How to develop a connection with the best friend we never knew we had
SR. BRITTANY HARRISON, FMA
I could never pray to a bird, I thought, as I looked at the stained glass window of the Trinity in my home parish. I was fourteen and a newly initiated Catholic. The fruit of only a year of Catholic education, I knew I wanted to be Catholic because of the Eucharist. The Holy Spirit, however, baffled me. Maybe you’ve felt similarly. It’s taken me over twenty years to even begin to understand how the Holy Spirit — often known as the most neglected member of the Blessed Trinity — is important to our spiritual lives.
Around the time of my stained glass window ponderings, I ran across a booklet called The Holy Ghost, Our Greatest Friend: He Who Loves Us Best. The author, Fr. Paul O’Sullivan, begins by quoting Jesus (a good place to start):
And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you forever. The spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it sees him not, nor knows him: but you shall know him; because he shall abide with you and shall be in you. (John 14:16-17, emphasis mine)
I wondered back then if we made the Holy Spirit look like a bird because “Paraclete” sounded a lot like “Parakeet”; a mispronunciation I often heard years later as a theology teacher. I got it sorted out when I took a New Testament class in college.
My professor explained that paraclete was a Greek word that could be translated to mean many different things — advocate, comforter, intercessor, helper, teacher, encourager. … “Like a cheerleader,” she clarified. And who doesn’t want a personal cheerleader?
The Holy Spirit is active and moving within those who receive the seven sacraments. “As the soul is the life of the body, so the Holy Spirit is the life of our souls,” explains St. Peter Damian. The Spirit comes to us at our Baptism, dwelling within our souls, making us temples of God and disciples of Jesus. At our Confirmation, we are strengthened by the Spirit to bear witness to Jesus like the Apostles were. And when we fail in this, we seek God’s forgiveness in Penance, and the Holy Spirit guides our confessor and moves our hearts to contrition. In the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit unites us to our Savior and inspires us to grow in love for him. In all the sacraments, the ability of the Holy Spirit to act depends upon our openness and willingness to let him act, a disposition fostered by our prayer life.
The patron saint of parish priests, St. John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, outlined the importance of the Holy Spirit in our spiritual lives. He taught:
Those who love the Holy Ghost experience every kind of happiness within themselves. The Holy Ghost leads us like a mother leads her little child, or like a person with sight leads a blind man. Those who love the Holy Ghost find prayer so delightful that they cannot find sufficient time to pray.
If we wish to grow in union with Jesus and holiness, the Holy Spirit is not optional.
A simple method for growing in our devotion to the Holy Spirit can be broken down with the acrostic BE LITTLE:
B – Begin anew each day.
E – Enter your inner room.
L – Learn about the Holy Spirit.
I – Invite the Holy Spirit to inspire your prayer.
T – Tell the Holy Spirit what you need.
T – Trust that the Holy Spirit is with you.
L – Let the Holy Spirit lead you.
E – Encourage others.
If we are “little” — if we humble ourselves before God, not in a slavish or in a fearful way, but through recognizing that everything good we have comes from his hands and by trusting in him as we would a loving parent — the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit are born within us. By being little, we can become great saints.
Begin anew each day
God knows that we are not perfect and that in our weakness, we will sin. By cultivating a disposition of humble repentance and daily conversion, we can have the peace that only comes from his mercy. We only have now, this moment, so let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us live that “now” well and receive each day as a new opportunity to grow closer to God.
Enter your inner room
In Matthew 6:6, Jesus instructs us about prayer: “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” It is our great fortune that we carry within ourselves our “inner room.” By the gift of our Baptism, God dwells within our souls, and if we focus our attention on his presence with us, we can enter an “inner room” of unity with him, even if we are riding a bus or sitting at our desk.
Learn about the Holy Spirit
Every single saint practiced spiritual reading. St. John Bosco told his students: “Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book.” Spiritual reading feeds our minds and helps inspire our prayer. Get some good books about the Holy Spirit, spend time reflecting on Scripture (especially about the Holy Spirit), and form your theological and devotional understand- ing of his role in your life.
Invite the Holy Spirit to inspire your prayer
Once I started prayer by asking the Holy Spirit to guide me, I began to experience a new intercessory pow-er and intimacy with God. The Holy Spirit was sent to us by Jesus to help us understand the Father’s will for us and Jesus’ teachings; Jesus promised as much: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (John 14:26).
It is not complicated to invite the Holy Spirit to guide our prayer. I usually begin by praying: “Holy Spirit, come guide my prayer. Help my heart to be attentive to your inspiration and hear your voice. Show me what you want me to do and give me the courage to do it.”
Tell the Holy Spirit what you need
Part of developing a trusting relationship with God is being honest with God. Whether it’s a habit of sin we are trying- ing to overcome or a relationship that is causing us struggle, speaking to the Lord about these things in confidence can send untold grace from the Holy Spirit to help us.
Trust that the Holy Spirit is with you
Our spiritual lives will not always feel good. Sometimes we will feel dry, arid, dark, or bored. We can take comfort in knowing that these times of desolation, as they are called, are just as important, if not more important, than the times of consolation, when our spiritual life feels good. When we face and accept desolation, God is stretching us and helping us to grow in faith. It is a key time to renew our trust in God’s love for us and our belief that the Holy Spirit is still active, even if we can’t feel anything.
Let the Holy Spirit lead you
Have you ever had a moment when you felt you should do something, and even if you ignored it, it kept coming back? Often the Holy Spirit will lead us through these little interior “nudges.” At times it may be an inspiration to pray for someone or send them a text to check on them, or perhaps it might be a little (or strong!) push to do something. We have to be discerning, as the Holy Spirit never forces us to do anything. (Obsessive thoughts are not from the Holy Spirit, as we are always left free to cooperate or not.) Although what the Holy Spirit may ask us to do might sometimes be out of our comfort zone, we can recognize his invitation by the peace we find despite our nervousness. It’s always good to discern these nudges with a friend or spiritual guide, as God speaks through the community, too.
Finally, as you grow in your relationship with the Holy Spirit, share with others what you’ve experienced. Encourage them to grow in their devotion to the Holy Spirit and share what has helped you. Who knows — you might be the way God is inviting someone else to a new level of intimacy with him.
The Holy Spirit is much more than the symbol of a bird. A dove is often used to symbolize peace (a fruit of the Spirit) and the spiritual “heights” we can reach through a relationship with him. Unlike my teenage self, don’t get stuck on the image. Imagine that Holy Paraclete, the Encourager (or Cheerleader, if you will), egging you on toward sanctity. God the Father wants us to become saints, and he has given us every help, including his very Son for our redemption and his Holy Spirit for our strength. If we can become more humble and BE LITTLE, we can rapidly grow in holiness — which is union with God — and experience heaven on this earth.
Sr. Brittany Harrison, FMA, is a Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco. She is a youth minister and a social media maven. A former high school theology teacher and longtime catechist, she helps make the faith accessible without stripping it of its depth and beauty. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @SisterB24.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, October 2019
Photo: Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash