From True Devotion to the Holy Spirit
The soul’s delightful Guest does not remain idle in his intimate sanctuary. Being, as the church calls him, fire and light. He hardly takes possession of the soul before his beneficent influence extends itself to the whole being and begins with divine activity its work of transformation.
The Holy Spirit lives in the center of the soul, in that profound region of the will where he himself has diffused charity. And from that center, he pours himself out, so to speak, over the whole man with a divine unction, like the sacred perfume of which the scriptures speak, which descended from the head of Aaron down his flowing beard and over his vestment to the tassel of his mantle.
Like the victor who, on taking possession of a kingdom, places in each city men to execute his orders and act as his regents governing the place he has conquered, so the Holy Spirit, the loving conquistador of souls, places some divine gifts in each of the human faculties, so that through his holy inspirations the whole man may receive his vivifying influence. Into the intelligence, the supreme faculty of the spirit from which radiates light and order over the whole human being, he pours the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge; into the will, the gift of piety; and into the inferior region of the sensible appetites, the gifts of fortitude and fear of God. By means of these gifts, the Holy Spirit moves the whole man, becomes director of the supernatural life, and more – becomes the very soul of our soul and life of our life.
If man had but to accomplish a work of moral perfection according to his human nature, then human reason, a spark from the light of God, would be enough to direct the life of the spirit. But the work that has to be accomplished in man, as we have already said, is divine. It is the reproduction of Jesus, the masterpiece of God, and for such an exalted undertaking, the direction of the Holy Spirit is necessary. Sanctity is impossible without this direction, as it is impossible to obtain a finished and perfect work of art without the direction of a master.
The intimate master of our souls is the Holy Spirit; thus Jesus taught in his discourse at the Last Supper: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and bring to your mind whatever I had said to you.” The Holy Spirit teaches everything, not only as Earthly masters do, by projecting the light of their explications on the subject of their teaching, but intimately, by communicating a new light, a divine light, to the intelligence itself. “His anointing teaches you concerning all things,” said the apostle Saint John.
The Holy Spirit’s teaching is unction. He teaches us by pouring himself into us gently and penetratingly. His teaching is as a divine caress of love. He teaches us as mothers teach their children, with kisses of love, with an indefinable outpouring of tenderness. We learn from him as we perceive the fragrance of a perfume, as we savor the sweetness of a fruit or enjoy the caress of a breeze that enfolds us.
The light of the Holy Spirit is the fruit of love; it is the happy consequence of union. United intimately to divine things through the work of the Holy Spirit, the soul tastes them by a direct divine experience. How profoundly do the words of Saint John express this: “His anointing teaches you concerning all things.”
But light is not the only mark of the direction of the Spirit; there is also sanctity. As the artist is not content with explaining to his pupil the secrets of art, but takes the uncertain hand of the beginner, and gently but firmly moves and guides it in order that the beauty of his ideal may be expressed on the canvas, even thus does the Holy Spirit take our faculties and move and guide them, so firmly that they do not stray, and at the same time so gently that our activities continue to be vital, spontaneous, and free. Only the Creator can reach in this way to the depths of our acts and, so far from changing their properties, rather marvelously perfect and elevate them.
The supplications of the church to the Holy Spirit admirably detail this work of his. In the sequence of the Mass of Pentecost:
Wash the stains of guilt away,
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill,
Guide the steps that go astray.
In the hymn, Veni Creator:
Kindle with fire from above
Each sense, and fill our hearts with love;
Grant to our flesh, so weak and frail,
That strength of Thine which cannot fail.
All these, in addition to many other delicate and marvelous operations, are contained in that sweet and firm movement that the Holy Spirit exercises in every human faculty, by reason of which he is called the soul of our soul.
The seven gifts are a divine means for making our soul fit to receive the motion of the Spirit. The celestial influence of this intimate Guest is called inspiration; its action is the breath of wind, delicately soft and irresistibly strong, that impels our life toward Heaven, the warm and powerful wind of love that cleanses, eases, rectifies, consoles, refreshes – but also moves, carrying along all that is before it.
Imagine a fine lyre whose strings, perfectly harmonized, vibrate at the blowing of the wind, each giving its own sound and all together composing a beautiful symphony. This is the soul of a just man when the Holy Spirit possesses it fully and has harmonized all the faculties by means of his gifts. Each one of them, like the strings of a living lyre, gives its own sound when the wind of the Spirit blows.
What else would the Holy Spirit, the personal Love of God, produce but a song if it is proper to love to sing? And what shall love sing but the Beloved – the divine obsession of the one who loves? What is to be sung but the name of the Beloved, the unique word holding all beauty, that love pronounces? The Earth and the heavens sing because love passes through, because the immaculate wings of the Spirit soar above them.
But the song of souls is a new song, because the Spirit infuses new love in them. The song of souls is free. It is not like the song of nature, which is harmonious but compelled – the automatic reproduction, as it were, of the impression the Spirit made in the beginning of time, when he moved triumphantly over the fruitful waters. The song of souls is theirs and the Spirit’s conjointly, as the sounds given off by the strings of a lyre come also from the artist who makes them vibrate.
Nevertheless, nature and souls sing to the same Beloved, saying the same thing, each in its own language. To live spiritually is to sing, because living spiritually is loving. For the song to be perfect, all the human faculties must be rectified and harmonized, like the strings of a lyre, and the Holy Spirit must inspire the unique song of a unique love.
The true Director of souls, the intimate Master, the soul of the spiritual life, is the Holy Spirit. Without him, as we have already said, there is no sanctity. The perfection of a soul is measured by its docility to the movement of the Spirit, by the promptitude and fidelity with which its strings produce the divine notes of the song of love. A soul is perfectly holy when the Spirit of love has taken full possession of it, when the divine Artist finds no resistance or dissonance in the strings of that living lyre, but only celestial strains coming forth from it, limpid, ardent, and delightfully harmonized.
The inspirations of the Holy Spirit are not, then, something extraordinary and superfluous in the spiritual life; they are its vital, perfect impulse. Undoubtedly, their infrequency at the beginning of the spiritual life is due precisely to the imperfection of that life – just as the direction of reason is not frequent or strong in the early years of man’s natural life, because his development is still imperfect. As the spiritual life grows, the strings of the living lyre of the soul, which before were weak and inharmonious, are attuned and harmonized; the soul becomes marvelously sensible to the movement of the Spirit, and life becomes intense, rich, perfect, and holy.
Saint Paul expressed this action of the Holy Spirit in souls very well when he said, “For whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” The apostle thus makes known a mysterious bond between the movement of the Holy Spirit and the divine adoption. Through the Spirit, we become sons of God, and, because we are sons, we are moved by the Spirit. Thus, he is called in the scriptures, “the Spirit of adoption by virtue of which we cry, ‘Abba! Father! For the Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are sons of God.” Without doubt, we are sons by grace, and this precious gift, the true participation in the divine nature, puts us in an intimate and special relationship with the divine Persons: it makes us sons of the Father and incorporates us with Jesus, and the Spirit of God becomes, in a certain manner, our spirit. These relationships are simultaneous; but, in the order of appropriation, the mission of the Holy Spirit is the first in our soul, because the first gift, intimately connected with grace, is charity. The Holy Spirit brings to our souls the fruitfulness of the Father and binds us lovingly to the Son.
And because of this, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son becomes ours in an ineffable way. And just as it is our natural spirit that directs and moves temporal life, so this Spirit of God – ours by the mystery of adoption – moves and directs our life that is for eternity. Because we are sons, we are heirs, and “none can receive the inheritance of that land of the blessed, except he be moved and led thither by the Holy Spirit.” Thus Saint Thomas teaches when he interprets in this sense the words of the psalmist: “May your good Spirit guide me on level ground.”
This intimate direction of our souls accomplished by the Holy Spirit is something profoundly bound up with the mystery spiritual life; it is something which that life demands essentially, just as our natural life demands the movement of our soul. Consequently, the Holy Spirit is truly the soul of our soul and the life of our life.