Healing Line

Healing Line

Baptized in the Spirit During the Renaissance

by Francis MacNutt
Jan/Feb 2008

Way back when I was younger and studying in the seminary, I realized that I tended to be too serious. Then I discovered a Saint who seemed to be the perfect model for how I might change. His name was St. Philip Neri, and he lived in Rome where he became famous for his union with Jesus. He was also a famous joker who tried to hide his holiness by making people laugh at him. He attracted people to him by the force of his delightful personality and then he drew his followers to Jesus. In a time of great difficulty for the Catholic Church — during the Renaissance, with the worldly materialistic model of many popes (Savonarola was burned during Philip’s lifetime) — Philip even started a new religious order (the Oratory), which later numbered the famous Cardinal Newman among its members in England. To me in the 1950s, Philip was like a breath of fresh air and a ray of sunshine.

What especially stands out about Philip’s life is something I have been realizing more and more in recent years: that God has touched people with the power of the Spirit in every age and in every culture. It is as if Jesus has been trying to reach us to show us how he really intended to transform us and what the Gospel is really all about; but, by and large, we seem to be blind to what God desires for all of us, and we pass on without recognizing the “pearl of great price.”

In one of my recent talks, I mentioned Philip and his balancing influence on my life. As a result, one of the kind listeners has sent me a copy of a biography of St. Philip.1 I started to read this life of St. Philip and was delighted to discover that he had experienced the Baptism in the Holy Spirit after praying that the Spirit would pour out his gifts upon him. When he was young, he used to spend days praying in the catacombs of St. Sebastian’s on the Appian Way. Here is how the book describes his remarkable experience:


In the catacombs of St. Sebastian something happened that can rightly be called Philip’s ‘Pentecost.’ It was a kind of invasion of the Divine into his life. It is recorded here because with this event the years of waiting and of solitude reached their culmination.

What, then, happened in the catacombs in 1544?

Philip was in a small room of the catacomb, where today an altar and his picture serve as memorials to the event, and was praying with special devotion to the Holy Spirit shortly before Pentecost, as Gallonio, his first biographer, tells us: ‘It was habitual with Philip to pray each day to the Holy Spirit, and with great humility to ask Him for His gifts and graces.’ As he was thus praying again with great devotion one day in 1544, ‘he suddenly felt himself divinely filled with the power of the Spirit with such force that his heart began to palpitate within his body and to be inflamed with such love that, his nature being unaccustomed to such a palpitation of the heart, he indicated that he was completely unable to bear it’...

Philip saw a ball of fire enter into his mouth and then felt his breast expand over his heart. The sensation of inner fire was so strong that Philip threw himself onto the ground and cried out, ‘Enough, Lord, enough! I cannot take any more!…His prayer was full of love; …but he was imploring more and greater love.’ This prayer was heard: ‘The love of God overflowed from his soul upon his body; his blood coursed so rapidly through his veins that his countenance was all lighted up and flushed; his eyes, his cheeks, his forehead, all beamed with a ruddy... glow.’ This experience of God’s love gave Philip an unbounded joy, ‘a gladness all of divine love.’2


The church historian Ludwig Pastor writes that this Pentecostal event in 1544 remained with him all his life and can be compared to the stigmata of St. Francis.

From that time on, whenever he would pray he would tremble to such an extraordinary extent that, when he was celebrating Mass, he was afraid that he would knock the chalice over and he would have to steady himself by leaning on the altar. He could only calm down this shaking by thinking about ordinary, mundane things.

He was also filled with extraordinary heat and, in the middle of winter, would have to leave his cassock unbuttoned. His heart also radiated an amazing amount of heat, and after he died the physicians found that his ribs were protruding because they had been broken and were separated from the cartilage. The physician believed that this was God’s providence that enabled his heart to beat so strongly and not be caged in, as it were, so that the heart was not injured by its violent beating and he was enabled to live a long life (1515–1595).

All of this bears out my belief — which I try to convey in my book The Healing Reawakening — that God, over the centuries, has continually tried to show us the need for all of us, in one way or the other, to experience the Baptism in the Spirit and the charisms of the Spirit (such as healing). Cleverly, people have evaded the challenge by saying something like, “Well, I’m no saint,” but the clear message of the Gospel is that, while some experience more extraordinary phenomena than others, the promise of John the Baptist still holds true: “Jesus is the one who will baptize you in the Spirit” (e.g. Mk. 1:8).

For Catholics, Philip Neri is a canonized saint who explicitly describes what we would call the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” and claims that his life was dramatically transformed from that moment on. Not that he wasn’t a Christian before then, but Pentecost, 1544, was the basis and heart of his ministry!

1 Philip Neri, The Fire of Joy by Paul Türks, of the Oratory. Alba House, Staten Isl., NY 1995.
2 Ibid., p. 16–17.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Jan/Feb 2008 Issue