Last week I tried to show that the Holy Spirit is ‘someone’ who is the love of God in our lives. In this essay, I would like to attempt to show how this Person works in our lives. This comes from a lifetime of trying to perceive the workings of this Spiritual Presence in my own life.
The first thing we have to do is to make sure it is the Spirit of God Who is moving in our consciousness. There are other spirits who are deceiving spirits and are malevolent toward the baptized who have renounced their leader: Satan. Often, the evil spirits take on the appearance of angels of light. It is imperative that we test the spirits to discover if they are really from God. The ruling criterion for doing this is what the Lord Jesus Himself taught us: “By their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20).
If it is the Spirit of God, then it will produce peace, joy, good works, humility, etc. The evil spirits can mimic the Spirit of God in pretending to be like it, but they are powerless to produce the peace and joy as well as the good works that come from the true Spirit. Thus, caution is very important in the process of discernment.
St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises speaks about the gentleness of the Holy Spirit and the brusqueness and noise of the false spirits. The Holy Spirit moves the person toward hiddenness and humility and never to want to take the center stage so it can be seen.
The Spirit of God always leads to works of virtue and never sin. It always is in harmony with the teaching of the Church. If the spirit inside is leading one to believe and teach something that goes against a doctrine of the faith, it can immediately be labeled demonic. Do not follow it. The Holy Spirit, who leads the Church in her teaching, does not contradict itself.
The next logical question is, “How does the Spirit speak in us?” The word used in this regard is ‘promptings.’
It is a little difficult to convey the meaning of this seemingly simple word. A ‘prompting’ is a kind of intuition, a hunch, a feeling that inclines one in a certain direction, a thought that comes out of nowhere but that seems to relieve a deep seated anxiety. It is the kind of thing whose meaning can only be intuited since it is so elusive and therefore hard to pin down.
You can be in the middle of an ordinary thing you do each day when, out of nowhere, comes a desire. When you follow up on it, you realize that it was important for you to do this action, yet the willingness to do it seems to have come out of nowhere.
This of course only can happen if the thing is good in itself or leads to something good. As one can imagine, the Tempter can try to fraudulently mimic a prompting. But again: By the fruits you will know them.
What is most important about the ability to receive and interpret correctly these promptings of the Holy Spirit is that we be in a state of prayer. By that I do not mean actually in the process of formal prayer like saying the Rosary. We should be heading in the spiritual life to a state of prayer where we are in an attitude of continual prayer throughout the day. Think of this as always being in conversation with the Lord. If we nurture this habit of prayer, this conversation, we will be able to be receptive to the communications of the Spirit whether they be warnings about demonic subterfuge or encouragement for a new action desired by the Spirit of God.
It is very interesting that in the Acts of the Apostles (which could also be titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit!), the influence of the Spirit is felt throughout as an emotional force that comforts, persuades, warns, advises and grieves. This connection with the emotions is, I think, a very important factor in discerning the Spirit. Discernment is necessary since the demonic voices often masquerade as angels of light. They are very easily discerned if we are sensitive to where the initial emotions lead us. St. Ignatius warns that what appears to be the Holy Spirit’s actions reveals itself if we are attentive to where it leads. He speaks of the appearance of the ‘cola serpentina’, literally the serpent’s tail, as it slithers into view as the evil one leads the souls who think it is the Holy Spirit into disquiet, anger and pride.
While the Acts of the Apostles emphasizes how emotional the Spirit is, we must always remember that many of the gifts of the Spirit deal with how the mind orders reality and acts on it: Wisdom, Counsel, Understanding, Knowledge. With these gifts, the energy of the emotions can be properly directed and builds up the Body of Christ, the Church.
How can we ever do without the actions and guidance of that Mysterious Person called the Holy Spirit?
O merciful Father, grant that Your Divine Spirit may cleanse, inflame, and enlighten our minds and hearts. Enable us to be fruitful in good works for the glory of Your Majesty and the spiritual and material well-being of all people.