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The Priest's Way To God

IT is difficult, as most priests will agree, to treat adequately of the Holy Ghost and to give practical advice about devotion to him. But, if difficult, it is essential, for we cannot overlook the importance which our Lord attached to the Holy Spirit whom he was to send to us.

In fact, when reading the Gospels, we often get the impression that this sending of the Holy Spirit into our souls is the crowning purpose of Christ’s life and death. ‘I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’

John XVI, 7

This thought loomed large in his mind at the last supper, when he prayed for the sending of the Holy Spirit on his apostles. ‘I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever.’

John XIV, 16

So important is this gift of the Holy Spirit that St. Paul can say, speaking by the same Holy Spirit: ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is not of his.’

Rom. VIII, 9

We cannot, then, let any inherent difficulties deter us from attempting to achieve some knowledge and devotion in regard to this Gift of God.

Who, then, is this Holy Spirit? First of all, he is God himself, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. Now this third Person ‘proceeds’ in the Blessed Trinity by way of love, so that one may say that he is the very love with which God loves himself. Or, to be more accurate, he is the very love with which the Father and the Son love one another. St. Thomas bluntly says: ‘The Holy Ghost is the love of the Father and the Son.’

III, 32, 1

It is true that he discusses at length the exact ways in which it may be said that the Father and the Son love one another ‘by the Holy Spirit,’

Cf. I, 37

but having determined the exact meaning to be attached to the phrase, he would even include us in the object so loved. We may then borrow a phrase from St. John of the Cross and call the Holy Ghost ‘the living flame of divine love.’

Now we know that in the Blessed Trinity all is common to the three Persons where there is no opposition of relation. The same one intelligence, the same one will, the same one power, the same one majesty is common to each Person, because the same one and indivisible divine nature is common to the three Persons. So too all exterior works, that is, all those actions accomplished ‘outside’ God, whether in the material world or in the souls of men, all these are common to the three divine Persons, since it is the one divine nature that is the principle of all such works. But the Church deliberately attributes certain actions to individual Persons because of some affinity between the operation and the property of that Person. The Creed professes our belief in the omnipotent Father, the Creator of Heaven and earth, and all works in which the power of God is especially manifest are generally attributed to the Father. So, too, works in which the divine wisdom is prominent, such as the order and arrangement of the universe, are attributed by way of appropriation to the Son. Since the Holy Ghost is so intimately connected with divine love, to him are appropriated the works in which the divine love and goodness are especially expressed, particularly the work of God’s loving mercy in the sanctification of our souls. Our Lord’s own words can themselves be used to justify this principle of appropriation and the scriptures definitely attribute to the Holy Ghost the pouring out of grace and charity into our souls. This is not done without reason, and we cannot neglect the role so divinely attributed to the Holy Spirit without great loss to ourselves. Let us consider for a moment what the Holy Spirit does to our souls.

He comes to us as the Gift of God and makes his abode with us. He elevates our souls to a superhuman state and transforms them by sanctifying grace. He endows them with the fundamental virtues of faith, hope and charity, enriches them with the moral virtues and adorns them with his sevenfold gifts. It is of the highest importance for us to have some realization of this indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our souls and of his work there. We are, indeed, familiar with the tremendous divine intimacy conferred on us in Holy Communion when Christ gives us his Body and Blood under the sacramental species, and remains intimately present with us as long as the species endure. We know, of course, that he is not inactive while he is with us; we realize that he gives us many wonderful graces. But we may feel that when this sacramental presence has ceased, the time of personal intimacy and union with the divinity is over. Moreover, when we think of the sacramental Christ present within us, we have a tendency to think mainly of his human nature, and we have a certain difficulty in forming any image which effectively represents and suggests intimate union with him. In fact, if we try to be too clear or definite in our imagery, the notion of intimate union with God may become not only difficult but even impossible to maintain. So that although our Lord’s words to his disciples telling them that it was expedient for them that he should go referred to his Ascension and to the effects that would follow, yet they are not without significance even in this context. And although it is by the humanity of Christ that the divinity is revealed to us, yet it was not without reason that Christ himself warned us of our need of the Spirit, for it is in the unity of the Spirit that we are made one with him. It is of importance, then, that we give devotion to the Holy Ghost its proper place in our lives. Otherwise we shall miss much of the fruit of the Passion and Death of our Saviour.

The difficulty of forming a concept of the third Person is a real one. The second Person is known to us in his humanity and in the Sacrament of his love. Even in regard to the first Person, his name of Father establishes him in our hearts and appeals to one of our fundamental instincts. But the name of the Holy Ghost appeals to no familiar experience. Yet the very vagueness and obscurity that it conveys leaves us more freedom and facility to conceive a close personal union. At the very least it removes apparent obstacles that can arise from the images we form in the case of the other two Persons.

To describe the Holy Ghost as the soul of our soul could, of course, be completely wrong, if we take the word soul too literally. Yet he has been called the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, and also his role has been compared to that of the heart in the human body. These two descriptions will give us some idea of the intimacy and the permanence of his presence within us.

Before, however, we try to explain something of the truth they contain, it may be no harm to note two points that can affect and impair our grasp of this truth. In his admirable work on the Holy Ghost, the late Fr. Edward Leen points them out. The first point is this. Owing perhaps to the controversy with the first Protestants, and the dispute about the value of good works, great emphasis has been laid on the moral aspect of religion. The theology of human acts and their efficacy for salvation have been so stressed since the time of the Reformation that, as Fr. Leen says, the average mind has got the idea that morality is the principal element of the supernatural life. The fact is, of course, that morality is only a condition of the supernatural life. Human conduct takes the primary place, instead of the extraordinary elevation of the human being by the divine contact. We must restore the primacy of place to the divine in our spiritual life and devotion to the Holy Ghost is a most effective way of doing it.

The second point which Fr. Leen emphasizes is this. From our very early days we have been accustomed to the idea that God is everywhere. For many of us, unfortunately, this idea conjured up a picture of a watchful and critical overseer, a just but inflexible judge, always waiting to catch us doing wrong and to punish us for it. There may be a tendency to carry over this idea of God into our relations with the Holy Ghost. Unless we can correct this tendency we will find it very difficult to be at ease with our divine Guest, and our inclination will be to neglect and forget him.

In order to obtain a more correct view, it may help us to remember that the Holy Ghost is sent and given to us by the Father and the Son and that they send him to us as a result of their concern for sinners. We have two significant pictures of their attitude to sinners. The Son, who was given the name of Jesus because he was to save his people from their sins, describes himself as the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine other sheep in order to find the one that was lost. And when he has found it, he puts it tenderly on his shoulders, rejoicing. The Father is shown to us in the parable of the prodigal son as a father who runs to meet his repentant child, embraces him, clothes him, restores all he has lost and makes a feast for his return. Surely, then, we need have no servile fear of the third Person whom these two send us and who himself is the remission of our sins. Our Lord has told us that the Holy Spirit comes to supply for his own absence, as another paraclete to console and strengthen us. The yoke his presence lays upon us is, like the yoke of Christ, easy and the burden is light. He comes to us with all the loving tenderness and compassion of the all-merciful God—for he is God himself.

So far from being in our souls to condemn us, he is there to regenerate us. He has justified us and continues to sanctify us. As St. Thomas says: ‘The gift of sanctifying grace is not given to us in order that we may have no further need of divine help; every creature requires to be preserved by God in the good already received from him . . . For that reason the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited by the effect of his permanent gifts in us; apart from this effect, he moves and guides us yet more.’

I-IIae, 109, 9

He is continually giving us light and strength. Of old, God promised by his prophet: ‘I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh.

And I will put my spirit in the midst of you: and I will cause you to walk in my commandments, and to keep my judgments, and do them.’

Exech. XXXVI, 26–27

We can easily apply these words to the work of the Holy Spirit within us, which indeed is well summed up in St. Paul’s phrase that the Holy Spirit ‘helpeth our infirmity.’

Rom. VIII, 26

The Church underlines the benignity of his interest in us in her hymns. She addresses him: ‘Pater pauperum, Dator munerum, Consolator optime, Dulcis hospes animae, Dulce refrigerium.’ This wonderful prayer, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, is full of light on the tenderness of the Holy Ghost. ‘In labore requies, In aestu temperies, In fletu solatium.’ In this hymn too the Church makes it clear exactly what we are of ourselves and what he does for us, when she sings: ‘Sine tuo numine, Nihil est in homine, Nihil est innoxium.’ It is because of our utter helplessness that the Holy Spirit is given to us and that we must go to him with unshakeable confidence.

We should, then, pray frequently and fervently for devotion to the Holy Spirit and take care to make that devotion an integral part of our spiritual lives. Further, we should try to realize to what great dignity he has raised us by making us participators in the divine nature. To live in accordance with that dignity we have continual need of his inspiration and his help. We cannot even pray without him; he, in fact, prays for us ‘with unspeakable groanings.’ We have already referred to the comparison of his work in our souls with that of the soul in the human body. The Holy Spirit cannot, of course, enter into a substantial union with our souls as the soul does with the body, But he can and does act as a vivifying principle upon which every single movement of our supernatural life depends, both for its inception and its execution. Without him we are dead, for all our spiritual life depends on him.

This fact should be at the basis of our devotion to him. We should turn to him almost instinctively in all our needs and ask for his help and guidance. As we grow in grace his inspirations and initiative become more evident. At no time, of course, does he deprive us of our liberty. There is, however, a difference in the manner of acting of the virtues and the gifts, and as we come nearer to God, the gifts are more in evidence. These make us so pliable in his hands that St. Thomas says that under their influence the human mind ‘non se habet ut movens sed magis ut mota.’ The Fathers sometimes have illustrated the difference by a comparison. Using the virtues we are like men rowing a boat by their own efforts, but under the influence of the gifts the boat is moved gently and speedily onward by the wind in its sail.

What we have to do in practice is to be very careful to conform to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Manning sees three degrees of ‘non-conformity’ in three texts of scripture. ‘Grieve not the holy Spirit of God’;

Ephes. IV, 30

‘You always resist the Holy Ghost’

Acts VII, 51

; ‘Extinguish not the spirit.’

1 Thess. V, 19

These words of scripture should warn us of the danger of refusing to listen to his voice. For we can so harden our hearts that we no longer hear him, and he will then cease to speak to us. This, of course, is ruinous and is a fate that we must avoid at whatever cost. Our ideal should be the very opposite; we should strive to rely on and to be very attentive to him, for it is only when we are led and ‘activated’ by him in all things that we are living fully as sons of God.

Obviously we have a duty to reverence him present in our souls, but this reverence should not prevent a loving familiarity. Theologians stress the fact that he is given to us as a gift; that is, he is ours for our use and enjoyment. We should, then, make use of him. In all our doubts and uncertainties we should turn to him for guidance. He may not speak to us directly but he will not leave us without guidance, for he has compassion on our infirmity. In difficulties and temptations we should appeal to him for strength and courage. He will aid our infirmity and strengthen us with his grace. We can make our own the Church’s prayer to him: ‘Lava quod est sordidum, Riga quod est aridum, Sana quod est saucium, Flecte quod est rigidum Fove quod est frigidum, Rege quod est devium.’ He aids us by transforming us.

This ‘use’ of the Holy Ghost is of special significance at private prayer. When our prayer disappears in aridity and distraction, then we should realize that he is within us praying and that we have only to second his prayer in order to be pleasing to the Father. One of the great obstacles to progress in prayer and in the whole spiritual life is our tendency to make ourselves instead of God the centre of our supernatural strivings. We shall not succeed until we accept the failure of our own efforts and put all our confidence in God within us. In our prayer we should always remember that we have in the Holy Spirit the mutual Love of the Father and the Son as our own possession and that we can always offer the Father this divine Love. And if that attitude of prayer overflows into our lives, if we ‘use’ the Holy Spirit, we shall approach closely to the example of our Lord, who all his life was led by the Holy Spirit, who handed himself over completely to him and who thus always did the things that pleased his Father. That was Christ’s way; it should be ours too, and there is no better way of pleasing God.

One other point is of particular significance for us priests. St. Paul tells us that it was by the Holy Spirit that Christ offered himself to God.’

Cf. Heb. IX, 14

We, his priests, have to offer ourselves with him daily on the altar. We can do this, sicut oportet, only by the Holy Spirit. We should then frequently beg the Holy Ghost for the spirit of sacrifice. When we begin the Church’s sacrifice, she puts on our lips, at the offering of the bread and wine, a prayer to the Holy Spirit. Veni sanctificator, omnipotens aeterne Deus.’ It is true that this prayer has a special reference to the Eucharistic sacrifice. But we may use it to ask a blessing on the sacrifice of ourselves which we can and should make in the offering of the bread and wine. In the days of old, God sent down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices offered to him. Today he sends down the Holy Spirit, the fire of divine love, into our hearts. If we would have our sacrifice of ourselves acceptable we must allow ourselves to be consumed by this divine fire, ever present, ever working, ever praying within us. There at the altar we priests can find a wonderful starting point for our daily lives, if we offer ourselves completely to God that his Holy Spirit may perfectly possess and animate us. Our Lord has told us that if we ask anything of the Father in his name it will be given to us, and he has specifically mentioned the Father’s readiness to give the ‘good Spirit’ to those who ask him. Let us go, then, to the Father and remind him of the merits of his Son. Let us point out to him the Son’s desire for our love and for our perfect service of the Father. Let us represent to him how completely the Son has deserved to be loved by us. Pleading our poverty and reminding him of his Son’s promises, let us ask him to give us his Holy Spirit so that we may love his Son as his Son desires and deserves to be loved. That is a prayer that God cannot fail to hear and one which will bring down rich blessings on our souls.

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