This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ February 2020 newsletter. Ralph Martin was introduced to Fr. Paul Sciberras while speaking at a priests’ retreat in Malta. In this testimony, Fr. Paul, head of the Department of Sacred Scripture, Hebrew and Greek, at the University of Malta, shares how being baptized in the Holy Spirit at a Life in the Spirit Seminar brought his faith to life in a new way and transformed his understanding of the meaning of his priesthood and the Word of God.
I have been a priest for thirty years. After my ordination, my superiors asked me to specialize in Scripture Sciences in Rome. I was formed to mentally dissect and filter every word in the Bible with the extra-fine toothcombs of biblical scientific-critical methods.
However, all of this analysing, re-analysing, and re-checking was not satisfying me. Something was missing!
Thankfully, I myself was soaked in the Spirit four years ago, through a Life in the Spirit Seminar, and now I can walk and move in the Spirit as a man and a priest. The breeze that sways the wheat field of my life is the Spirit’s breath in my heart, my actions, and indeed, my whole life.
Baptism in the Spirit is about being soaked (the basic meaning of the Greek verb from which “baptism” derives) like a sponge, not in water but in the Spirit. What comes out and overflows when one is “squeezed” is then the Spirit of holiness of the Father and of Jesus, the Son. Since the Spirit can in no way be separated from its constituents—a father cannot be a father if he doesn’t have a son, and a son is a son because he has been generated—the Spirit is the Spirit of wholeness, integrity, and holiness.
How has this affected the way I experience my faith? Bathing biblical ministry in the Spirit of the Church and for the Church has always meant the world to me. But now it comes more from the heart and makes much more sense. I feel it’s becoming more a question of wisdom and knowledge, than of information and scholarship. The Bible turns out to be always fresh, like living waters, even when I am teaching the simple basics of Hebrew and Greek!
Additionally, Bible scholarship is no longer mere academic prowess. Thanks to the soaking in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God becomes a rhema, truly a Word addressed personally to me. Whilst paying attention to the technicalities of the Hebrew and Greek languages and the historical context of the Scriptures, I now know too well that my academia is not just about producing academics, but about being a source of nourishment for thirsty and seeking believers.
Personally, I feel that the one word that says it all about Baptism in the Spirit, and indeed about the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, is surrender. Surrender! At the beginning of the Life in the Spirit Seminars, I asked myself how could anyone even surrender was possible for me! And yet so it was, as Josef Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation of Faith, defined it, “This profound contact with God, becoming a friend of God: it is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy.”
After baptism in the Spirit, I began surrendering more and more to the Spirit. Mass has become a heavenly experience. The peace! The joy! After Consecration, I now kneel in adoration: “My Lord and my God; I surrender to You, Lord Jesus!” I make mine the prayer of surrender: “I open all the secret places of my heart to You and say: ‘Come on in.’ Jesus, You are Lord of my whole life. I believe in You and receive You as my Lord and my Saviour. I hold nothing back. Holy Spirit, bring me to a deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. . . . I surrender my understanding of how things ought to be, my choices and my will.” Life in the Spirit is not about doing new things but about doing the old things in a new way: the Spirit’s way.
Yet another discovery is taking place in my heart: not only how the Holy Spirit inspires and breathes his power into the Bible, but how the Bible breathes God back to us—by making it more complete and by making the Bible much more personal!
And finally—because I consider it the filter of all that I am going through—with surrender comes joy; the deep-seated joy where I feel so much at peace!
Surrendering! Yes, it’s possible! It suits me perfectly! It’s the only way!