With this prayer, we give him complete control of our whole lives: thoughts, work, heart, strength … our very selves.
The feast of Pentecost always serve as a great reminder of the third person of the Holy Trinity; The Holy Spirit. As good Catholics, we must not necessarily wait till this great feast to turn our hearts and pray to the Holy Spirit. He dwells in our hearts to give us the power to follow Christ by constantly and consistently comforting us and advocating for us.
Communicating with God the Son is easier because he has a human face and we think of God the Father as an ever loving and generous Father. But then, there is the Holy Spirit, who is maybe a bird, wind or flame, and in any event he’s rather too ambiguous for most of us, so we slide in at the end of the creed or Gloria and that’s it. He does not always get the attention he deserves.
The work of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit‘s presence is so powerful and authentic. Even Jesus told his disciples when he was going to leave them, “It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you” (Jn 16:7).
Now the Holy Spirit is unpredictable, as we see from the account of Pentecost when he rested on the Apostles as tongues of fire, enabled them to speak any language, and empowered Peter to preach so movingly that 3,000 people were baptised that day alone. We have every reason to feel uncertain in the face of that sort of power.
But the Spirit loves us every bit as much as the Father does, every bit as much as the Son. And when we invite him into our lives, he begins to move in unimaginable ways, to work in and through us for healing and joy and the salvation of souls. The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are a product of his work within us, so even though we’re likely to be prompted to move out of our comfort zones when we begin a real relationship with the Holy Spirit, the result will ultimately be love, joy, peace, and patience.
The work is done in us through baptism and confirmation, of course, but we need to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives each day, to give him sovereignty and surrender to him. This will look different for different people, perhaps as simple as praying, “Come, Holy Spirit” each morning.
For me, it’s all rooted in a prayer that I was taught by a very influential priest in my life. I was a high schooler and fresh off a conversion experience on a retreat, so I was ready to become a saint. I wanted to be a missionary or a martyr, or (preferably) both. So when Fr. Chris suggested that we start by praying a 1,600-year-old prayer, I was in.
I sat down with St. Augustine’s prayer to the Holy Spirit, thinking it would be easy enough to check off my list ever day, and began to realize just how much I needed it, how important it would be to invoke the Holy Spirit each morning and give him control of my whole life: my thoughts, my work, my heart, my strength, my self. And so I began to pray in the words of the Doctor of Grace.
Pray to the Holy Spirit
Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.
Amen.St. Augustine of Hippo
I’ve prayed this prayer every day for 20 years. Every day I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to strengthen me, move in me, protect me. Every day I’ve given him control over ever aspect of my life. And while I’ve probably spent the majority of each day trying to wrest control back from him, the very act of inviting the Holy Spirit to work is efficacious. I wonder what conversations he was leading without my noticing, what moments of beauty I was only aware of because of the grace brought by this prayer. I wonder who I would be today if I hadn’t gotten into the habit of calling on the Holy Spirit each morning.
It’s a beautiful prayer, one I highly recommend, but ultimately the words don’t matter. What matters—every day, not just on Pentecost—is that we make the effort to know, love, and serve the Spirit as well as the Father and the Son. There’s no substitute.