Simple Faith & the Holy Spirit

The Year of Faith instills in us the need to dig deeper into the understanding of He who created us and loves us. We should challenge ourselves to come to know, through patristic and current catechesis what our faith entails, and by doing so grow in our awareness of who God is and therefor who we are; but ultimately, and foundationally, our faith is a gift from God and response from us, it is a relationship that defies logic, and though it is studied and discussed by the educated I can’t help but wonder if maybe it is best grasped by the less-educated and children. At its core faith is an opening of our heart to the promptings God through the Holy Spirit. It is trust, unadulterated by our human failings. It is love without stain. The closest I can compare it to is the love and faith of a small child to their parents.

I spent last weekend, along with thousands of pilgrims from around the world, at the Marian shrine in Lourdes France.  I walked among those of all conditions, coming for various reasons but ultimately coming to honor our Lord, His mother, and the little village girl St Bernadette. Quickly I started to realize these two women had many similarities, you can almost take the description of one and interchange it for the other; both daughters of poor villagers in the backwoods of their country; both simple-hearted, uncomplicated, gentle maidens.  Both with a childlike love of God, and total abandonment to His will. Mary, of course, accepted God’s request through the Archangel Gabriel to allow the Holy Spirit to conceive within her her Lord. Come what may, ridicule by villagers, denial by her betrothed, and maybe death, she would answer the call of God.  Bernadette, through Mary accepted God’s desire that she bring the world to His Son. Come what may; the ridicule by her neighbors; the intrigues by the hostile government; the distain of the French enlightened elite; even the investigation from Holy Mother Church she would follow Mary’s desire. Two examples of simple faith lived in pure love that defied worldly powers.

No great theological comprehension, just belief in God and faith in His love – and they changed the world.

You can say nothing simpler or greater than responding to the Holy Spirit’s urgings with “I believe in God.”  This wasn’t some realization after reading or even during prayer; it was a Holy Intrusion, if you will, from the Holy Spirit. For three nights last weekend I stood with thousands of pilgrims, many who were terribly handicapped (at least in our eyes) and the volunteers and family members who through great difficulty brought them; as well as many thousand more who were called by faith to this shrine and waited for the candlelight rosary procession to begin.  With a statue of Mary in the lead we started: “Credo in unum Deum” we recited as we professed the creed with candles lit, each one of us with hopes and desires pointing towards God – just plain people opening their hearts to God. As the rosary procession started to move we prayed and sang each in our own languages; but as we sang Immaculate Mary and got to the chorus ‘Ave Maria’, together the thousands raised their candles high, it was at that point I was hit by the Holy Spirit with insight and emotion – through the wave of joy I could see these candles as tongues of fire over their heads and I was struck by just how intimate the Holy Spirit is with our lives. Mary, St. Bernadette, those many thousands processing each night – ourselves. To achieve this growth in our faith, to grasp the simplest yet strongest love of God we can we need to open ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit – we need this love of God to dwell in us.  Then we can truly live those words “Credo in unum Deum” It is not enough to honor the Holy Spirit on special days such as this. He needs to be part and parcel to our daily activities, because He is the connection; the raw and yet supremely perfected love that binds us totally to God. He is the mover of our faith, and without him? Well Mary wouldn’t have had the strength of her faith to respond with her fiat and St. Bernadette wouldn’t have had the strength to receive Mary’s calling and give her life to our Lord. We wouldn’t have had those thousands coming to a small mountainous corner of rural France, we wouldn’t be here this evening.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t come down to us on certain occasions; He is that candle flame above us at all times. He deserves our response: “Credo in unum Deum!” constantly, always – from our minds and our hearts.

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Be a vessel of Longing

During our reflection last week I mentioned that: “we need to train ourselves to live our life in prayer, indeed we need to live our life as prayer”, and that this would be a lifelong task.  We need to be trained, so to speak, throughout our journey to grow in this discipline.  It is from this discipline of prayer that we should base our actions and decisions because it is from prayer that we come to understand God’s plan and His truths better.  As we see in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29), the lives of the faithful has been and will always be one of constant challenges and discernments.  We are no different than those faithful of the nascent Church; we need to be in constant communication with God if we are to grow in His ways.

However, as with any discipline we need teachers, mentors, people to train us by example and encouragement.  Athletes have their trainers; musicians and artists have their masters and maestros; we need our guides.  As athletes and artisans long for mastery of their sport or art disciples should long for better understanding of God and search for someone who will train us and challenge us to improve.

In an article, the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “The Fathers of the Church say that prayer, properly understood, is nothing other than becoming a longing for God.  In Mary this petition has been granted: she is, as it were, the open vessel of longing, in which life becomes prayer and prayer becomes life.”   It is to Mary that we should look for our trainer, our maestro; who better than the young maiden of Nazareth, that open vessel who allowed God to work through her, to give us our lessons on living our life as prayer.  She is the perfect example for us to emulate.  But more than that, she is the one who we should be opening our hearts to and asking for her intercession with her Son.  By her guidance we will grow in our discipline of longing – prayer, and we will be immersed in love – her Son and His Holy Spirit.

My prayer for all of us, during this most Marian of months, is that we strengthen our devotion to our Blessed Mother, deepen our communication with our Queen, and grow in her knowledge of longing, which when understood correctly, changes our life into a continual living prayer and as we heard Jesus say in today’s Gospel  (Jn 14:23-29)we will come to him and make our dwelling with him’.