The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself. As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit shines become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others. From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations. – St. Basil the Great
When I was on my 8-day Ignatian retreat two years ago, my retreat spiritual director — who was in his 80’s, very experienced as a director and brutally insightful — was confronting me on my fear of new situations that challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone. As I presented to him my standard approach to such challenges, he said,
You see, that’s your problem. You try to white-knuckle everything, a typical American middle-aged white male who thinks sheer will-power, stoic indifference and an ethic of self-reliance will get him through everything. But you see, that’s got nothing to do with holiness if God is not invited into your fears and weaknesses, if God is not sought before every decision but only asked to bless you after you’ve made your decision or only after you’ve gotten through the pain. A God who is only asked to bless what your self-reliant self decides to do is not the God of the Cross, but the god of your ego. Next time you walk into a new situation, a new place, a new office space, a new home, I want you to stop and remember that the Holy Spirit is already there; that He already has a plan for you to navigate the fears, the unknown, the chaos; and He’s overloaded with graces to dispense if you ask Him for them at the beginning, middle and end. Every morning when you wake up I want you to say, right away, “Holy Spirit, before I begin my day I want to ask what you want from me.” Just sit and listen long enough to receive His grace. He’s in no rush, and when we show Him we aren’t in a rush to receive from Him, He’s generous. If He sees we are impatient and restless, ready to move on to other things and we quit after a few moments, He will withhold His richer graces and wait. Wait until the pain and exhaustion pulls you to your knees, and then you are ready to wait and receive because you know you have nothing. But really, you always have nothing, always depend on Him for everything. Wait every morning in silence to receive from Him, to hear; maybe for 15 minutes. You won’t hear a voice — usually — but He always and infallibly communicates to every trusting, waiting soul. When you stop and listen to Him, dispose yourself to His action by sitting in a silent fiat, a “let it be,” and He will secretly communicate to your soul all that He wishes. Its effects will spill out during the day even when, and especially when, you’re not aware.
St. Paul says the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of harmony, of peace, of order, so when your life feels out of those things He awaits your aching cry to Him: Come! In fact, let me encourage you to pray Cardinal Mercier’s prayer every morning to help you open yourself and, at least when you are in God’s presence, forget your white-knuckled machismo: “O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will.” Do this faithfully every day, and tell me in three months about the changes you’ll see. Remember, the Evil One will do everything he can to distract you and discourage you and dissuade you from the practice, because he’s threatened by it. Terrified. But stand your ground and you will not be disappointed…
I can’t quote that Mercier prayer without offering you Colleen Nixon’s exquisitely beautiful musical rendition that makes you want to pray it 24/7:
Finally, let me share today a portion of the brilliant Pentecost homily of Pope Francis from 2013:
In the light of this passage from Acts, I would like to reflect on three words linked to the working of the Holy Spirit: newness, harmony and mission.
1. Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness and change, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves: Are we open to Gods surprises? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which Gods newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?
2. A second thought: the Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is harmony, “Ipse harmonia est.” Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church’s teaching and community, and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn 9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, overcoming every form of exclusivity? Do I let myself be guided by him, living in the Church and with the Church?
3. A final point. The older theologians used to say that the soul is a kind of sailboat, the Holy Spirit is the wind which fills its sails and drives it forward, and the gusts of wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Lacking his impulse and his grace, we do not go forward. The Holy Spirit draws us into the mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel, to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission. The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. The Pentecost of the Upper Room in Jerusalem is the beginning, a beginning which endures. The Holy Spirit is the supreme gift of the risen Christ to his apostles, yet he wants that gift to reach everyone. As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus says: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to remain with you forever (Jn 14:16). It is the Paraclete Spirit, the Comforter, who grants us the courage to take to the streets of the world, bringing the Gospel! The Holy Spirit makes us look to the horizon and drive us to the very outskirts of existence in order to proclaim life in Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves: do we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy Spirit open us to mission?
Today’s liturgy is a great prayer which the Church, in union with Jesus, raises up to the Father, asking him to renew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May each of us, and every group and movement, in the harmony of the Church, cry out to the Father and implore this gift. Today too, as at her origins, the Church, in union with Mary, cries out: Veni, Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love! Amen.
Okay, I know this is a lot, but you have to listen to this magnificent Byzantine hymn to the Holy Spirit called, O Heavenly King: