Receptivity to the Holy Spirit

Briana Talley

Receptivity to the Holy Spirit

With the Solemnity of Pentecost quickly approaching, let us reflect on the Holy Spirit and how to grow in receptivity to His movements in our hearts. If you are like me, sometimes I wonder if a movement in my heart is in fact the Spirit moving in my soul or if it is a thought I’ve conjured up myself. This can be a cause for some hesitation in carrying out the inclination. When in doubt, it is recommended to take it to a spiritual director who can provide some clarity in your discernment process.

As a first step, if we better understand what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in all hearts, we may more easily discern what is coming from Him. Let us turn to the saints and other spiritual writers for guidance. The Holy Spirit is “called ‘Spirit,’ according to the Latin sense of the word which means air, respiration, the vital breath. In us, respiration is a sign of life; in God, the Holy Spirit is the expression, the effusion of the life and love of the Father and the Son” (Divine Intimacy, #186). We know that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, as Jesus states in John 16:13, but He also intimately guides each individual person. “Hence, to say that Jesus merited the Holy Spirit for His Church is equivalent to saying that He merited Him for us…Thus the Holy Spirit exercises His influence not only in the Body of the Church, but also in each soul in which He dwells as the ‘sweet Guest.’ He is in us: to take possession of our souls, to sanctify them, form them in the likeness of Christ, and to urge us to continue His redemptive mission; He is that impulse of love which urges us to do God’s will, guides us towards the glorification of the Most Holy Trinity, and brings us to God” (Divine Intimacy, #188). The Holy Spirit is the One who sanctifies us, and brings us ever closer to God by forming us in our imitation of Jesus and calls us to do God’s holy will in all things.  

If the Holy Spirit strives to sanctify us and bring us into an ever more intimate relationship with God, why is everyone not a living saint? God created us as free persons, so the Holy Spirit will do no violence to our free will by forcing us to love Him or to become the saints that He desires us to be. It is our human responsibility to cooperate with the movements of the Holy Spirit, to desire our sanctity, and so grow closer to God (Divine Intimacy, #188). It pleases God to receive our free “yes” to this call to holiness. Otherwise, it would not be an act of love on our part. St. Teresa of Jesus said, “God does not force anyone, He takes what we give Him; but He does not give Himself wholly to us, until we give ourselves wholly to Him” (Way of Perfection, 28). The Holy Spirit comes to us individually to sanctify us, but He will do no violence to our wills by forcing us to become saints. His movements are generous, but we must cooperate with Him if we wish to grow in sanctity. 

How can one practically grow in receptivity to the Holy Spirit acting within us? A few things we can begin doing are 1) growing in detachment, 2) uniting our will with God’s will, and 3) imitating Mary, the spouse of the Holy Spirit.

1) Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene in Divine Intimacy says that the first requirement to cooperate with the action of the Holy Spirit is “the painstaking effort to detach ourselves from everything, especially from ourselves. Detachment will free us from numerous bonds which, like cords, tie us to creatures, making our docility and submissiveness to the Holy Spirit an impossibility… We must, therefore, cultivate the spirit of ‘totality’ which puts no limits to our giving” (#192). 

2) Many of the saints have written that uniformity with God’s will is what constitutes perfection. “Do as the Son of God did in the Garden of Olives; He spent several hours repeating the same words: ‘Father, not My Will but Thine be done.’ You cannot think a prayer unworthy of you which was worthy of God and which has been consecrated by His heart and His lips. It is a prayer of union than which you could offer none more perfect” (Secret of Sanctity, p. 180). This perfect uniformity with God’s will is expressed through a “continual, exact fulfillment of the duties of one’s state in life” (Benedict XV).

3) Mary, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, was perfectly detached and united to God’s will. May we look to her example and grow evermore meek and humble of heart in our pursuit of virtue. By reflecting on her fiat and her life, we will have ample meditations to bring us closer to the Holy Spirit in contemplating this perfect, beautiful Queen of Heaven. “Mary only lived for God. Studying her life in the Gospels, we never see her influenced by selfish motives or by reasons of personal interest; only one thing moves her: the glory of God and the interests of Jesus and of souls… This is exactly how we should imitate Mary: eliminate from our life everything that is the fruit of our egoism, self-love, or pride, and do only the things that are inspired by grace, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit (Divine Intimacy, #171). May we continually ask for the Blessed Mother’s intercession as we grow in docility to the movements of the Holy Spirit. 

We will certainly stumble in our path towards sanctity, but we must not get discouraged. Instead, let us prostrate ourselves at the foot of the cross, beg for forgiveness, and ask for the grace to begin again in the sacrament of reconciliation. Our failures are opportunities to grow in humility and complete reliance on the Holy Spirit for our sanctification. One cannot become a saint based on his own strength or his own merit. We cannot make ourselves, our spouse, our children, or others saints. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish this, through our cooperation with His movements in our soul. We beg Him to make us worthy of heaven and to mold us into another Christ (‘alter Christus’). We must conform our wills to His, and let Him take us to the heights of perfection. 

There are countless beautiful prayers to assist us in our receptivity of the Holy Spirit. A few are included below as a starting point to invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts to bring us ever deeper into loving union with God. 

- Suscipe, by St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, Thou hast given it; I give it all back to Thee and commit it wholly to be governed by Thy will. Thy love and Thy grace give unto me, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.” (Indulgence of 3 years each time)

- Prayer from St. John Eudes: “O Divine Spirit, I give myself entirely to you. Take possession of my soul, direct me in everything, and grant that I may live as a true child of God, as a true member of Jesus Christ; grant that, born of You, I may totally belong to You, be totally possessed, animated, and directed by You.”

- Prayer from Sr. Carmela of the Holy Spirit: “O Holy Spirit, teach me to value even Your slightest inspiration. The smallest, were it only to refrain from a word or a glance, is more precious in fact than the entire world, for it is a call, an invitation to enter more deeply into divine intimacy. By faithfully corresponding to it, I grow in grace and love. O Holy Spirit, make me understand well that perfection consists in saying ‘Amen’ every time You ask anything of me through the voice of obedience or by Your inspirations.”