God in the Soul

God, the Maker of everything that exists, is, of course, present to each of His creatures. In the souls of those that love and serve Him, moreover, He dwells most intimately and lovingly. Such is the teaching of the Catholic Church. Theology represents this familiar association of man and God as the office of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity; the reason for this appropriation to One Person of the indwelling common to all Three, being this: that the bringing together of the creature and the Creator in a wonderful communion of love accords well with the Personal character of the Holy Ghost. The note which distinguishes Him from the Father and the Son consists in His being originated by their reciprocal love. He is properly called Amor Procedens, Love Abounding and Flowing; He is the Gift of Love; and so to Him we assign that marvelous favor of God, by means of which the human lover and the Divine Beloved are united as both desire.

When the union of which we speak occurs, the human creature, having received the gift of sanctifying grace, becomes a "sharer in the Divine Nature," a privilege we should hardly dare to claim in words so plain, had we not the warrant of Scripture for the use of this very phrase. Catholic theology explains this to mean that man by grace partakes of powers naturally proper to the Deity; thus he is rightly said to transcend the rank of created nature and to share in the very life of God. This deification - as the Fathers of the Church did not hesitate to call it - is effected not by destroying human nature, but by elevating it to a higher order and by investing its operations with a truly divine worth. Man, by nature the child of Adam, is raised by grace to the sublime dignity of being the child of God.

The fact that God actually and substantially dwells within the sanctified soul is, then, the explicit teaching of the Catholic Church. The life of grace means this. It means that there has been effected between the soul and God a union closer than any other except the union of the two natures of Christ. Since the human race began, the Holy Spirit has ever been thus active among the souls of men, sanctifying by His presence all such as cling to God with firm and generous hearts. So it was with Adam when he became the son of God by grace, so it was with David, Elias, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, and Anna. So it has been with every soul raised to the supernatural life of grace within or without the body of the Church. Each has been sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit. For, on Pentecost "the Holy Ghost did not come to commence His indwelling in the souls of His saints, but to penetrate more deeply into them; not beginning at that time to bestow His gifts, but pouring them out in greater abundance; performing no new work, but continuing what He had already begun."

As in human friendship, so in this mysterious union of the soul with God, there are degrees and gradations. Sanctity varies in the individual; so also the intimacy of union with God. And since the Pentecostal advent of the Holy Spirit, this grace of union has been bestowed to an extent utterly inconceivable. "For this gift, this sending of the Holy Ghost, after the glorification of Christ, was to be such as had never been before; mot that it had never been given before, but that it had never been given to the same degree." So abundant is this outpouring that the Christian soul can go on ever strengthening the divine life within, ever binding itself more intimately to God, gaining new titles to love, forging stronger chains of affection, winning closer embraces. As flame in the blazing fire, as a lover in the arms of his beloved, so is God in the soul. Personally and literally, by the actual presence of His Divine Substance, He rests in His creature as truly as He dwells in the tabernacle containing the consecrated Host.

This privilege of the Christian surpasses all others, as it is the one to which all others tend. The time of sacramental Communion is a moment of ineffable sweetness indeed, and human nature can never mount beyond the height reached. when Jesus Christ, God and Man, comes to rest in the arms of his devout lover. Still, the physical presence of the Body of Christ does not last for long. With the corruption of the elements, the physical and bodily union between the worshipper and his Lord comes to an end. But grace remains. The Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Jesus, abides in the soul; and with Him, both Jesus and the Father. This indwelling is invisible, as indeed the union of the Second Person with the humanity of Christ was invisible. Like the transformation of bread into the body and soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, it produces no sensible result. But just as surely as Transubstantiation makes Christ's Body present where previously it was. not, so surely does the sanctification of the soul by the entrance of the Holy Spirit bring God Himself into the human heart, there to abide as a king upon his own throne.

Such, then, is the doctrine at the basis of devotion to the Holy Ghost. That devotion takes its rise in the consciousness that, through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, the Christian soul has become the temple of God, that it has been consecrated by the Divine Presence as truly as if it were a tabernacle marked by the lighted lamp as the abiding place of Jesus Christ. For this consciousness naturally impels the soul to direct special thought and nourish special affection towards that Person of the Most Blessed Trinity through Whom this grace is bestowed.

What rank this devotion holds in the spiritual life we learn from the Holy Father's emphatic eulogy. Deaf to his teaching and blind to all spiritual perspective would we be if we ignored this great truth, while exerting ourselves to gain vogue for pretty little specialties begotten of pious imagination. It is true that in every household use can be found for small things as well as for great, and the wondrous number and variety of Catholic devotions may well justify pride and admiration. Nevertheless the sense of doctrinal proportion must be respected, and it were most unseemly if those ardent in carrying on the propaganda of minor devotions should remain "wrapped in error and ignorance as to the benefits and graces that have always flowed and still flow from this divine source - error and ignorance, indeed, unbefitting the children of light."

Individually, at least, each one of us can do something toward dissipating that ignorance by enlightening our own souls; and though the subject seems to be fathomless, this does not excuse us from the endeavor to learn something concerning it. It is true, even the personal characteristic of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity seems to be shrouded in peculiarly deep mystery. The names of Father and Son in nowise adequately or exhaustively describe the proper personality of Those so named; but we imagine, at least, that we understand Their relationship to the Divine Nature far better than we do that of the Third Person. Of His characteristic we gain only the merest hint in such unsatisfying statements as theology ventures to advance. Nevertheless the symbols assigned to Him, and the works appropriated to Him, do afford some aid. First of all, we notice how they seem to throw about Him the kindly light of tenderness and love. The gentle air, the brooding dove, the soft, clinging cloud-shadow, the dawning light, the parted tongues of fire - these symbols intimate to us how sweetly lovable must be this Best Gift of the Father and the Son. And then the offices appropriated to Him as most in harmony with His personal character - to sanctify the human soul, to inspire the patriarchs with longing for the Messiah's coming, to pour sweet strains of heavenly music into psalmist-souls, to illumine the prophets with the gleam of a light never seen upon earth - these, and the espousing of Mary, and the forming of the body of Jesus, - and His baptism, and the consecrating of the Apostles, all indicate how greatly our love and worship would increase did we but know the Third Person of the Godhead better. All the precious graces that come in the Sacraments are His Gift, and all the sweetness and strength and comfort infused in prayer, and every good deed of the millions of priests anointed with His holy unction since the Church began - these are His work too.

So out from the obscurity breaks a glimmering of the loveliness of that Divine Comforter Whose advent it was expedient we should purchase even at the cost of Christ's departure. Surely devotion to Him will bring some new nobility into our sordidly selfish lives.

And now what is implied by devotion to the Holy Spirit? First of all, an endeavor constantly to attend to His Presence in our souls. If we were to do that well and lovingly, we should need no other form of recollection. To gaze affectionately on the face of God unveiled is the life of the blessed in heaven. To remain close to Him each moment while here upon earth, to acquire the habit of ever directing the will lovingly toward Him, to contemplate Him hidden in the soul under the veil of faith - this is a life of the best and highest prayer, a life that has transformed thousands of men and women into saints. Like Adam in the garden, we walk daily in the company of God. Like the Virgin after the angelic salutation, we bear within us the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of the Most High. As the Sacred Heart of our Divine Savior was thrilled with the ineffable and measureless graces poured into it by the Holy Spirit, we too are quickened and sanctified and made more than human by His loving touch.

The flame-illumined crystal, shot through and through with splendor, typifies our souls when, by the indwelling of the Spirit, we are made partakers of Divinity. God's spirit in the innermost depths of our being is soothing, healing, quickening, strengthening, uplifting, comforting, purifying us, hour by hour. He is ever gently stirring our souls as the summer air that breathes so softly amid the forest leaves. Truly God is with us. Truly we are His temples, bearing Him in our bodies - a precious treasure in earthen vessels.

When first this truth is presented to our minds we draw back in astonishment and doubt. Then, as conviction slowly dawns, we feel stunned and bewildered. We have been walking among crowded sand-hills that shut away the view on every side, and suddenly we come out upon a great shoreless sea stretching away into infinite space. The fog is gathered thick above the water. Nothing can be seen except brooding mist, and nothing heard but the thunder of the hidden surf. We are humbled,. awed, terrified. The great God dwelling in us! What can it mean!

And then the story of Bishop Cheverus comes back to us, perhaps; how the sainted priest confessed his humiliation when some one said to him: "What! you believe that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God, descends from heaven each morning to enter your bosom? Why, you would be rapt into the ecstasy of a saint!"

"At these words," said the good old prelate, "I blushed with shame, for so it should be."

Thus we find it beyond belief that we are still so worldly and selfish and sinful, with the Spirit of God really dwelling in us. But still the indwelling is a fact that cannot be gainsaid. The privilege is not optional. Whether we will it or not, we have been "born again" into the life of grace, the supernatural order, and have come into the company of the saints - for our great glory, should we persevere, for our inevitable and well-deserved shame and ruin, were we now to become castaway. Far better the mollusk on the seashore, or the toad imprisoned in a rock, than a soul turned away from God. But though the issue is in our own hands, the choice of evading responsibility has not been given us. We are equipped for the struggle, but the necessity of it is upon us. We must face it, whether for better or for worse. "Your members are the members of Christ." "Your body is God's temple." "Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect."

It is true that the first deep realization of this truth may be fearful and oppressive, that the initial step in devotion to the Holy Ghost is often made in dread and trembling. "This indeed is an awful place: for God was in this spot and I knew it not," you say at your first long look into the depths of your soul. It is as if, while imagining yourself to be alone at night, you were to turn about and suddenly see a face in the dark, with great eyes that seem to pierce you through and through. But, as you recover from the momentary terror, you find that the face is as sweet and loving as that of the mother who used to bend over your childhood crib, and that the eyes resting on you are soft and winning and deep with an infinite tenderness beyond anything known before. And then your heart leaps up in an answering love, as if now at last its quest were ended and it had found an object worthy of all its loving worship.

So it really is. There is a hunger in the human soul unsatisfied by all the joys that creatures can bestow. There is a love best appreciated when the eyes are closed, a love mentioned only with bated breath, as something too sacred to be conversed about in common tones. It is the love of God, surpassing the love of woman. Its joys transcend those of the mother and her smiling babe, of the bridegroom and his bride, of the faithful pair that have seen their golden jubilee of wedded life. Searching for this love we ever tend to make gods of our fellow-creatures. But no creature can so remain for long, and left without a God, we become again restless and unhappy.

"We seek Him down the nights and down the days;
We seek Him down the arches of the years."

And at last, Augustine-like, we find Him within - God, the Holy Ghost; and like Catherine of Siena, building a little chapel in the soul, we worship Him there with fervor for evermore. Now is our God always with us, caressing us in the sacred privacy of love's communion: "I to my Beloved, and His turning is toward me."

The old charm of selfishness is gone now. From morn till night we are under the eyes of the God Who loves us. The most trifling infidelity has become an unpardonable crime, as if grieving the Holy Spirit were the same with neglecting the slightest wish of the dear invalid whose sensitive, restless eyes follow us when we are moving about the sick-room. A venial sin seems like a sacrilege now, as if we were close to the tabernacle, or at the altar-rail. Dreadfully wearing all this! some one says. Ah! but the reward. Who can describe the joys of the saint? On the edge of the sun-scorched desert is the cool wood with its heavy leaves, with its damp moss and its running stream. There, far from the worry of creatures and the taint of sin, the soul finds rest and peace and a Divine Comforter. And that dear solitude is loved as no other spot on earth. In the shadow, unseen of men, here within my heart, God dwells with me and I with Him. No pulse of mine can beat, no breath be drawn, but He knows it. I live, now not I, but He lives within me. Sooner than lose the sweet consciousness of His presence, the sense of His watchful eye, I would suffer the bitterest pain. For with Him pain is paradise, and without Him life is a dreary torment.

But mere loving attention to the fact of God's indwelling is not the last of our relationship with Him. The will must enter actively into our intimacy. Our contemplation must be that of faithful servants, whose eyes are bent upon their Master's hands, and who await only the signal to obey with alacrity and exactness. If, then, our devotion to the Holy Spirit be real, it will imply ready and perfect obedience to His inspirations. As attention to Him is the perfection of the life of prayer, so obedience to His inspirations is the perfection of the active life. For what are the gifts of the Holy Spirit if not habits of soul disposing us to do God's will promptly and perfectly?

Consideration of this simple truth may help us to realize the true ideal of spiritual direction, namely, that God is the supreme director of souls, and that all human consultation is of use in proportion as it leads to the recognition and fulfillment of the divine will. We need to be instructed and perhaps to be encouraged by others; but we must also make large use of our own enlightened common sense, and the impulses of grace in our souls. Frequent advice may be quite indispensable to our success, and consequently it is to be sought; but we should not neglect opportunities of useful work, merely because no one has suggested our embracing them. Nor can we always have our director within call, unless indeed he be the indwelling Spirit. Therefore, the best direction is that which trains men in prompt and spontaneous fidelity to the guidance of God the Holy Ghost; as the normal spiritual life is that wherein the soul, instead of merely shaping itself on the minute details of a model provided by an adviser, uses its own intelligence to recognize and its own will to execute God's particular designs in its regard. How simple in sublimity the rule of life which has for its supreme principle the conscience, instructed by authoritative teaching, and energized by the promptings of the Holy Spirit!

But does this not render the individual lawless and his conduct arbitrary? In the spiritual life, thus conceived, there must be danger of pride, fanaticism, vagrant fancies, illusions, and the worst possible self-deception. That is true; and ruin would be imminent were there no balance, no corrective, no external standard of guidance. Here, as always, the beautiful symmetry of Catholic doctrine is manifested, and its unity made evident. The inner promptings of the voice of God are to be tested by their harmony with the external direction of authority. God will not contradict Himself. The less obvious and certain direction is to be corrected by the clearer. Hence, in case of conflict, the supposed inspiration must always give way to the explicit direction of lawfully constituted authority. This rule has been well illustrated in the lives of saints like Teresa, who professed that they would obey the command of a lawful superior more readily than they would follow any interior suggestion, though it seemed clearly to proceed from the Holy Spirit. Thus fidelity to the integral Catholic ideal has ever enabled men to steer safely between the fatal alternatives of fanaticism and indolent passivity. Like the plumb-line of a mason, the rudder of a ship, or the beacon on a lee-shore, external authority constantly guides and directs human activity. Launched successfully on the crest of a mighty inspiration, the enterprise will soon run upon some hidden disaster, if orders are disobeyed or warnings disregarded. The demon may whisper within us in the guise of an angel of light, but, obeying our legitimate superiors, we cannot go astray. The wall will be true to a hair's breadth, the ship will safely weather the foam-bathed rooks. It is the certainty of being thus guarded against danger which enables the loyal Catholic to work out God's plan with untroubled serenity.

All this is clear. But we must not forget that God's plan is a harmony, that in the perfect observance of both His inner and His outer behests lies the fulfilling of the law. To work lawlessly were crime. To work only when expressly commanded by external authority were indolence. The danger-signals and the limits of progress are marked from without; the impulse to act is often from within. The careful watch of lawfully constituted guardians, like the swaddling-clothes, of infancy, protects us against fatal chill; but the Christian, like the babe, lives not in virtue of swaddling-clothes alone. Faithful and energetic correspondence to the will of God, manifested externally by superiors or by circumstances, and hearty co-operation with the suggestions of the indwelling Spirit - both are necessary elements in the building up of God's household. The Gentile missions of Paul, the reformed foundations of Teresa, the new institute of Ignatius, were inspired by secret whispers that the Divine Master communicated to these saints in the privacy of their own souls. External authority did not give birth to these movements. What it did, and did thoroughly, was to provide against all possibility of extravagance.

Many a one, no doubt, is ready to say: "But I never have any such inspirations. I never hear the voice of God within my soul." Cleanse away sin, shut out the world, purify self-love, and then listen. Why, to the worst of men God whispers His admonitions through the voice of conscience, and it must be that He will speak more often and more explicitly to souls sanctified by grace. If we are attentive, we shall certainly not fail to receive suggestions from Him. If we are faithful to the light given, it will go on always increasing. Evening and morning, at our going out and at our coming in, now amid the bustle of daily duties and now in the retirement of a church, the good impulse may be felt. Sometimes an inclination to prayer and again a summons to action, first a call to mortification and then to kindness, this time the suggestion of a pleasant duty and later of one that is bitterly repugnant - so the motions of the Spirit vary as He listeth. But they gather about our pathway ever and always - at one time as soothing dew and again as scorching fire, now as soft, low music, and now as the trumpet-call to battle; for all ways are His. He is ever beside us, ever within us, and His inspirations fall athwart our souls as constantly as the long shadows on the quiet surface of a mountain lake. So Jesus trained the disciples for their work. So, instructed by the guiding Spirit, the Apostolic twelve revolutionized the world. Ever contemplating and ever obeying God, we too will be transformed into some greater likeness to Him, as friends dwelling together for years grow to resemble each other.

The result of this devotion is, in one word, Perfection. Its examples are the saints who in every age and land, with an infinite variety of dispositions and faculties, have learned to become perfect instruments of the God abiding in their souls. They have exhibited in fullness those gifts and graces which are the proper fruits of devotion to the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, fear, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity - gifts and graces in which every good Christian shares to some extent, but which are capable of indefinite and lasting increase. Thus will our lives be rounded out and perfected, if we too learn to love the Spirit of God and faithfully follow His guidance. For are not all other things for the sake of this; is not the visible on account of the invisible? Surely so. The ultimate end of human existence is the perfecting of the relationship begun by the Holy Spirit's entrance into the soul.

Many times the pursuit of this ideal will conflict with prevalent notions and cherished traditions perhaps, but it must be pursued faithfully none the less. The world will move, be the denials of that fact ever so numerous and loud. And, as it moves, God inclines men first in this direction and then in another. Human wills must be free and ready to follow the divine. Ad majorem Dei gloriam must be our principle of action, and it must stand supreme. "God first" was the interpretation given to this maxim by the saint who has made it a household word among modern Catholics, and the Exercises he invented were framed to train the soul so that, purged of attachment to minor goods and lesser means, it might aim at whole-hearted loyalty to the Supreme Good, the end of its existence, and always elect to follow him.

There is more than one reason why it seems as though devotion to the Holy Spirit were especially suited for our age, and above all for the people of this country - earnest, intelligent, active, and liberty-loving. Mindful of the significance of those acts of the Holy Father which officially bear upon the spiritual welfare of the whole Christian world, we may well consider Pope Leo's directions to have been a heaven sent indication of the ideals that best avail for the perfecting of the existing social order. In consecrating the whole human race to "the Sacred Heart, the symbol and sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ," he directed attention toward that devotion which attaches men most firmly to the person of Him Who is their Way, their Truth, and their Life. In renewing devotion to the Holy Spirit, he influenced men to turn their thoughts inward and to learn the ineffable dignity of the life of grace, and he encouraged that love of internal personal religion, that loyalty to the inner promptings of grace, that cultivation of the highest form of prayer, and that sense of individual freedom and individual responsibility so well fostered by this devotion, and in default of which vital spirituality is so likely to decay.

"I have long thought," said Cardinal Manning, "that the secret but real cause of the so-called Reformation was that the office of the Holy Ghost had been much obscured in popular belief." But the new religionists brought about a far worse state of affairs. Making no headway themselves, they still obstructed the path of others. Wild fanaticism such as they displayed was the one thing most likely to discourage authority from reposing confidence in the personal fidelity of the subject. Catholics were forced to concentrate all resources on the defense of points attacked. External authority was of necessity emphasized most strongly and became all dominant, while individual initiative in action and individual freedom in methods were suspected to be, and often developed into, the false and fanatical vagaries of heresy.

Today, however, the siege is nigh over. Protestantism has all but completed its process of self-disintegration; and now the evil most to be feared is indifferentism and infidelity. To this our century tends, as is evident, and the national genius of our own country is such that naturalism is the point of danger. How thoroughly is this danger counter-acted by the two great devotions which Pope Leo saw fit to commend so specially - devotion to the sacred symbol of the God-Man's love for us, and devotion to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! We tend to humanism, therefore our natural bent is caught and directed upward to the transfixed Heart of the Savior of mankind. Again, we tend to exaggerate liberty, our sacred birthright - that liberty of which the Pontiff wrote, "it is the greatest of man's natural gifts" - and therefore devotion to the Holy Spirit is commended, that human liberty, bound in the chains of divine love, may be made over to God in the free and spontaneous consecration of our wills to the will of the Divinity reigning within us. Thus has the highest authority in the Church stamped supreme approval on a devotion which already had been marked as specially fitted for our day by the decree of the Baltimore Council, by the action of the American College at Rome, by declarations from cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and saintly priests throughout the English-speaking world. What indeed, could be better adapted to bring about the renewal of Christian life in human society and the reconciliation to the faith of all those outside the Church? The finger of God points out this devotion as one which, earnestly cultivated, will lead all dissenters into the Catholic fold and inspire all Catholics to lives of sanctity.

Each of us, then, may feel specially called to cherish it. How greatly it helps to simplify our lives! Neither badge, medal, nor affiliation is necessary to its practice. The sole equipment is a lovingly attentive heart; and this all Christians may lay claim to, if they will, in any place, at any time, and under any circumstances. Love and obey the Spirit, hearken to His outer and His inner voice, and it is enough. As a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, He will lead you on into the land of promise. The glad spring sunshine, the grateful perfume of the pine woods, the murmurs of splashing fountains - none of these is so delightful as the gracious caress and sweet whisper of the indwelling Spirit, the Spouse of our souls. It was formerly a custom in Catholic countries to symbolize the advent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost by letting fragrant blossoms and lighted fleece fall from the ceiling of the church. Well did those symbols recall the love and light bestowed on those who become His disciples.

Among the splendid old hymns that have thrilled the Church tor centuries there is one, the Veni, Creator Spiritus, unique in its wonderful history. To the echo of its music kings have been anointed and emperors crowned. While its cry went up from the kneeling thousands, bishops have knelt beneath the consecrating oil, priests have been ordained, and temples erected to God. Under its inspiration spotless souls have consecrated their chastity to Christ, preachers have stirred sinners to lifelong penitence, and showers of Pentecostal grace have flowed down on men. May this hymn find new echo within each Catholic soul today! Veni, Creator Spiritus! May the advent of the Spirit awaken us to the joyous consciousness that He is come indeed, and that He. is abiding within us, never more to depart until in heaven our eyes shall open to gaze eternally upon His uncovered Face!

- text taken from The Sacrament of Duty by Father Joseph McSorley, C.S.P.