Wednesday 8 June 2022

The Silence of the Spirit

It is not often that the whole country takes four days off to celebrate — and what celebrations they were! All the Queen’s Jubilee events were designed for maximum spectacle, maximum effect and maximum emotion, everything from Trooping the Colour to Paddington Bear, to stir up feelings of gratitude, jubilation, national pride, and even to bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. But in the midst of all the cannon-fire, cheering and music, we celebrated another, more important Person this weekend: God the Holy Spirit.

In Scripture the Holy Spirit generally prefers to remain hidden, silent. He acts, of course, but does not claim a leading role — although he has one. He acts, but not to draw attention to himself. The Spirit directs us to the Son, and through him to our Heavenly Father. The Father speaks in the Scriptures, the Son says much, the Holy Spirit never speaks. Rather, he enables and empowers: he allows us to cry “Abba, Father”, and “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).

It is the Holy Spirit who infuses our souls with the grace of Christ, and he does this primarily through the sacraments. The Holy Spirit washes away our sins in Baptism and makes us part of the family of God. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. And it is the Holy Spirit who restores us to a state of grace in the Confessional. All of this he does discreetly — objectively and effectively, but silently rather than with pomp and noise.

We are uncomfortable with silence and discretion nowadays, even in the Church, and think that for the Holy Spirit to be present and to be at work we have to feel him. We must experience a feeling of joy, or even euphoria. If we do not, then we obviously do not have the Spirit in us. That is the trap of sentimentality — good for moments of national importance, but dangerous in the spiritual life. If we look to our feelings and emotions as evidence of God’s presence then we make it about ourselves. It would no longer be the Holy Spirit who “blows where he wills”, but rather he is supposed to blow where and when we will. The Spirit can certainly give an intimate feeling of peace and joy, and many times he does so. But he does so when and how and where he wills, when he sees that this is good for us. Sometimes he also acts in us in the form of desolation or emptiness, as the great Carmelite mystical tradition teaches us. Not only in spiritual joy, but also in the dark night, can the Holy Spirit show himself to us and act in our lives.

In our path to God we must not seek sensations or certain emotions, but rather follow the spiritual motions of the Holy Spirit as he leads us towards the good, the true and the beautiful, to Christ himself; and we must do this whether movement occurs in joy or in moments of discouragement or desolation. Holiness is not a mood or a state of mind, but something objective and is seen in right thinking and right action. The Spirit may choose to make his presence known, although this is rarely in tongues of fire or the sound of a mighty wind; but regardless, we believe he is always present and active. Such is the certainty of faith, rather than the fickleness of human feelings.

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