Jn 15:26-27; 16:12-15
Dear Brethren, may I ask you: ‘Are you friends with the Holy Spirit?’ If you are not, let me suggest you should consider becoming one. I knew once a venerable monk who could spend hours in prayer, just repeating this invocation: “Holy Ghost, my friend; Holy Ghost, my love”. So, how can we become “Friends of the Holy Spirit?”
Our relationship with the Spirit begins very early in our Christian life, on the very day of our baptism. We are plunged into the death and the resurrection of Christ, all our sins are forgiven, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. A new breath of life, coming from God, is breathed upon the newborn children of God. It is like a new creation, a new beginning. The world starts anew from the resurrection of Christ. Virtually nothing is changed outwardly, but a germ of life is sown into the soil of our souls. The Spirit is the “giver of life”. The development of our Christian life is due to His constant action and to our response to His invitations.
When we look at the Saints, we see men and women in whom the Holy Spirit has borne abundant fruits of love, light and life. In most of us, ordinary Christians, the growth into divine life remains far less spectacular and much slower. But what we see in the Saints is what God is doing in us, too, albeit in a more hidden way. God is at work in our lives, through His Holy Spirit. He is leading us towards Himself. He is guiding us. He is shaping us, using for this all the circumstances of our personality and our life story.
One circumstance with which we are all very familiar is the one mentioned by St Paul in the letter to the Galatians we have heard as our second reading. The Apostle speaks of the inner fight between what he calls ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’. The flesh is made of all the energies of natural life. They are basically good. They tend to all that can make our life pleasurable and ever richer on the natural level. But, they do not see any further; they are so self-centred that they see all things and persons around us as pure means of satisfying desires for fullness of life here below. We are flesh, but we are also spirit. We have reason and a conscience, we are able to distinguish between good and evil, and to see a bit further than the mere satisfaction of our desires. We know that what is good for us can require effort and renouncement; we are also aware of our responsibility in helping others to be happy, our duty to help them and to show them a good example. Hence the struggle in us between flesh and spirit. Our reason sees what is good and our good will would like to achieve it. But our flesh seems to be stronger. Our reason is sometimes, or often, weak. The result is a constant conflict in our souls between these opposite tendencies.
The Holy Spirit enters this battle field at our baptism. At first, I am sorry to say, He seems to be making things worse. He illumines our reason and inflames our will, pressing us to do good. But our flesh reacts with a surprising strength. We discover at work in it not only a good desire for the good things of this world, but a visceral opposition to God, which belongs to the world of sin. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” The first work of the Spirit is to denounce sin and the inclination to sin in us. This calls for conversion. It is the point where the Holy Spirit reaches out a helping hand to us. He offers us His friendship.
“Walk by the Spirit” says St Paul. That seems to mean that we have to ask more from the Holy Spirit. He has shown us the way, but we cannot walk it by ourselves. He has to take the lead. He must become the guide of our lives.
How will this happen? St Paul explains: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” There is no way we can fully benefit from Christ’s resurrection if we do not share in His death on the Cross. What was radically given in baptism, has now to be lived out. We have to take our cross and to follow Jesus in order to enter with Him into the resurrection of life and freedom in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Himself is leading us, sometimes gently, sometimes more firmly, in this direction. It is a way we would not choose spontaneously. But He is with us at every step. He gives us light and strength. He fills our heart with a greater love which helps to overcome the difficulties.
For the Holy Spirit is the friend of the good hours, when all is good and well and we have only to thank God for all His blessings, but also of the hours of trial. As a good friend, He does not abandon us in the hour of trial; on the contrary He proves Himself an even more invaluable support, guide and presence in adverse circumstances. When the shade of the Cross looms over our life, He stays with us, He inspires us and comforts us. He teaches us new ways of love; He pours into our hearts depths of patience, forgiveness and compassion of which we had no idea. He reveals to us His ability to transform human situations of failure, abandonment, suffering and death, into paths of life. He teaches us to crucify the flesh with its egoistic and short-sighted desires so as to embrace the greater desires of the Spirit, the great vision of our Father in heaven for each of His daughters and sons.
The Spirit’s presence is easy to recognise, says St Paul. Just check his fruit which is “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. This is the fruit of the true Tree of Life, the Cross of Jesus, the excellent fruit of charity. Whenever we grow into some form of greater love, our good friend the Holy Spirit is at work; we can give Him thanks, and we can ask for more. Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts, and kindle in us the living flame of divine Love. Give us to love more, and more, and more.
Abbot Xavier Perrin