June 10, 2011

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

On the faithful, who adore
And confess you evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue's sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.

For Pentecost this year, that wonderful publication Magnificat provides a beautiful translation of the Sequence, a prayer offered by the Church during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass.  The prayer asks for the Holy Spirit to come - to come into our inmost depths.  This Gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts is the secret of the Christian life, the vital principle of true prayer.   He comes to dwell in us as in a temple - that is, his living Presence enlivens us as it permeates the sacred sanctuary of our innermost being.  This life-giving Breath of God, creatively hovering over the chaos of our hearts, shines forth with divine glory, the glory by which God is known and loved in the visible concrete particularities of our lives, even in those most difficult situations where He seems absent.  Especially in these moment when we are tempted by great discouragement, when we call out in faith regardless of what we feel or intuit, this exceeding Gift of the Divine Presence overflows the heart so that it cannot help but be lifted up in praise.

The Holy Spirit comes when we ask for Him out of faith in Christ.  This is because Christ Himself is also asking that this same Gift be poured out on us anew.  This happens in such manifold measure, we sometimes forget how remarkable our life of prayer is.  Consider the moment when the priest calls out to the assembly, "Lift up your heart."  Isn't it true that we assembled together in prayer by faith and baptism are able to obey this command of Christ because the Holy Spirit is already raising up our humanity above itself?  We may not feel anything and it may seem like the most "non-spiritual" moment - but faith transcends what "seems to be" and what "feels."  Faith alone receives the Holy Spirit - love imbued faith is a precious gift produced in us by our Advocate and Guide.  Through inspiring ever deeper and more intense movements of faith within us, the Holy Spirit breathes in us so that filled with divine life we are able to utter prayers and petitions which conform in more perfect ways to Christ himself. 

The painful cries of the heart pierced by the love of God, or else moved by the misery which constantly threatens our existence, are joined in the power of the Holy Spirit with the cries echoing in the heart of the Risen Lord.  This is true whether such prayer is offered in inspired words committed to memory or holy stammering gushing from the heart cloaked in adoring silence.  It is true when spontaneous tears overflow and groans break forth from our depths.  Such prayer extends throughout all those deep sighs and bubbling jubilation hidden in Gregorian tones and it lives in even the most simple of hymns sung with childlike confidence in God.

By our baptism in the Waters of New Creation, by the warmth and light of the Fire of God, by the fragrant anointing from above, these inebriated stirrings of our frail humanity are enveloped in the very movements of the Lord's own heart.  Since Christ risen from the Dead prays in the power of this same Holy Spirit, the possibility of communion is opened in His prayer, a prayer that has already vanquished death and even now overcomes every evil.  The Paraclete communicates the secrets of the Lord's heart into our own depths sometimes with overpowering forcefulness, sometimes with subtle whispers.  This identification with the Heart of Christ takes place in our hearts especially in those moments when we are pushed to the brink, when we struggle to stand firm at life's darkest hour.

Here is the secret of the holy audacity we find in the eyes of martyrs and confessors.  The Holy Spirit given by Christ bursts forth with that incredible courage which fills the countenance of those who tread in the dark valley of the shadow of death.  Those without this Gift are astonished and feel a longing to taste the life giving waters flowing from such souls.  Enlivened by such Spirit-filled prayer, what can hold us down?  What can prevent us from raising our hearts to the highest heaven?  Indeed, by the Gift of the Holy Spirit, we are already filled with heaven even as we live on earth.  Under the holy impetus of indwelling Divine Love, all the world is being raised to God - to joys that will never end.