With this, we give him control of our whole lives: thoughts, work, heart, strength … our very selves.
With Pentecost coming up this week, perhaps it’s time to turn our hearts to the third person of the Holy Trinity, our Advocate, our Comforter, the one who dwells in our hearts and gives us the power to follow the Lord. He doesn’t always get the attention he deserves. After all, we can imagine God the Father as a benevolent grandfather type and God the Son obviously has a human face, which makes interacting with him easier. But then there’s the Holy Spirit, who’s maybe a bird or a flame or wind, and in any event he’s rather too nebulous for most of us, so we slide him in at the end of the Creed and the Gloria and call it a day.
But Jesus himself, when telling the Twelve that he was going to leave them, told 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). It’s hard to imagine that we might be better off than those men who walked the earth with Jesus were, but that’s what Jesus said: the presence of the Holy Spirit is so real and so powerful that letting him live within you is even better than walking the roads of Galilee with Jesus himself.
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 baptized 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:
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.
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.