“We should say every morning, ‘O God, send me Thy Spirit to teach me what I am and what Thou art.’” (Saint John Vianney, Cure d’Ars).
It is no secret that a very significant – perhaps the most significant – part of my recent conversion from a practicing Catholic to a woman in love with God, has been the Holy Spirit.
The effect of this Holy and Sacred Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, was perhaps the Person from whom I felt most distant in my past, and who is now the Person whose presence I feel most strongly.
Before, when I prayed, I spoke to the Father, and asked of the Son, and imagined the Holy Spirit, who in my mind was some sort of bird or ghost – something insubstantial in some way who floated in at opportune moments and did not much at all. Though I was taught that He is EQUAL to the Father and the Son, somehow in my mind, He always seemed the ghostly mirror image – something to be understood during eternity perhaps but never connected with in this life?
And then, one day – in the very midst of prayer – everything changed.
I suddenly felt the presence of this Third Holy Person of the Trinity – and through Grace and no merit of my own – when I felt His holy presence, for the very first time in my life, I felt the lifeblood of the Trinity with Him. I felt the completeness of God inside my soul. And I have spent the months since that moment in time, contemplating this feeling and this miracle of faith that came to me so unexpectedly during a time that should have been the most terrible time of my life.
And now, everything is changed. Everything is different. Though I am still as painfully human as I ever was – I am less painfully afraid. Though I still feel fear and stress and anxiety and loss – there is a softness in my soul that was never there before, the terror that I felt before is dead and will never come back to life. I feel Him there – inside my soul. I feel His love. He comforts me. He came for me – His lost sheep – and when he found me, he threw me over His shoulders, just as He said He would.
When I imagined that passage of the Gospels in the past, I imagined the sheep across the Shepherd’s shoulders and the story sort of ended there in my mind.
Now – after my own very different and profound experience in faith – I have realised that when the sheep is slung over the Good Shepherd’s shoulders, it is only the beginning!
You see, sheep are not supposed to be alone. They are domestic animals and without a shepherd to protect and shear them, sheep will die smothered by their own wool and starving to death – unable to reach any food for the wool growing around their mouths and heads. That means that when sheep are alone, they are afraid. Oh, the fear I have felt in my life before. Oh, the terrible, terrible fear!
But what I did not realise about that story of the Good Shepherd when I read it all those years ago, was how the sheep would FEEL upon the shoulders of the Shepherd. I know that feeling now. It is with me. The sheep feels SAFE!
And the other things that I forgot about that story was perhaps the most important part… You see, the Shepherd slung the sheep across His shoulders so that He could carry it home. And that journey back home was not over in a moment. After all, if the sheep were lost that close to home surely the Good Shepherd would have no need to go out after it. No. The sheep was far far away. That means, the sheep stayed up there on the Shepherd’s shoulders all the way home.
And I am still there. He is still carrying me. And I know that He will carry me on His shoulders all the days of my life. For after He found me, He will not let me go. He is bringing me Home.
And how do I know this? How do I feel it?
I know this and I feel this, because the Holy Spirit came to me and is with me now. Saint John Vianney, the Cure d’Ars said in his sermon on the Holy Spirit… “The Father is our Creator, the Son is our Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost is our Guide.”
In the Bible we are told… “This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” (1 John 5:6)
And the Holy Spirit is Truth because it is the Holy Spirit who enlightens. That is what He does. Saint John Vianney later in that same sermon explained, “That is the reason why the most Holy Virgin never sinned. The Holy Ghost made her understand the hideousness of sin; she shuddered with terror at the least fault.” Saint John the Baptist was the same. When the child leapt within Elizabeth’s womb when she greeted Our Blessed Mother, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, it was the Holy Spirit who baptised the Baptiser before his birth – so that he would be worthy to baptise the Son of God. And so, Saint John – born without sin – was also enlightened through the power of the Holy Spirit to understand the hideousness of sin and never sin in his life.
It is the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes so that we can “see deep into eternity.” (Saint John Vianney).
Decades before I was even born, Saint John Vianney spoke of me right now when he said in that same homily… “You who are not great saints, you still have many moments when you taste the sweetness of prayer and of the presence of God: these are visits of the Holy Spirit.”
For “a Christian who is led by the Spirit has no difficulty in leaving the goods of this world, to run after those of Heaven.” (Saint John Vianney).
Scott Hahn writes in his text, “Lord Have Mercy”, “If we cut off our own arms and legs, we should despair of ever winning the Olympic decathlon. If we cut off our own repentance, we should certainly not expect to obtain forgiveness.” And the surest way to cut off our repentance is to forsake the Holy Spirit. For God the Son died so that God the Holy Spirit could descend and be amongst us. The sacraments – the Church itself – has no power but through Him…
Saint Bonaventure said the same thing using different words… “The Holy Spirit comes where He is loved, where He is invited, where He is expected.”
And so, I now believe that we should follow the advice of Saint John Vianney and “We should say every morning, ‘O God, send me Thy Spirit to teach me what I am and what Thou art.’”
For I never wish to begin anything again, unless I first have the Holy Spirit with me…
For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.