My first novena to the Holy Spirit was in 1974.
At that time, I was purely motivated to pray this novena by an infatuation I had for a young lady. She broke off our relationship midway through my novena, but I was still hopeful and persevered to the end.
She prayed in tongues, and I thought it would help if I also prayed in tongues. Not the best reason to pray, but I was young and lacked understanding and yearned for a holy marriage.
The Holy Spirit had a better idea.
My Own Pentecost
After Mass on the Pentecost evening when I had completed my nine days of lonely prayer, I saw another woman who caught my attention.
A friend told me she had come to St. Francis Seraph in Kansas City’s East Bottoms to speak with my spiritual director about converting to Catholicism.
She was stunning.
My friend knew Karol from the Catholic college where he was an assistant professor of theology and she worked in campus ministry.
So we waited outside the rectory door for her to emerge from her consultation with Father Jim Flanagan, the founder of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT).
SOLT was headquartered at that time in Kansas City, and my friend, George, and I had been serving with SOLT for that past year. I worked as a guard in a local county jail, and had just been accepted into graduate school to study criminal justice.
“You would not believe what Father Flanagan suggested to me,” Karol said as she emerged from her private conference with Father Jim. She directed this comment to another friend with whom George and I had been chatting politely as we waited for Karol.
“He told me I should become a religious sister,” she answered, clearly astounded at the proposal. “There’s no way I want to be a sister; I want to get married,” she declared definitively.
A Modest Proposal
I edged closer. George took the lead.
“Karol, this is Jim. I think we would all have a great time if we got to know one another on a double date. What do you think?” George included Karol’s friend in the proposal.
Karol looked at me for the first time that evening. She seemed unsure of me and the proposal. I was somewhat tongue-tied.
Karol’s friend responded immediately, and positively, to George, who was older, debonair, and very classy. He came from wealth, and exuded worldly charm and sophistication.
Karol told me later that she had initially hoped that George would have asked HER to be HIS date.
“Yeah” she replied distractedly, including me in her inattention. “We could go to a modern dance show this Wednesday. I’m a member of the group but I was not included in that evening’s performing cast.”
Wow! I thought to myself. She’s a dancer, wants to be a Catholic, and is beautiful. I wondered a bit about the modern dance thing, which seemed kind of avant-garde; but I overlooked it in light of her wanting to be Catholic.
I said I was in.
Later That Night
She glanced back at me for a brief moment before returning her full attention to my very handsome friend. He was very smart, and, did I mention, an assistant college professor?
She said she could easily get four tickets for free, which was pretty critical to me, as I was donating my salary to SOLT. In turn, I received an allowance of $13 spending money per week, mainly to help with gas for my car.
After George took care of the final details for the logistics for the double date, he offered to drive Karol’s friend home and suggested I ride with Karol. Professor George was clever!
For the third time, Karol looked at me. This look seemed to include pity and bewilderment. Our eyes locked. I was mesmerized.
She asked me where I lived and I gave her the address of the men’s house in the inner-city. She seemed to brighten up. “Oh, I don’t live far from there. That’s a pretty run-down area, isn’t it?”
My tongue was loosened, and I began to ask her about her house, work, and life. Was I getting the gift of tongues after all?
The Final Piece
We talked all the way to the men’s house, and lingered in front of my house as we finished our conversation.
She then asked me a critical question, one that would take obscure gifts of the Holy Spirit, which I must have possessed, to adequately answer.
“Why is there a toilet laying in your front yard?”
I explained with great embarrassment that we had replaced it several weeks ago and that we had been too busy to take it to the dump, which we would do soon.
We said goodbye and Karol told me later that she called her mother as soon as she arrived back at her house. She told her Mom she had met the man she would eventually marry.
Me, that is, not George. George later became a priest and founded a religious order that focused on re-evangelizing those with significant resources. I later worked in inner-city education for the poor.
I learned that the derivation of the name Karol was “gift of joy.” I proposed six weeks later and we married after a six-week engagement.
Forty years later, after a corresponding forty years of novenas to the Holy Spirit, and four children, I was ordained to the permanent diaconate for SOLT. My ordination was on the day of the Eve of Pentecost.
My first homily, in front of Karol and my parents, included the story of my first meeting with Karol and the gifts of the Holy Spirit all of us can receive in our life of faith in the Church.
There is a clarity about the Most Holy Trinity that can be experienced through the Holy Spirit. I have found this clarity profoundly when I proclaim, preach, and live the Gospel as a married deacon in service to those most in need. The Word burns inside of me, and cannot be contained.
Karol and I and our family have had our ups and downs, tragedies and epiphanies. We lost one of our four adult children violently almost fifteen years ago. I have experienced depression and the loss of significant employment.
Yet I can say with St. Paul that “…whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3: 7-8)
This understanding of Jesus Christ is another gift of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me to crown all of the other gifts, including the gifts of joy, tongues, proclamation of the “new evangelization,” and living in union with the Most Holy Trinity and with our Blessed Mother.
We are all truly blessed to experience the Holy Spirit, whether we have prayed our novenas or not this year, for the Spirit yearns for us to live in Communion with the Trinity for eternity.