Editor’s note: For a helpful perspective on the Catholic Church’s teachings on the Gift of Tongues, watch this video from Catholic Answers. LMH
Let’s just say I’m a borderline introvert, and somewhat reserved. And as a Catholic in Mass, I feel pretty much at home, because there is a lot of looking forward, paying attention, very little talking to one another, and little to none of the arm raising. Now I have visited other churches, and I am somewhat in awe, at how freely they are able to express their love and worship of God in song and praise. Their arms are up over their heads, and no one seems self-conscious. I think it’s sort of neat.
Back in the mid 90’s a friend of mine invited me to a Mass at the Anaheim Convention Center. I didn’t really know what was going to happen there, other than a big mass with lots of people. My friend and I were waiting for mass, and there had been some praise and worship singing which was led by a cantor. We had song booklets to follow along. The singing ended and we were waiting for mass to start.
All of a sudden, it seemed that everyone in the Convention Center started singing. The singing just rose up out of nowhere. I quick looked, and there was no cantor leading it! Then I looked at my book….which song were we on? The hair on my body, and head rose up. What was going on? How could all of these 11,000 people start singing a song that I had never heard of before? And wait…….what language was that anyway? It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. It sounded like angels. There will multiple parts, and it was in harmony. I am a classical musician, and I was blown away! I didn’t want it to end. If I could have frozen that moment and stayed there, I could imagine a little of what heaven might be like. I asked my friend, ‘what is happening?’ “ They are singing in tongues”, she said. And after a few minutes, it just died away, just as it had come. No one was orchestrating this, other than the Holy Spirit.
I had never heard of this before, and I didn’t really even know there was such a thing as Charismatic Catholics. I certainly wasn’t one of them. But wow! Ok, this is something I wanted to learn more about. And how do you get this gift of tongues anyway? What was it about? I bought some books, and started reading first. Then I started to ask for the gift. I started in September. Time went by, and nothing happened.
Then I went on a business trip with my research partner from USC School of Medicine. She was a Protestant. We were doing research in the field, and had to share a hotel room. She went into the bathroom, and I could hear her talking to someone. When she came out, I asked her. “Who were you talking to in there?” Shyly, she said “ I was speaking in tongues. “ We were very close friends and work partners. I asked her, “ can you show me?” Later I learned that this is sort of an odd request, but we were very close, and spoke of spiritual things often at work. As she began to pray, I was struck at how beautiful it sounded. It sounded like Hebrew. I know she didn’t know Hebrew, but it just flowed out from her lips. I said ‘ I want that. I have been praying about that.” So she sat me on the bed, and prayed over me. Then, shockingly she commanded “ SPEAK !” ummmmm. Nothing. ‘Just try’. I tried, but nothing came out. I couldn’t force something like this. I don’t speak fast, and I certainly couldn’t make something up, nor did I want to.
Months went by, and occasionally I would pray about it, read about it, or try to do it. The book I read said that I should repeat the same syllable over and over to start the flow. I felt ridiculous doing that, but what did I know? It also said that I needed to give my tongue over to God.
It was nearing Christmas. And on this day I said, “God, THIS is what I want for my Christmas Present.” I went to work, and my partner decided to pray over me again at work. After which she again commanded me to “Speak”, which was very uncomfortable since there was no way I could control this. As per usual, nothing came out, and I was a little frustrated. Why did I have this desire for tongues, and why wouldn’t God give it to me? On this day, I prayed and tried all the way home from work. I lived by myself; lots of time to pray alone. It was time to take my shower to prepare for Choral Concert rehearsal. In the shower, I tried, and prayed. I even made God a promise. “If you give me this gift, I will praise you every day with it ! “ NOTHING. I tried one last time. Then I gave up.
I said ‘ FINE, I will pray in ENGLISH. “ So out loud, I started with the Apostles Creed, then, the Our Father, then Hail Mary, then Glory be, and then WHAM…… I was struck with the most powerful flood of Joy and the Gift of tongues POURED out of me! I was so happy, that words cannot describe. I was hearing the most beautiful language come out of my mouth, so fast and eloquent. I could NEVER speak that quickly. I tried to listen to what came out. It sounded Slovak , Russian, Czech ! Gorgeous. This was my own little miracle in my shower. I could hear paragraphs. There was no repetition of words or syllables. This was real. I was so scared that if I moved it might end. It might stop. But I was able to move. Then I was afraid if I turned off the water in the shower that it might end too. So I stayed in the shower for a good hour. Praying unceasingly. Well, I couldn’t stay in there forever, and I had to get ready for choir. So I turned off the water, and the praying continued. Whew.
Then I started to get scientific about this new gift. Could I do other things and still pray? Yes. Then a very strange test, could I read something, and still pray? Yes. This showed me just how disconnected my words, and my brain were. Keep in mind, that this is my first time, and I was just trying to understand what was happening. ( I don’t have a regular practice of reading and praying in tongues.) So then, the ultimate test for me; could I stop and restart? Would it be gone forever?
No. I stopped and started at will. Then I called my first grade teacher, and told her. She was a nun who I had remained close to. She didn’t sound that thrilled when I told her, but said “congratualtions”. Then I got a little nervous. Maybe I should check this out with my spiritual director first. I made an appointment and met with him, an older Irish priest, and told him the story. He gave me the green light. I told my parents who are really reserved, and they really didn’t know what to say either. No matter, I was still happy about it. It became my own little miracle.
Now I continued to read about this gift, and I am here to tell you that there is nothing special about me. I am not telling you to brag or boast, because there is nothing to brag or boast about. It is really the least of all gifts. This gift of tongues is actually intended for everyone. It is a basic gift. And I am very mindful of these words in these verses below. I use my gift when I am especially in turmoil. If I don’t know what to pray for, or in crisis; If I am deeply saddened then the gift kind of kicks in automatically. And conversely if I am really happy, or joyful then I also tend to pray in the spirit. I’m no expert on the matter. It’s been a blessing for me to have this gift, which I know comes from God. It is something tangible and beautiful. I am still curious which language it might be if any. This is just my personal experience. But I know with each gift from God comes responsibility. This gift is one thing that I asked for, and that only God could give me, and He did. I marvel at the beauty and mystery of God. Innately I know that this gift really isn’t to be shown. It flows easily if I am alone and in a prayerful mindset (which is rare with 3 kids and a husband.) I have only participated in a couple Charismatic masses since those days almost 20 years ago. But one day I would like to have my husband and children share in that awesome experience that sounded like angels, and felt like a slice of heaven.
Copyright 2013 Marya Jauregui