June is the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but it is as well the month of the Holy Spirit, as the octave of Pentecost often falls therein. This year, the First Friday of June fell immediately before the vigil of Pentecost, and I was reminded of the fact that St John tells us that at the moment Jesus died, “having bowed His head, he gave up the ghost”. Some authors have pointed out that there is no doubt a profound mystery in the way St John formulates this: “emisit Spiritum” can mean “he breathed his last”, “he gave up the ghost”, or even, “he breathed forth the Spirit”. According to this last reading, it was thanks to the passion and death of our Beloved Saviour, that the grace of the Holy Spirit was poured forth upon the world.
And this of course moves us at one and the same time to renewed gratitude to our dear Lord for having accepted to undergo the torment of the cross, in order to merit for us the Gift of the Spirit, and also an immense veneration for the Holy Ghost who comes to us in order to complete the work of the Saviour in the world. “He will bear witness to me” (Jn 15:26), had said Jesus at the Last Supper. The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus, in the sense that He points to Him as being the Saviour and, far from substituting Himself for Jesus, leads to Him, to His Cross and to His Resurrection.
The Holy Spirit, in other words, is the Divine Person who, as the very soul of the Church, constantly spurs us on to look to Jesus, to listen to Him, to obey Him, to follow in the path He has set for us. The Holy Spirit not only reminds us of the words of Jesus, but He also gives us to understand them, to savour their deepest meaning, and to discover the far-reaching consequences they will have in our lives. And here it is that we perceive His role in our mental prayer.
Whenever we set ourselves to the sometimes arduous task of prayer, whenever we voluntarily put aside other matters in order to abandon ourselves to God and thrust our whole being towards intimate commerce with Him, it is the Holy Spirit Himself who is the very soul of that prayer. Some authors have referred to the Holy Spirit as being the “forgotten Person” of the Trinity, and yet He is the One who is constantly the life of our life, the soul of our soul, the never-tiring goad prodding us on to ever renewed devotion to meeting God in prayer.
If the Holy Spirit “bears witness” to the Son, He of necessity stirs us to the depths of our soul, and speaks to our heart to convince us that our salvation, our perfection, lies nowhere else but in becoming replicas of Jesus, becoming “sons in the Son”, adopted sons and daughters through the Eternal Son of the Father in the Holy Spirit.
When St Paul says that “the Spirit helpeth our infirmity. For, we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings,” he is clearly telling us that, in our spiritual blindness we so often are simply not asking for the right things, and so the Holy Ghost is there to pray for us, to “adjust” our prayer.
You may have noticed in your practice of mental prayer, that sometimes you are led in a direction that you had not anticipated, but you know it is good and right and wholesome, though sometimes very challenging. That is the Holy Spirit leading you gently but powerfully, into the very heart of the Godhead. Nothing more wonderful could happen to a Christian soul than to be led that way to a deeper knowledge of who God is and what God wants of us. True, such moments are not at the tip of our fingers, we cannot “order” them. At prayer we are dealing with a living Person, — actually Three Living Persons who are one in the same Godhead —, and living persons have freedom. And a Divine Person, who is sovereignly free, does not “take orders” from wretched creatures such as ourselves. We are the ones who are privileged, blessed beyond measure to be able to spend time in His presence, and it is worth waiting a long time for such blessed moment as the one I just mentioned. Qui crediderit, non festinet, — He that believeth, let him not hasten (Is 28:16).
When you have taken the measure of what it means to be in the presence of God, then you are not disappointed to spend hours there without any particular insight. You may feel like you are wasting your time, but you certainly are not. Many of the things we clutter our days with are a waste of time, or at best a very poor use of it, but prayer is never so. For God is found by those who seek Him, He manifests Himself to those who persevere in knocking at the door, He gives the overflowing joy of His presence to those who wait for Him in faith and adoration, savouring the grace of simply being their with Him, even if there are no consolations felt in the senses.
And so my dear Friends, may the Holy Spirit lead you ever to a deeper understanding of who God is. May He be the soul of your prayer, and inspire your mind, heart and lips with the exact utterance of the mouth of God that you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge: that you may be filled unto all the fulness of God (Eph 3:18-19). Then you too will become like fire, the fire that Jesus came to cast upon the earth and which is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself, a fire that can set ablaze the entire world, if only we had faith… It’s up to us.