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Healing Line

Healing Line

My Search for the Spirit

by Francis MacNutt
Spring 2014

When we spend time with Francis MacNutt, we hear about many treasures from his past. Recently he brought out this testimony from decades ago when he had his first encounter with the Baptism and release of the Holy Spirit. It had been typed on an old typewriter. Its pages were stapled and the staple had started to rust. A treasure! The following testimony is one that changed so many lives, and because of that, we have left it in its original form. His voice has changed over the years, to a strong worldwide voice encouraging and teaching on the Baptism, yet below you read, see, and experience Francis as a young man as he first encounters the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Step back in time to the late 1960's and enjoy!


As a young priest, I realized that Christ taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but he didn't say too much about how to do it. I began reading works by psychologists such as Eric Fromm, Carl Rogers and Karen Horney in order to develop priests' retreats in which I tried to teach very practical ways to love. My conferences were based on group dynamics, such as exercises and ideas used from Eric Fromm's Art of Loving. I tried to encourage the participants during the course of a week to move from an ideal of loving your neighbor to actually doing this in practice in a workshop format. I soon, however, realized that I was preaching much less about Christ. Ninety percent of the content of my retreats was gathered from psychologists, rather than from the Bible, yet I knew instinctively that something was missing.

It was in this questioning frame of mind that I first met Jo Kimmel, a counselor who had a very special gift of prayer, especially praying for the sick to be healed. It fascinated me to find a Protestant layperson who was healing the sick, a practice that had been so prominent in the lives of our Catholic "saints." Naturally I wanted to meet her, so my friends arranged for several of us to have dinner with her. We began by talking about Jesus in a very natural, personal way, and she wove Him in and out of her conversation. It struck me as such a beautiful thing — as if she were talking about an old friend. When asked, she seemed to assume that this was a very ordinary and normal thing to do.

She was amazed that I was surprised by this "old friend" status with Jesus that she portrayed. She remarked, "There are hundreds of people like me, you know; this is nothing out of the ordinary."

I replied, "Well, if there are so many people like you out there, where are they? I want to meet them."

She then gave me a copy of John Sherrill's book, They Speak In Other Tongues. I suspected I might be turned off by tongues, but instead I found the book very interesting and I didn't see anything in it with which I would disagree. I was very much attracted to what he was saying about this extraordinary experience that God intended for helping us in our life of prayer, but I wondered how it would fit into my Catholic background.

I felt I couldn't afford to let any bias get in the way. I wanted to investigate this, because theology is supposed to be a reflection of things that are really happening, and my only question was — Are these charismatic gifts authentic?

I didn't have an opportunity to pray for the Baptism of the Spirit until the following summer. Jo Kimmel was going to take her mother–in–law to a retreat called "A Camp Farthest Out." Jo's mother–in–law fell sick, so Jo wrote and asked me if I would like to take the available spot at the camp being held in Tennessee.

There were 800 participants at the event, very large in my experience. I soon found out that the reason why it was so large was because of the quality and reputation of the three speakers: Rev. Tommy Tyson, a Methodist minister; Agnes Sanford, a remarkable Episcopalian about seventy years old whose special gift was inner healing and teaching about it; and Derek Prince, who taught about deliverance (a new topic for me). They gave long lectures, over an hour each, but there was none of that heavy feeling you get when you are listening to long lectures. I was filled with joy when I heard these speakers, so much so that I actually hated to hear them stop! All of them soon became my friends.

At this conference I didn't know exactly how to act, or even how to dress. Do I merge into the crowd or do I dress in such a way as to be immediately identified as a priest? I had determined when I went there that my goal was to pray for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, because it is supposed to deepen your relationship with Jesus. I wanted that! If that was the purpose of the Baptism, then I knew I wanted it, even though I could not sort out all the theological questions I had.

At the beginning of this camp they passed a microphone around so that each person could tell the entire group what they had come to receive. When the microphone finally came to the back of the auditorium where I was sitting, I took it, stood up and said, "I am a Roman Catholic priest and I came to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, whatever that is." When I made my prayer request known, it seemed to me that all 800 people turned around to look at me; they were amazed to see a Catholic priest there saying that kind of thing.

A man down in front who was one of the four counselors assigned to pray with people (an Episcopal priest about eighty years old) stood up. He said, "I am just delighted that we have a Roman Catholic brother here this afternoon, and if Brother Francis will allow me the honor of praying for the Baptism of the Spirit, I would be so pleased." Father Bill Sherwood, this Episcopal priest, had his little appointment book out, and I made an appointment to meet with him the following Wednesday morning at eleven o'clock.

All during this camp, people were coming up to me and asking, "Have you received it yet?" I really felt uncomfortable with this kind of question; after all, I had received the sacrament of confirmation and had spent fifteen years as a Dominican priest praying all 150 Psalms every week. "What do you mean, have I received the Spirit?" But I felt that I wasn't supposed to explain or to justify myself, so I would simply reply by saying, "No, I'm sorry; my appointment isn't till Wednesday." I really felt confused and a little humiliated.

Wednesday came around and I went to my appointment accompanied by Jo Kimmel and my camp roommate, an impressive Episcopal minister, along with a small group of other recipients. Father Bill Sherwood began by offering an explanation of what the Baptism of the Spirit was, and as I waited I thought, "When is he going to get around to do the praying?"

Finally, about 20 minutes before noon, they finally got around to praying. We prayed as a group for about five minutes in total. This confused me, and I mention this because we often seem to box in the Spirit or expect Him to follow our schedule or our method. Instead, the Holy Spirit takes us where we are, with our own needs and works from there; sometimes it happens according to our own human expectations, but sometimes there is a better or different way.

After his prayer, they all turned to me and said, "Can you pray in tongues?" and I answered, "Well, I came here to do what I could to receive the Spirit," so they said, "Go ahead and pray," so I did. I prayed very fluently in something that sounded to me like Russian — I don't know what it was. At that time I didn't have any welling up inside me, or any great interior experience. What I was after was not tongues so much as a real encounter with Christ. That's what I was really looking for, so I left that session feeling disappointed. Next I went to the cafeteria — there were two lines of about 400 people in each line waiting to be fed. As I was waiting, Agnes Sanford cut into the line next to me. As one of the three main speakers, she had the option of cutting in so she could go and rest after the meals. I told her about the prayer appointment I had just experienced and she said, "Well, I had a feeling from the first time I met you, at the beginning of this camp, that probably you should not have gone into a group and received prayer for the Baptism in the Spirit in the way they usually pray; that is as if you don't already have the Spirit. I didn't want to stop you because I felt you were being moved in that direction, but now that you have brought it up, I feel that my initial leading was right when I felt the right prayer would be for you to receive the release of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that were already in you, by virtue of your baptism and ordination. Somehow these gifts need to be fully released. This prayer assumes that you do have the Spirit but that the gifts needed to be released."

The next evening Mrs. Sanford and two people prayed for me. Agnes prayed a beautiful prayer for the unfolding of the gifts that were already within me, and in that prayer there were some elements of prophecy. The main one was that I would be used to bring the gift of healing back to the Catholic Church (a prophecy that has largely taken place)!

When she finished her prayer, a spirit of joy fell on all four of us in that room — we just laughed and laughed. Then we would share for a while and we would begin to laugh again. A sense of well–being and joy filled me. This was the way the Spirit came to me — a sense of absolute joy. We decided that what had happened was that the Holy Spirit already in me was now fully released!

Since that time my life has not been the same — particularly my ministry. It is hard to decide what causes what, but that isn't too important as long as the Spirit really becomes active!

Those of you who know me from the time I was teaching in Dubuque, Iowa know that I did a great deal of counseling at that time. I was under considerable pressure from some of the faculty to cut it out. They thought I was wasting my time counseling when it could have been better spent preparing my classes. But I knew from the depth of problems that people brought to me that I couldn't just let that ministry go. Nobody else was seeing them. Some were dying on the vine.

I found that my approach had changed again; instead of just counseling, I prayed for the person about the problems they had, with the expectation that the Lord would move in and help them in a way that I was never able to (and the psychiatrist was never able to either). Some people I had counseled for four years. Some had gotten better, but now, after the Baptism, more would happen in one five–minute prayer than had happened in the four previous years. We were seeing our own personal lives being transformed by healing prayer. We were able to help each other in ways we had never dreamed possible before.

In all my years as a student, whenever I went to a priest for counsel, or whenever the students came to me, I never remember that we actually sat down and prayed about it together — we would never have thought of it. We didn't realize that there was a power that would actually come through our prayer to help our friends. I now see that the Lord can help a person far more than I was ever able to — it's great — it's beautiful — the time has come to tell everyone about it.

I see a tremendous hope for the renewal of a real spiritual ministry where we can know Jesus Christ in a more personal way than we have ever known Him before — which isn't to say that we haven't known Him at all, but it is to say, there is much more!


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Spring 2014 Issue