My parents married in the early 1950's. I was their firstborn, born in the late 1950's. My father was a Roman Catholic and my mother was an Episcopalian. Back then, whenever a non-Roman Catholic married a Roman Catholic, the non-Roman Catholic had to sign a paper stating that they would raise all of their children as Roman Catholics. So before my parents married, my mother had to sign a paper stating that she would raise all of her children as Roman Catholics. As an infant, I had water poured on my head as I was held over the “baptismal font” in the back of our Roman Catholic church. (The Roman Catholic church calls this “baptism.”) I still have my “baptismal certificate.” It lists my name, the names of my parents, the names of my godparents, and it is signed by the Catholic priest who poured the water on my head.
I remember as a child, my dad dropping off my mother at the Episcopal church in town on Sunday morning and then taking me (and my sister and two brothers when they were born) to Mass at the Catholic church in town. After Mass was over, we would then go back to the Episcopal church to pick up my mother before driving home. We lived out in the country, about six miles outside of town.
Because there was no kindergarten in the Catholic grade school in the parish that we were members of, when I was five, my parents enrolled me in public school, half-day, morning kindergarten. But when I was six and it came time for first grade, my parents enrolled me in the Catholic grade school in our parish. I attended St. Patrick Catholic School for two years, first and second grades. (Because the name of our school was “St. Patrick's,” we had to wear green uniforms every day to school. For us boys it was dark green pants, a light green dress shirt, and a dark green tie. And each year on St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, we had a school holiday!)
It was during second grade that we second-graders were taught about Communion (the Lord's Supper). We then received what the Catholics call, “First Holy Communion,” where we were allowed for the first time to go to the front of the church and receive Communion during the part of the Mass when Communion is served. After receiving Communion for the first time, we were then eligible to participate in Communion during every Mass. (In the Catholic church, during every Mass, they have Communion, which consists only of the “bread” which they call the “host.” In Protestant or Bible-believing churches, Communion consists of the “bread” and the “fruit of the vine” (grape juice or wine) and is usually celebrated about once a month.) I remember that one of the prerequisites of our receiving our “First Holy Communion” was that we had to memorize the Ten Commandments. I also remember that when we were back in class that week after we received our “First Holy Communion,” we each had to write a short account of our experience of our receiving our “First Holy Communion.”
We also celebrated what the Catholics call “May Crowning” on May 1st. Our class voted to select a boy and a girl to place a crown of flowers on the head of the statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. (In the Catholic church they have statues of different people, including a statue of Mary.) Since the statue of Mary was high on the front wall of the church on the left side of the altar, a staircase was positioned leading up to the statue. A girl named Jacqueline (Jackie) and I were selected by our class for the honor. During the ceremony we then walked up the staircase together and Jackie placed the crown of flowers on the head of the statue of Mary.
After second grade, I, and many other students in our Catholic grade school, transferred over to public school. Those of us who transferred then attended the public grade school in the area in which we lived. There were about seven public grade schools in our public school district. I attended one called “Wasco Elementary School.” My parents would not tell me why I was transferring. They only told me that I was transferring. I was very upset because that meant leaving all of my friends that I had been with in school for the past two years. (My mother told me many years later, that the reason why I and many other students in our Catholic grade school had transferred over to public school that year was because the money that was paying many of our tuitions was from a donor, and that money had run out.)
When I returned to public school for third grade, I already knew many of my classmates because I had gone to kindergarten with them. However, because I was a Catholic, I had to attend Catechism classes (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes, called “CCD” for short) in the Catholic grade school building once a week.
After attending Wasco Elementary School for third grade, the St. Charles School District redistricted the elementary school districts and I had to transfer over to Wild Rose Elementary School for fourth grade. I knew some of the people there in my new school because a number of us had to transfer over and there were a few people there that had transferred over from St. Patrick's the year before.
About the time when I was a fifth-grader, my mother became a Christian (got “born again” or “saved” as it is called). She also got filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. (At that time I did not know anything about this. My mother was initially afraid to say anything about this to us children for fear of what my father might say or do and also because she had given her word and signed a paper that said that she would raise us as Roman Catholics.) I remember a time when I was in the fifth grade, waking up in my bed one December afternoon to my mother and one of her new Christian friends kneeling on the side of my bed and praying in tongues over me. I had fallen on the ice while ice-skating on a frozen pond earlier that day at my friend's birthday party and had hit the back of my head on the ice and gotten amnesia. I could only remember a few bits and pieces of what had happened that day.
I never thought about it at the time, but many years later I realized that after my mother had become a Christian, she had become friends with different people and different families. The families that we used to have over to our house and we would go to their houses and even go on vacation with, were gradually no longer in our lives. This was because my mother had become a Christian and there was no longer any fellowship with our old non-Christian friends.
About the time I was in the seventh grade (the first year of junior high school), my father was staying away from home for extended periods of time. He would be gone for days or even weeks at a time. I didn't think anything of it because my mother would just say that he was away on business. Because my dad was often “gone on business,” my mother would take us to Mass on Sunday and attend Mass with us instead of her going to the Episcopal church.
When I finished seventh grade our family (my father included) took a vacation to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. We stayed in a condominium situated on the shore of Lake Dillon (a reservoir created by a dam that was built damming the Blue River in the early 1960's) in a town called “Dillon,” about two miles above sea level. The condominium that we were staying in was several floors up and I remember how tiring it was going up and down the outdoor, brown, wooden stairs to the condominium. I had never before experienced the thinner air of high altitudes!
When Sunday rolled around, my mother took us children to church. It was the first or second Sunday of June, 1971. Since my mother was now a Christian, and had been one now for about two years or so, she took us to a little Christian church named “Dillon Community Church” there in Dillon, Colorado. I do not remember the message. I do remember that the message was given by a woman and that she was looking at me sometimes. (I understand now that she obviously could tell that the Holy Spirit was all over me dealing with me.)
At the end of the message she led us through a prayer to make Jesus the Lord of our lives and then asked people who had just prayed this prayer and committed their lives to Christ to come forward.
I prayed the prayer while seated in the pew, but I did not go forward. I felt like I should go forward, but I was afraid. I did not understand what was going on.
As I am writing this out now, years later, I now understand about getting saved and my mother becoming a Christian (getting saved) about the time I was in the fifth grade. But at the time I prayed this prayer when I was thirteen years old, I did not understand that my mother had become a Christian about two years earlier. I did not understand any of this. Of course, the reason that I did not understand this, was because I was a Roman Catholic, and I had always been taught that I was already a Christian because I was a Roman Catholic.
There was one person that responded to the invitation and went to the front of the church—a teenaged girl. I remember her standing there with her weight on one leg like girls do sometimes. After the girl said something to the woman who had given the message, the woman explained that this girl had accepted Christ this past week while she was down in Denver, and because of this, wanted to respond to the invitation.
After church, when we were out in the parking lot, my mother asked us children if we had prayed to accept Jesus as our Lord. I responded that I had. I was the only one of the four of us children who had done this.
Several weeks later, when we were back home in Illinois, my mother came into my bedroom one evening. She began talking to me about my becoming a Christian.
I said that I felt like I had always been a Christian. (I thought that I had always been a Christian because I had been raised a Roman Catholic and I had always been taught that I was a Christian because I was a Roman Catholic.) But I said to her, “But I know there is something more.”
I don't really know how I knew there was “something more,” but I knew there was “something more.” Maybe it was because I had heard my mother praying in tongues or maybe it was because I had heard her talk about things with her Christian friends. Or maybe I just knew in my new, recreated human spirit. I don't know. But I did know that there was “something more.”
My mother then explained to me that there was “something more.” She said that I could be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues.
(Some years later I read a book by Catherine Marshall entitled, Something More, which talked about this Christian experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues!)
She then knelt down by the side of my bed with me and prayed with me to be filled with the Holy Spirit. She then told me to just let the Holy Spirit take my tongue. I knelt there with my mouth open waiting for the Holy Spirit to take my tongue and move it around and make this new language come out of me. Nothing happened. She then prayed in tongues to show me how to do it. Still nothing happened. She then told me to try to imitate some of the language of her tongues. It didn't do any good.
We were still attending the Catholic church at this time, although my mother was also attending some other Christian meetings and Bible studies. The Catholic church in the town next to ours had a priest that had gotten born again and had also been filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking with tongues. On one night of the week he held a Christian meeting—not a Mass—where Christians from all backgrounds could come and sing and pray—including singing and praying in tongues—and be taught the Bible and fellowship with one another.
I went with my mother to the next meeting and at the end of the meeting I went up to the first pew and knelt down so that I could be prayed for to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. (If you are not a Catholic, and don't know, the Catholic church has padded kneelers in every pew that pivot down for people to kneel on because at various times during Mass, and at other times as well, it is necessary to kneel. You then pivot them up when you are standing or sitting in the pew.) The priest and a number of other people, including my mother, then laid their hands on me and began praying over me. The priest then gave me the same instructions that my mother had given me, and said to just let the Holy Spirit take my tongue. I held my mouth open and tried my best to not say anything or do anything myself, but to just “let the Holy Spirit take my tongue.” They prayed over me for quite a while, but once again, nothing happened. I went through the rest of junior high school and high school not speaking in tongues, yet believing in speaking in tongues but not understanding why some people could speak in tongues and some did not.
While I was in the eighth grade we were still attending Mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church and I was an “altar boy” sometimes at the Masses. But sometimes we would attend Mass in the parish next to our town with the priest there that had become a Christian and had been filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking with tongues. In my CCD classes we began learning about “Confirmation” and preparing for us eighth-graders to be “Confirmed.”
“Confirmation” in the Catholic church is supposedly the time when the person being confirmed (the confirmandi) receives the Holy Spirit—among other things. The confirmandi is anointed with oil and has hands laid on him by a bishop of the Catholic church. (A bishop in the Catholic church is NOT the same as a bishop in the Bible or Christianity.) The confirmandi also picks a Confirmation name and chooses a Catholic in good standing to be his sponsor.
I chose the name “Luke” for my Confirmation name and I chose a man who was a good friend of ours who was a Catholic who had become a Spirit-filled Christian as my sponsor. We (my sponsor and I) then attended the Mass with all the other confirmandis and their sponsors and I and the other confirmandis went through the Confirmation process and were “Confirmed” by the bishop.
Sometime around the time when I had finished eighth grade, my mother stopped taking us children to Mass at the Catholic church on Sunday, and began taking us to a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. She did not take us there because it was Lutheran, but because the pastor there was born again and was filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Since my dad was not around much and he was not really practicing his Roman Catholicism anyway, it did not seem to cause a problem. My mother had learned by this time that the document that she had signed vowing to raise us children as Catholics was not of God and God did not want her to comply with it.
When I graduated from high school, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I figured that I would just attend junior college for a couple of years and play on the basketball team while living at home and working, mostly in the summer. But my father wanted me to go away to a four-year college. He had one in mind that he had found out about from someone that he knew. It was called “Illinois College.” It was located in Jacksonville, Illinois, about four hours away from St. Charles where I lived. After a visit to the college, and a second visit after I was accepted to set up my classes and my housing and so forth, it was all set.
I had a 1967 Ford Mustang at the time, so at the end of August I packed my things in my Mustang and drove the four hours to college. I attended freshman orientation and we had our registration in the main gym. I remember walking up to the outside door of the building and seeing a guy with long black hair in a ponytail down his back standing behind a table just inside the door in the lobby. The table was filled with Bible tracts and information about the Christian activities on campus and in the area and information about the various churches in the area and he was holding a roll of masking tape with the words “JESUS SAVES” in black magic marker on the side of it.
He said that he was a senior at the college so I knew immediately that he would have all of the information that I needed. I asked him where a church was that was Bible-believing that believed in speaking in tongues and supernatural miracles and healings. He told me that a church like that met on Sunday mornings at 10:00 A.M. at the YMCA in town. He said it was named “New Life Fellowship.”
On Sunday morning I drove to the YMCA where the church met and I found the church to be just what I was looking for. There were some other students from the college that attended this church as well as a couple of the professors.
I also began attending the various Christian activities on campus. As it turned out, the college Christian fellowship planned a joint retreat one weekend in September with the church that I was now attending. The retreat was held at a retreat center named “Koinonia Retreat Center” about thirteen miles south of the college. A number of us Christians from the college went as well as a number of people from the church that I was now attending. There were a number of speakers at the different sessions, including a woman minister from Florida.
One of the girls that was there, whose name was Sue, was a freshman like me. She was a brand new Christian who had just gotten born again since she had come to college. Unbeknownst to me, after the Saturday afternoon session had ended she had gone into a back room to pray with some people so that she could be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. I was just sitting in the main area with no one around.
All of a sudden I see Sue come out of the back of the retreat center and she is saying, “Matt, Matt, I just got filled with the Holy Spirit and I can speak in tongues! It is so cool!”
I had been a Christian for over five years, and though I strongly believed in it, I had never spoken in tongues. (In my senior year of high school I was the “Huddle Leader” of our school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes group. At one of the meetings I had even explained, to the best of my ability, about speaking in tongues—even though I had never spoken in tongues!) It was at that moment, the moment when this classmate of mine had come out of the back room so excited that she could speak in tongues, that I decided that after the evening session when the invitation was given to come forward to get saved or for prayer, that I was going to go forward to be prayed for so that I could speak in tongues. I knew that God was no respecter of persons, and that if He would do it for this girl in my freshman class that had just recently gotten saved, He would do it for me.
The woman minister from Florida taught that night. I don't remember the whole message, but I do remember that at least part of the message was about the dangers of the occult and witchcraft and black magic and related practices. When the invitation was given, I went forward and explained to her and the pastor of the church I had been attending, that I had been prayed for before to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to speak in tongues, but I had never spoken in tongues.
They then explained to me that I HAD TO DO THE SPEAKING. I was not supposed to just sit there or stand there (or kneel there!) and expect that the Holy Spirit would take my tongue and my mouth and my vocal chords and make a language come out. I had never been told that or heard that before. They then laid their hands on me and said that they were not going to pray for me to be filled with the Holy Spirit because I had already prayed for that. They told me to begin to speak. They told me to begin to make sound and to move my mouth and the Holy Spirit would then form the language. They told me to put the thoughts out of my mind that would say that I sound like a baby babbling. I began to speak and as I spoke the language (tongues) began to flow. I learned that day that I do the speaking and the Holy Spirit forms the words and that I can speak in tongues whenever I want to. I have been speaking in tongues ever since!
(more to come)