Are you pursuing a plan for holiness?
In his book, In the School of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Jacques Philippe writes, “Holiness is not a program for life, but something obtained from God. We all have the power to become holy, simply because God lets himself be won over by the trust we put in him.”
Fr. Philippe puts us on the right track to holiness, helping us recognize that the task is beyond our power and that only God knows each person’s road. With each act of fidelity in following the movements of the Holy Spirit, our faithfulness to grace draws down further graces. “Just a minute amount of unction of the Holy Spirit can fill our hearts with more contentment than all the riches of the earth because it shares in God’s infinity,” he writes.
The double impact
My book study group for In the School of the Holy Spirit was large and varied, with many of the same people that studied together Time for God, which I reviewed here earlier. One man shared the impact of the two books on his life. After suffering from severe allergies in his childhood and college years, he finally got the correct medications. He compared how good he felt now with his healthier prayer life after reading Time for God. Increasing his prayer time transformed his relationship with God. When reading In the School of the Holy Spirit, he found the same analogy true regarding his family life.
Just like he realized how crummy he felt with his allergies when he thought he was feeling good, he didn’t realize how hard he was working in his career and how much he was missing his family. “I had slowly and over time, let my career negatively impact the amount of energy I had for my family,” he said. “It wasn’t until I took a step back and asked the Lord to take over, that my eyes were open to a world full of potential that I could have never known existed because I was so focused on only living within my self-defined potential.”
Is that you, Holy Spirit?
How do we know that the thoughts that inspire us and lead to big and little decisions come from the Holy Spirit? We can obey God and deny him nothing until we love obeying more than we fear disobeying. Our small acts of obedience prepare us for bigger ones. Then we are ready to practice praise and thanksgiving for graces received and even ask for more of them. To counteract apathy and contentiousness, we can practice abandonment and detachment, accompanying them with silence and peace. These practices facilitate the motions of the Holy Spirit as we persevere in prayer.
How can we know that an inspiration comes from God? That’s the question that haunts us. Fr. Philippe writes about progressively acquitting a “spiritual sense.” He defines this as “a kind of ability to recognize, among all the multiple, discordant voices that we can hear inside us, the unique, unmistakable voice of Jesus. This sense is a loving instinct that makes it easier and easier for us to distinguish the voice of the Spouse, in the chorus of sounds that greet our ears.”
I see this loving instinct like that of infants who recognize their mother’s voice even before they can see her clearly. The infant bonds to his or her mother to the degree that she is consistent in her faithful care, as God is faithful to us. As children build their faith in their mothers one loving experience at a time, so do we learn to trust the voice of the Holy Spirit one inspiration at a time.
Discerning the source of inspiration means that we question its source. Is the action consistent with Scripture? Is it inconsistent with our vocation? Direction toward a difficult or inconvenient task, such as stopping to help an elderly woman carry her groceries, is an example of such consistency with Scripture and with our calling as Christians and easy to discern that it comes from God. Helping someone break the law would not be scriptural, within our Christian duty or inspired by God.
Scripture teaches us that discernment of spirits depends on the fruits that result – fruits of the Spirit or the evil one. The Holy Spirit produces the good fruit that the devil cannot. How did you feel after you helped the woman with her groceries? How did you feel when you passed her by? The catch is that discernment is proven only in hindsight and often bites us. Yes, we see our mistakes early on in the discernment process and, hopefully, do not lose heart but press on in our response to grace.
We resist certain inspirations because they seem impossible to fulfill. Only by acting upon the inspiration can the Holy Spirit transform our fear and disbelief to deep peace in our hearts. And when the result is not heart-peace, we easily can discern a wrong decision.
Fr. Philippe devoted one chapter to Mary, and our model of putting into practice the lessons of her spouse, the Holy Spirit. When we entrust our spiritual lives into her care, we learn to emulate her total self-giving to God’s will, her silence, and her inner listening to the Spirit.
Yes, “God lets himself be won over by the trust we put in him.” When we trust him, he does great things in us and leads us into the holiness in the way he planned.
(© 2018 Nancy HC Ward)