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. 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: to become God by participation (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). — St. Basil the Great
Three years ago, my private retreat director confronted 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 — I’m planning my escape routes — he said,
You see, that’s your problem. You try to white-knuckle everything. Typical American middle-aged white male who thinks sheer will-power, stoic indifference, an ethic of self-reliance will get him through everything. But that’s got nothing to do with holiness. If God’s not invited into your fears and weaknesses, if God’s not sought before every decision, but only asked to bless you after you’ve made your decision or weathered the pain, what’s that? That’s you as god. A God who’s only asked to bless what your self-reliant self decides 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. He already has a plan for you to navigate the fears, the unknown, the chaos. 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: what do you want from me?” Ask, sit tight, then listen long enough to receive His grace. He’s in no rush, and when we show Him we aren’t in a rush, He’s generous. If He sees we’re 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 drops you to your knees. Then you’ll be ready to wait and receive, because you’ll know you’ve got nothing. Sad, but it’s the usual way he has to work. But really, remember, you always have nothing. You depend on Him for everything, and the times you acknowledge that He gets a free hand to act. Wait every morning in silence to receive from Him. Let’s say 15 minutes. Don’t listen for a voice, but look to be spoken into. He infallibly communicates to every trusting, waiting soul. But it’s usually so deep and subtle that it’s imperceptible. Stop and listen to Him, dispose yourself by waiting like 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, mostly 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 terribly threatened by it. Terrified. But stand your ground and you will not be disappointed.
As a parting gift, let me share today a portion of the brilliant Pentecost homily of Pope Francis from 2013:
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?
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.
Now, a magnificent Byzantine hymn to the Holy Spirit called, O Heavenly King: