What is the experience of the outpouring of the Spirit?
Q & A with Fr Denis Biju-Duval, theologian and author of ‘L’effusion de l’Esprit Saint’ (The outpouring of the Holy Spirit), published by the Editions de l’Emmanuel)
Interview by Laurence Louvencourt in ‘Ilestvivant!’ No. 293.
1 The term seems quite new and it may surprise some people?
Although the term may seem relatively recent, it describes an experience and a step in the Christian spiritual life that has always existed. This step is indeed the true entrance into life in the Holy Spirit – ‘Be guided by the Holy Spirit’, exhorts St. Paul. ‘Be guided’ supposes that the Holy Spirit makes Himself felt so that we can understand which direction he is indicating.
The coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives is both a new event and a necessary development in the life of every baptized person.
One could also say that this step corresponds, in the growth of a Christian, to the transition of a faith which relies on what we have received to a faith fully experienced. Pope John Paul II made frequent reference to it when he spoke to young people. Now faith cannot be truly experienced unless the Holy Spirit takes possession of our lives. The experience of the outpouring of the Spirit is the gateway to this new life.
2 What does the ‘the experience of the outpouring of the Spirit’ consist of?
It consists of experiencing that God is present, alive and active in our lives, ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit’. The experience is described differently by different people. Some highlight such and such an act of God, or the action of one Divine Person rather than another. For example, in the charismatic renewal it is especially the person of the Holy Spirit who is recognized as the active principle. In other contexts, people discuss more readily a personal meeting with Christ. In fact it is the same grace – the introduction of the person to the experience of the presence and love of God.
3 Have we not already received this experience of the outpouring of the Spirit in Baptism and in each of the Sacraments?
Baptism is indeed the start of a history of love for God. But this history may blossom after the experience of the outpouring of the Spirit. At Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit. We receive Him sacramentally, but in a way that, in most cases, is not characterized by the experience of the outpouring of the Spirit. If you were baptized as a baby, it is obvious that you were unable to either understand or experience what was happening. Some adults may experience Baptism accompanied by powerful graces given by the Lord – but not necessarily. If they do not feel anything, it does not mean that their Baptism was flawed or ineffective.
Furthermore, you may effectively experience an outpouring of the Holy Esprit in the other Sacraments – e.g. during Mass or Confession. Thus a significant number of children have a powerful experience of God’s presence in their hearts when they make their First Communion. The experience of the outpouring of the Spirit occurs when the Lord decides. We cannot therefore develop a theory about the ‘where, when and how’ it should happen. God is entirely free in this matter.