He’s the least understood member of the Blessed Trinity and yet, from the moment of our baptism, the Holy Spirit is closer to us than our own breath and knows us better than we know ourselves. If the Creator Blest is this close, why is it so hard to move forward in our spiritual life?
One reason is that He’s not exactly easy to “hear.” He’s not a loud, clear voice giving step-by-step instructions. Instead, His voice is like the whisper of the wind that Elijah heard on Mount Carmel, or described by the late Father Benedict Groeschel as a “still small voice.” He speaks subtly, often in the form of a sudden ability to overcome a fault that we’ve been struggling with for years or when a Scripture verse we’ve heard a thousand times before suddenly shakes us to the core.
Another reason that we flounder rather than soar in our spiritual lives can be because we don’t understand Who He is. The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit is the effusion of love between the Father and the Son. This effusion is “so substantial and perfect that it is a person,” writes Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene in his book, Divine Intimacy. This is also why St. Bernard refers to the Holy Spirit as “a sweet but secret kiss” of the Father and the Son.
But even if we do understand all this, many of us don’t realize that we’re supposed to have a personal relationship with Him just as we do with Jesus. This makes sense, of course, because the Holy Spirit is a complete Being, distinct from the Father and the Son. He has His own personality, His own way of loving us. He longs for us to invite Him into our lives by opening our hearts to His loving action. But an invitation is required before He will act. The Holy Spirit respects our personal liberty so much that He will reside within a soul for its entire earthly life without receiving even a whisper of acknowledgment rather than impose Himself on someone.
Unconditional love is His specialty.
And when we do accept His love and open ourselves to His action, He lavishes the most extraordinary gifts on our souls that enable us to lead an authentic Christian life. Otherwise, our weak human natures could never hope to live up to the high moral standards of Jesus Christ. This is why He infuses the willing soul with the theological and moral virtues to strengthen us in our relations with God and neighbor.
Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge enable us to have a real relationship with God by enabling us to penetrate supernatural mysteries and develop a divine point-of-view that is capable of seeing through the passing vanities of earth.
Fortitude gives us the strength to practice our faith in an increasingly godless society, in the face of ridicule or even outright persecution.
Counsel prevents us from becoming fanatical, while piety fills our hearts with filial affection for God. Fear of the Lord makes us turn away from sin, not because we’re afraid of God’s punishments, but because we dread offending Someone so gentle and good and loving.
Why then, if we have such a treasure trove of power residing in the center of our souls, do so many of us fail to advance in the spiritual life by any more than a snail’s pace?
Perhaps the most common reason of all is that most of us are too busy trying to become holy on our own. According to the spiritual masters, we don’t sufficiently realize that without God’s grace we’re capable of nothing but sin. This means that we need the Holy Spirit for a lot more than we think – we need Him to believe, to trust, to hope, to love, to be patient and humble and prudent. Without Him, we would be incapable of any of these virtues. He has the strength that we don’t, and He’s more than willing to lend it to us, but we don’t ask! We’re too busy trying to do it ourselves. And so He is forced to stand back like an uninvited guest.
Somehow or another, we’ve got to get over the humiliating truth that if we are to overcome temptation, feel close to God in prayer, bite back an uncharitable remark, fulfill our vocation in life, ignore sinful thoughts, and moderate our bad habits, we’re got to rely on the Spirit’s supernatural strength and not our own puny abilities.
Father Gabriel explains that we must make an honest effort to practice the virtues and pray for help. “But at the same time try to be more attentive and obedient to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit,” he advises.
If we do, the Holy Spirit, by means of His gifts, will do the rest.
Otherwise, we become like a sailor who is so busy rowing, he forgets to raise his sails. Personal efforts are essential, but so are repeated inward glances during the day, even in the midst of activity, to the One who can do the work much better than we can ever hope to do. Our job is to learn how to recognize His voice, the interior movements of grace, and most of all our dire need of His assistance, so that all of our actions can come under His direction.
“It will help us to pause for a few moments, from time to time, to strengthen that contact, or re-establish it, when excessive activity or the movements of our passions have interrupted it,” Father Gabriel suggests.
We must always “act with continual dependence on God who will suggest to us, through His Spirit, everything we should do.”
How do we distinguish between the inspirations of the Spirit and those of our own nature or of the evil one? We need much prudent discretion, Father Gabriel writes, or we will expose ourselves to illusions and errors, taking for divine inspiration what is really our own impulses or passions.
“A practical, easy way to recognize true inspirations of the Holy Spirit is to see if they maintain us in accordance with the commands of our superiors, the rules to which we are subject, or the duties of our state in life . . . . Anything contrary to obedience and our duties cannot be inspired by Him.”
In other words, the Holy Spirit will never inspire us to leave the family without dinner while we attend a prayer meeting. He won’t tell us to spend all of our time in the office trying to evangelize instead of doing our job. However, He may inspire us to seek time in prayer when the family is in bed, or to speak the Word of God to a downtrodden coworker during our lunch hour.
Whenever we’re in doubt about the Spirit’s inspiration, especially in weighty matters such as those concerning family or vocation, we should always seek the counsel of a competent spiritual advisor.
Only the proud believe they’re beyond deception. The truly humble soul trembles at the mere thought of its vulnerability and constantly turns toward the Source of its strength. They know that within them lives a true Hero, Someone who can do all that they cannot, and on Him alone they place all their hope.
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