The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life
"Chapter XIX: Spouse of the Holy Spirit"
WHEN the Word was made flesh in Mary's womb through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Mary, in a spiritual and entirely unique sense, became His Spouse. From the very beginning of her life, Mary had always been solicitous to fulfill His every wish, never grieving Him in the slightest degree. She was led by this Divine Spirit from grace to grace, to heights of sanctity far beyond the ken of any other creature.
Ordinary souls, if they are to advance far in the spiritual life, must also be led by the same Holy Spirit through His Gifts, which they receive through Mary. It is largely the failure to utilize the great potentialities of guidance and strength offered by the Holy Spirit which accounts for the fact that so many souls, although they make frequent use of the Mass and the Sacraments, are slow in reaching perfection-if indeed they ever reach it at all in this life.
Every soul in the state of grace possesses these wonderful Gifts of the Holy Spirit in a greater or lesser degree. They are given to us along with sanctifying grace, and grow in us as we grow in grace and in love of God. The Gifts are permanent, infused dispositions that perfect the infused virtues, and make the soul capable of being readily enlightened, guided, and moved by the Holy Spirit Himself, through special inspirations and movements.1
Now since these Gifts are so important, what can we do in order that the Gifts may bear their full fruit in us? In order to answer this question, we must learn something of the nature and operation of the Gifts. It is wise for us to approach the question by first considering the fact that in our every action it is possible for us to act in one of three manners: the animal manner, the human manner, and the superhuman manner.2
An animal is completely dominated by natural impulses, instincts, and desires. When it is hungry, it will inevitably seek food. When it is thirsty, it will inevitably seek a drink. When any urge whatsoever comes upon it, it will not fail to try to satisfy that urge. Human beings sometimes act in the same way: their sole reason for doing a thing is the fact that a whim or desire for the object in question has just touched them. They would consider themselves fools not to try to satisfy that desire if they can easily do so; their reaction to any natural urge is as predictable as that of an animal. It is obvious that to act on this low animal level is unworthy of a human being, and will result in nothing but degradation. Such a man walks in the dark, led by blind impulse.
Above the animal level is the human level. Man is a rational animal; hence, he acts in a way worthy of his natural position when he acts according to the dictates of his reason. A man who lives by reason will, of course, often grant the desired satisfaction to natural urges. He will eat, he will drink, he will rest and do other things when his lower nature calls for them. In so doing, however, he will not act with the blind regularity of an animal: he will let reason moderate all these actions, so that sometimes when his appetite calls for food, he will refuse to satisfy it, on the ground that it is not the proper time, or because the amount or kind of food desired is unsuitable for his own well-being. The rational man will also decide to do or not to do certain things because he sees them to be opposed to some law.
The reasonable but merely natural activities of the rational man may be elevated greatly by being placed under the influence of grace and the supernatural virtues. A soul in the state of grace is the temple of the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says;3 it shares in the very nature of God,4 and so is, in a way, divinized. When it acts, utilizing the infused virtues and under the movements of actual graces, it can perform actions of great worth. Despite this fact, St. Thomas says that a soul fitted out with the infused virtues, and receiving various actual graces, still lacks something that is needed not only for higher perfection, but even for salvation itself!5
The basis for this surprising statement is that our destiny is to reach the beatific vision, in which we are to live the life of God Himself, a divine life, sharing in His nature. Grace and the infused virtues do elevate our activities in a certain way, so as to direct them to a supernatural object, the knowledge and love of God. Something is still lacking, however, for a man working with actual graces and the infused virtues is still operating only in a human manner, whereas, to reach the goal of sharing in the life of the Blessed Trinity in heaven, a soul needs to be able to work in a superhuman manner.6
What does it mean to say that by virtue of the Gifts a man is able to work in a superhuman manner; It means that the Holy Spirit gives to man's will a strength and movement that are more than human, so that he is made capable even of heroic things. And it also means that the Holy Spirit gives wonderful light to a man's intellect, so that he can understand and penetrate truths, and reach conclusions and decisions in a way otherwise beyond his reach: the Holy Spirit dispenses the intellect from the need of reasoning.
In order to grasp what it means to be dispensed from the need of reasoning, we must recall that when our minds work in the ordinary, human way, in an effort to penetrate or understand a truth, or to reach a conclusion, we use a step-by-step process called discursive reason. For example, here is a man who has committed a serious sin. He may reason: "Since I have sinned I must not only repent and go to Confession, but I must also make reparation. What reparation shall I make? Shall I fast? or give alms? or shall I do both? How much money can I afford to give? What fasting would my health permit?" And so he may continue, moving step by step from one idea to another, until finally, with the help of grace, he understands what is right for him, considering all circumstances, and makes his decision.
This repentant sinner reached his decision by a relatively slow and laborious process of many steps. Through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, however, he might have been given the same understanding, the same conclusion at once without any steps of reasoning, by a sort of intuition. The Holy Spirit could supply him with the resultant understanding ready-made, as it were. For by the Gifts, the Holy Spirit Himself leads man. Man acting in the animal manner has blind impulse for his guide; man acting in the human manner has reason for his guide (with perhaps the help of the infused virtues and actual graces); man acting in the superhuman manner has the Holy Spirit Himself as his guide. It is obvious that with such a guide, the soul can be led to levels far higher than those to which reason would have brought it.
This guidance of the Holy Spirit is superior to reason, beyond reason. Does this mean that a man acts irrationally, as though seized by a blind impulse? By no means. Unhappily, the language often used in describing the workings of the Gifts could give the impression of irrationality. We often see the terms "instinct" and "impulse" used in discussions of the Gifts. Such terms are good enough in the Latin from which they are taken, but are unfortunate in English. For by the Gifts, a man is led in an intelligent manner: the Holy Spirit sends light to his intellect whenever any movement is given to the will.7 The Holy Spirit does not send mere blind impulses. When a man is guided by reason, he is using his intelligence, and when the Holy Spirit guides him, his intelligence is also called into service. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, however, a man does not have to work in a step-by-step process of deduction in order to reach an understanding or a decision: the action of the Holy Spirit dispenses him from that.
It would be misleading, however, to give the impression that every inspiration of the Holy Spirit is concerned with leading a man to make a decision about some external action: the action of the Holy Spirit also shows us the insignificance of created things and our own nothingness before the infinite Majesty of God. It shows us how to kind God in creatures, helps us to penetrate the revealed truths,8 and even brings that wonderful, simple loving gaze at God and knowledge of Him which we call infused contemplation. In addition the Holy Spirit gives us a true childlike spirit towards God our Father, bringing with it a filial fear of offending Him, great confidence in Him, and devotedness to His service and to all that pertains to it. Finally, in order that nothing may hinder our advance, He gives us a strength and courage that can joyfully surmount all obstacles. Thus these Gifts perfect all virtues, but especially the greatest virtues-faith, hope, and love.9
When we read that the Holy Spirit, through these Gifts, shows a man what to do, and moves his will towards it, we may conclude that the divine light always leaves a soul certain of what is to be done. Such, however, is not always the case: many times the Holy Spirit will show a soul that a thing is good, give the will a desire for it, but yet leave the person not quite convinced that he should carry out this course of action. By leaving a man in this uncertainty, the Holy Spirit leads him to consult his director and/or whatever other superior is competent in the matter in question. For the general rule remains, even for one who is guided through the Gifts: Any decision involving an important matter, or a general policy that will embrace many small matters, should be submitted to one's director and/or other competent superior.10 This keeps a soul in proper subjection to the human authorities to whom He has given power. There are times when the Holy Spirit will give certitude to the soul. When He does so, it does not dispense that person from due subjection to superiors. Of course, there are certain small matters about which there is ordinarily no need of any consultation-for instance, if an inspiration to pray for light should come while one is studying. It is obvious that such an inspiration may be accepted, unless, of course, it is repeated with such frequency as to interfere with work. Even in important matters it may sometimes be impossible to avoid a decision and also impossible to seek advice; in that event, the guidance of the Holy Spirit can supply for lack of consultation.
Another special characteristic of inspirations sent through the Gifts is that even though they may give us a rather strong conviction that we ought to do a certain thing, they do not show us clearly the motives for doing so. In other words, motivation tends to be vague or hazy. Although we perceive in some way that the thing is good, we cannot explain the reasons for our desire. Hence we have another justification for submitting any matters of consequence to a director or superior.
The one who examines an alleged inspiration of the Holy Spirit should be guided by sound theological rules,11 especially those of St. Francis de Sales, described in the preceding chapter. In the present situation as well, one may not act if a superior re fuses permission. If the superior is wrong, it is God's place to deal with him; the person receiving the inspiration must not presume to disobey (we assume, of course, that the order of the superior is not in contradiction to the moral law).
Despite the fact that all souls in the state of grace have received these Gifts, their influence is usually perceived little if at all by souls still in the purgative way. But the Gifts do function during even this period. Sometimes (but more rarely) they operate in a very obvious way, so that their influence is clear; but their influence is usually a latent one. In this latent form they facilitate and promote the goods being accomplished for the great part in a human manner, with the aid of actual graces. In the fullest development of the Gifts, the soul is passive, so that its co-operation is largely a matter of giving consent to being guided and moved in this way; when the Gifts are not operating, a soul is thoroughly active. Therefore, when the Gifts work in a latent way, the soul is in an intermediate status-partly active, partly passive.12 For example, a soul in the gradual transition from the last stage of the prayer of simplicity to initial infused contemplation, is in this active-passive status, for in it more and more of the divine light, from the Gifts, mingles with the human activity of the soul.13 The person who receives this latent form of help from the Gifts will probably not realize that it is being given, since it merely aids and advances him in activities that are for the great part being carried on at the more ordinary level, with the aid of actual graces. Again, for example, if a man is deliberating, using the infused virtue of prudence, an inspiration from the Gift of Counsel might add a sudden light to his mind, or it might put before him a thought from the Gospels. This sort of aid could blend in so well with the process of rational deliberation as to pass unnoticed.
Why is it that the influence of the Gifts is relatively slight in most souls?14 It is not only that in souls in the purgative way these Gifts have not reached their higher degrees, for they grow with grace; but we ourselves, by our deficiencies, bind the action of these Gifts, so that we are not very docile to the Holy Spirit. This unfortunate condition is the result of affection to venial sin,15 and of our deficiency in humility, recollection, detachment, and mortification. For as we saw in the chapters on mortification, our desires and our love of creatures exert strong pulls on us, tending to draw not only our will but even our judgment in the direction of earthly things. The special inspirations of the Gifts find us unresponsive: when we are listening to so loud a voice from creatures, we cannot hear the delicate whisperings of the Holy Spirit. We are like a compass needle, which cannot respond to the pull of the north when it is in the midst of the gross attraction of many nearby powerlines.
As a soul advances, it may be compared to a sailing vessel with oars, whose sails are being gradually unfurled: the more open they are, the more readily they will catch and move under even a delicate breeze. Then the vessel proceeds much more easily and swiftly than when it had to depend on the labor of the oarsmen. In the rare heights of the unitive way, a soul may be dominated in all things by the Holy Spirit through these Gifts without losing its freedom. Such was Mary herself, as St. John of the Cross says so well:
What a contrast between the soul of Mary, whose every movement was directed by the Holy Spirit, and the lives of those who follow only their own blind desires!
It was through Mary's "mighty prayers," as Pope Pius XII says,17 that the Holy Spirit was given to the newborn Church on Pentecost. It is still through her that He is given to souls today. Those who give and consecrate themselves to her, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, not merely in word, but in deed, will learn by experience the truth of that which St. Louis de Montfort describes:
It was in and through Mary that the Holy Spirit formed the Sacred Humanity, the Heart of Christ. So also it is in and through her, the "mould of God,"19 that He will form us to the likeness of Christ.
A special feature of this likeness to Christ is a higher, more intimate kind of love for Mary. For in the human soul of Christ, the Holy Spirit produced a wonderful love for His Mother, and the closest union with her.20 In souls especially dear to Mary, the same Spirit of Christ produces a truly Christlike love for the Mother of Christ, so that these souls live most intimately as her children in her presence. Without this special favor, souls may enjoy a certain closeness to Mary, but by the action of the Holy Spirit, this loving filial union with Mary is raised to a wonderful new plane, so as to be carried on in a manner above that which is merely human.21 Venerable Michael of St. Augustine says of this: