he should have helped me since I thought I had been helping him. So I stopped praying and abandoned all my campus Christian activities. As a result I plunged into a severe depression. I made life miserable for Mary Lou (just ask her). But she and my friends kept praying for me and reaching out to me until I gradually emerged from my funk in Summer 1966. I started to pray again and resumed my involvements with my colleagues, although some depression lingered.

In late Summer 1966 word buzzed among the groups at Duquesne and Notre Dame about an unusual book. The buzz was really about an experience called “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that David Wilkerson described in The Cross and the Switchblade. That the Holy Spirit was working among twentieth-century Christians just as he had among first-century Christians fascinated me. I was intrigued that the Spirit was enabling a country pastor to rescue street kids in Manhattan.

Wilkerson explained that Scripture presented baptism in the Holy Spirit as a normal part of the Christian life. He made it clear that he was not discussing a theoretical theological truth. Rather he described a stunning experience of the Holy Spirit that turned lives upside-right, one that was available to all believers. He pointed to Jesus’ promise that his disciples would “be baptized in the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). And he referred readers to the realization of the promise at Pentecost when the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues” (Acts 2:4; RSV).

I found Wilkerson’s reasoning persuasive. The evidence of Scripture and his testimony to the transforming power of the Spirit convinced me. I believed in the Holy Spirit. The possibility that I, too, might receive such a spiritual empowerment appealed very strongly to me. It seemed to be just what I needed.

In February 1967 word reached Notre Dame that members of Chi Rho at Duquesne had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Under the leadership of Dr. Storey and another professor, about twenty students had participated in a weekend retreat. The teachers told them to prepare by reading the Acts of the Apostles and to be open to the Spirit. Two of the students, Patti Gallagher (now Patti Mansfield) and David Mangan agreed that they would pray for a renewal of the gift of the Spirit they had received in the sacrament of confirmation. On Saturday evening something incalculable occurred. Patti felt drawn to the chapel where she found David at prayer. Patti sensed the Holy Spirit flowing within her and began to pray in tongues. David found himself prostrate before the tabernacle, full of joy, and laughing. Many of the other students were also baptized in the Spirit on the weekend.

On Saturday, March 4, Dr. Storey arrived at Notre Dame. At a prayer meeting that evening he shared about the events at Duquesne. “I no longer have to believe in Pentecost” he said. “I have seen it.”  The next evening he came to Mary Lou’s and my apartment where nine men and women had gathered to hear more about baptism in the Spirit and maybe to receive it. Among them were my friends Kevin Ranaghan, a theology grad student, and his wife, Dorothy, also grad student, who had been a member of Chi Rho. After a long discussion and many questions, we asked Dr. Storey to pray for us. He asked us to kneel and invited the Lord to come among us. Then he laid hands on each of us, praying that Jesus would baptize us in the Holy Spirit.

The next day everyone shared that they had experienced the Spirit and testified to his working in them in new ways. Everyone but me. I told Dr. Storey that I believed the Scripture about the outpouring of the Spirit, but felt that there must be an asterisk on the promise that said “*except Bert Ghezzi.” He advised me to wait and see what the Spirit would do. He assured me to expect that something would happen soon.

As Dr. Storey had predicted, within a few days I had evidence that I had been baptized in the Spirit. I sensed the residues of my depression lift. A new freedom was spreading throughout my being. Kevin Ranaghan—all six-foot-four of him—laughed as he told me he felt like a toddler released from his playpen. I—all five-foot-five of me—laughed as I said, “Me, too.”

A Breakthrough in prayer.  During the week after we had been baptized in the Spirit, none of us received the gift of tongues. But since speaking in tongues seemed to be normal to the experience of the Spirit in Scripture, we desired it. At Dr. Storey’s suggestion, we sought the advice of Ray Bullard, a deacon at CalvaryTemple, a Pentecostal church in South Bend. On Monday evening, March 13, Ray welcomed us at his home. He received us in a basement room that years before the Holy Spirit had directed him to finish in expectation of a special event. Ray believed that Notre Dame students seeking the gift of tongues was quite special, so he had  invited eleven Pentecostal pastors and their wives to help him talk to us about it.

We spent several hours arguing politely with the ministers. They held the Pentecostal doctrinal opinion that we had not been baptized in the Spirit because we had not manifested “tongues as initial evidence.” Dorothy and Kevin, our main spokespersons, represented our conviction that we had received the baptism of Spirit and did not need to speak in tongues to prove it. But we assured our hosts of our desire to receive the gift. Neither side gave an inch, and by midnight the friendly disputation ended in a draw.

“Well,” said one of the pastors, “do you want to speak in tongues or don’t you?”  We said that we did. Then the ministers laid hands on us and in a few moments we all began to pray in new, unlearned languages. I remember it as a solemn, but joyous event.

I went home on a spiritual high. I spent most of the early morning hours sitting in my rocking chair and praying in tongues. I was exhilarated, but not ecstatic, since I was in control, starting and stopping at will. As I exercised the gift, I sensed the Holy Spirit flowing through me and transforming the way I prayed. I felt as though I was realizing Jesus’s promise that from my heart would flow streams of living water (see Jn 7:37).

The Holy Spirit was inspiring me to praise and adore the Lord, which I recognized as a brand new experience. Thanking God, repenting for sins, and interceding for others had always dominated my prayer. I did worship the Lord with psalms and Scripture, but never realized before that my adoring him had not been experiential. Praying in tongues was a breakthrough for me. The experience of praising God in an unlearned language revolutionized my prayer life. From the time of that wonderful evening at Ray Bullard’s when I first prayed in tongues, I have sensed the Holy Spirit inspiring me to devote more of my prayer time to adoration. I still pray in tongues every day, but I now spend more time worshiping the Lord in my native tongue.

Exercising spiritual gifts.  Being baptized in the Spirit occasioned another breakthrough for me. It opened me to exercising gifts that I received in baptism and confirmation. In these sacraments the Holy Spirit confers gifts to strengthen us for Christian living. Four are workings of the Spirit that illumine our minds: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and counsel. Three work in our hearts to bind us to the Lord: piety, reverence, and fortitude. I had received these gifts as a child, but never recognized them. When the Spirit renewed my life he activated them in me. He began to work through them in my daily life and he still does. For example, he gives me insight into Scripture texts that puzzle me and practical wisdom for caring for my family. And he floods my heart with devotion that overflows into my daily prayer.

The Holy Spirit also gives every Christian gifts designed to build up the body of Christ (see 1 Cor 12:4–11; Eph 4:11–13). These spiritual gifts come in a great diversity and include workings for leadership, teaching, and serving in the Christian community. “Each one of you has received a special grace,” said St. Peter, “so Like good stewards … put it at the service of others” (1 Pt 4:10; NJB). We should all expect the Spirit to confer such gifts on us and to show us how to use them for the good of others and to build up the church.

After I was baptized in the Spirit, it became clear that the Lord was giving me a gift for communication. As a young man I recognized that I had a natural ability to explain things clearly. The Holy Spirit has shaped this skill into a gift that I can use in his service. I describe it as a capacity to encourage others with words.  I have learned to use it in conducting one-on-one relationships, in giving talks, and in writing. I like to think that my exercising this gift helps to advance God’s kingdom in some small way.

Transformation in Christ. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit was also a breakthrough for me in my Christian growth. For instance, for years I had wanted to overcome bad habits that caused me to sin—my persistent anger and critical spirit, to name two. I had tried to say no to them with little success. But empowered by the Spirit I have been able to chip away at these evil inclinations somewhat more effectively.

As St. Paul says, the Spirit enables us to put to death our self-indulgent habits (see Rom 8:13). He prompts us to replace them with good behaviors that make us more like Christ. Paul calls these character traits “fruit of the Spirit” (see Gal 5:22–23). In my case the Holy Spirit daily gives me the grace to exchange my anger for patience and to trade my critical spirit for gentleness.

Baptism in the Spirit does not instantly eliminate our sinful tendencies and advance us to perfection in holiness. But to our great advantage it does enhance the Holy Spirit’s work of transforming us in Christ (see 2 Cor 3:18). Daily I open myself to this grace by praying one of the ancient canticles to the Holy Spirit that saints like Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) testify promoted their Christian growth.

My experience with the Holy Spirit is not special. Nor is it unique. Being baptized in the Spirit is the biblical norm for all believers in Christ. It was so for the first Christians and it is still so for us today.

To get the picture check out the Acts of the Apostles: everyone who believed in Jesus received the Holy Spirit with manifestations that observers could see and hear (see Acts 2, 8, 10 and 19). Jesus himself described the release of the Spirit in believers as unmistakably experiential: “he cried out: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let anyone who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ Now he said this about the Spirit…” (Jn 7:37).

Today millions of Christians have received the baptism in the Spirit and are exercising the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament. For example, 120 million Catholics worldwide have been baptized in the Spirit. Like me they have enjoyed breakthroughs in their prayer, spiritual gifts, and in their Christian growth.

This renewal in the Spirit is available to you just for the asking. Jesus said: “Ask and it will be given you … If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk 11:9, 11). The key, as I discovered, is expecting the Lord to act and to fulfill his promises. You can count on him to do it.

The Lord’s offer is on the table…