How the Holy Spirit Guides Us

Let’s apply what we talked about three weeks ago regarding discernment of spirits.  Today, St. Paul gives two lists.  The first is a list of sins and he says those who do them won’t inherit the Kingdom of God; he gives the list because he wants us to have the fullness of life, and knows that these sins push us away from God’s love for us.  So, as we prayerfully read this, pay attention to movements of the heart: Do we feel bothered, indifferent, peaceful?  “Live by the Spirit… and do not gratify the desires of the flesh…  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication [sex before marriage], impurity, licentiousness [these are sexual sins], idolatry [anything occult: Ouija boards, Reiki, palm reading], sorcery [black magic], enmities, strife, jealousyanger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envydrunkenness, carousing, and things like these.  I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:16,19-21).

Moral theologians teach that, while ‘jealousy,’ ‘anger,’ or ‘envy’ can be grave matter, sometimes the matter is small.  For example, when we get irritated with each other at Mass, it’s usually light matter: The people around us sing badly or are unfriendly, and we’re unjustly angry—that’s a sin but not grave matter.  (What about falling asleep during the homily, is that grave matter?)

However, sins of ‘fornication,’ ‘idolatry,’ ‘sorcery,’ and ‘drunkenness’ are always grave matter.  Jesus taught that sexuality is so sacred that any violation of it is grave (Cf. Mt 5:28).  Idolatry and sorcery mean trusting in something other than God the Father’s goodness, so it’s a false god.  And drunkenness doesn’t just mean accidentally getting light-headed, but deliberately getting drunk, which impairs our ability to reason and love.  How do we feel when we hear this?  Pay attention to what you’re feeling.

Today, we celebrate the solemnity of Pentecost, the feast day of the Holy Spirit, and the foundational reality is that the Holy Spirit is always working in our hearts to give us His peace!

But He loves us in different ways depending on how close we are to Him.  If we’re going from mortal sin to mortal sin the Holy Spirit will gently or strongly say, ‘I love you.  What you’re doing isn’t right; it’s wrong.  Come back to Me.’  He’ll sting our conscience with St. Paul’s words that we won’t inherit the kingdom of God.  Sometimes the fear of eternal hell is the only thing that moves us.  It did for me!  Therefore, when we’re stuck in mortal sin and feel awful, that’s the Holy Spirit loving us—doesn’t feel good, but is good!

However, if we’re sincerely trying to follow Him, and we’re already going to Confession regarding these sins, He’s going to say: ‘Do not get discouraged!  Rely on Me more, ask for help, keep on trying, you’re making progress!’

Now, how will the enemy act?  If we’re stuck in these sins and not trying to overcome them, he’ll move us to indifference: ‘You’re good.  This isn’t a big deal, it’s nonsense.  Let’s move on.’  Whatever is our normal avoidance mechanism will kick in.

But, if we’re trying to love God sincerely and think: ‘I’m horrible; I did all this; I’m still doing this.  I go to Confession and it never improves,’ that’s the enemy.  He’ll try to move us away from prayer, Mass, and Confession.

In the past, I used to let myself get discouraged.  I’d be struggling to overcome my mortal sins and then forget about God’s mercy.  Now I resist these thoughts.  Anything I feel or think that leads me away from prayer and Confession I now consciously reject, because they’re not from the Holy Spirit.

So, there’s a battle in our hearts and minds: The Holy Spirit is acting, so is the devil, and we, too.  St. Paul says, “What the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit… for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want” (5:17).  Here, the ‘flesh’ doesn’t mean our body; it means human nature fallen from God; our selfish, sinful ‘desires’ that want immediate gratification, nor caring about God’s law.  The Holy Spirit has a different desire, planted deep in our hearts: What we truly ‘want’ and were created to do is to love generously and sacrificially like God.

When we do, this leads to St. Paul’s second list: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:16-25).  How do we receive these nine fruits?  When we ‘belong to Christ Jesus,’ that is, are part of Him through our Baptism, Holy Communion, and a life of virtue, then we kill the selfish part of us.

St. Teresa of Avila

Now, let’s look at these fruits of the Spirit in a different way.  Three years ago on Pentecost, we discussed the seven mansions of the spiritual life, which, according to St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish nun, describe the spiritual path to perfection.


The Interior Castle

When we go over these, again pay attention to your inner response and reaction: Do any of these good fruits touch our heart?

People in the first mansion have good desires, are in a state of grace, and sometimes pray —that’s good, because we’re in the spiritual castle, we’re with God now!

In the second mansion, they pray more regularly and not only stop committing certain sins, but no longer have an interest in them; they’re hungry, which is why they read spiritual books, have friends who are disciples; and they persevere through trials!

In the third, people reach spiritual stability: they’re wise, pray faithfully, avoid venial sins, use their time well, are generous in works of charity.

What are you feeling when you hear this?  It’s natural that we start assessing where we are.  Are we encouraged, neutral, or discouraged?

In the fourth mansion, people enter ‘the prayer of quiet,’ in which the will/heart is fixed on God and finds deep happiness, and this is a taste of heaven.

In the fifth, the mind also becomes absorbed in God, the soul dies to all unhealthy attachments, accepts sufferings with joy, and wants all people to know Him (Kavanaugh, 296).

In the sixth, God builds up incredible courage in the soul, so that it seeks Him no matter what and longs only for Him.

Finally, in the seventh, the soul is married to God; no suffering can disturb them anymore, but they’re always filled with love; they’re so sensitive to others that they mirror in themselves the emotions of others; and, at a certain point, the devil becomes afraid of them (Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, 386-401)!

Most of us, when we hear this, think: ‘Ah, I have such a long way to go.  I’m still a beginner!’  Now, because these are discouraging thoughts, do they come from God?  So, with the Holy Spirit’s help, think the exact opposite: ‘God loves us.  We’ve already made great progress.  The journey might be long, but let’s go for it!  I want to move to the next mansion!’

There are two simple things to do to advance: Be faithful to daily prayer, and get involved with other Christians in spiritual events.

This is Servant of God Terence Cardinal Cooke, archbishop of New York from 1968 to 1983.

Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop, Diocese of New York, Photo by By Bernard Gotfryd

I was told in my last year of studies in New York that he probably reached the sixth mansion.  That helped me make sense of all the stories I had heard about him.  For example, one of my mentors said, ‘Cardinal Cooke ordained me.  I knew there was something holy about him, when I looked into his eyes.’  I remember hearing a story about how a child’s parents, who were anti-Catholic, would always walk by this priest and ignore him but he was always gracious and would still tip his hat to them; when the child grew up, his journey to Catholicism began because of that priest who was remarkably kind, and it turned out to be Cooke.  Over and over, I heard stories about how he never complained about his cancer, how he worked and prayed, and how he was so intentional about loving people, and that touched my heart, because I want to love like that—the Holy Spirit was working through his story to call me.

I myself am not as far as I’d like, but, when I hear about the fruit of the mansions, I refuse to get discouraged; I let myself get invigorated!  And so I ask for the gift to progress and reach the seventh mansion.

Now we have a better idea of how the Holy Spirit guides and how we should respond.

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