Grasping the Truth of His Presence
Until now you had known that the Holy Spirit was dwelling in your soul, to sanctify it… But you hadn’t really grasped this truth about his presence.
Now you feel his Love within you, and you want to talk to him, to be his friend, to confide in him…
The Forge, no. 430
The New Testament takes for granted that Christians know an essential truth about themselves: that God dwells within us by His Spirit. St John, the disciple closest to our Lord, condenses it into one verse:
And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us. (1 John 3:24)
Sometimes it seems we cannot see what the early Christians saw. St Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), simply states: “the Holy Spirit who dwells in us…makes us aware of God’s presence in us.” And in sending us His Spirit, Jesus “gives Christians a certain kinship with himself and with God the Father.”
St Augustine (d. 430) summarizes the Spirit’s mission in our lives like this:
[F]or our comfort in this earthly journey He has given us so freely of His Spirit, that in the adversities of this life we may retain our confidence in, and love for, Him whom as yet we see not; and He has also given to each of us gifts suitable for the building up of His Church, that we may do [His will], not only without a murmur, but even with delight.
Jesus powerfully assures us that, in His absence, we will know Him by the inner presence of the Holy Spirit:
And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth … you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you…. You will know that you are in me and I in you. (cf. Jn 14:15-20)
Learning to perceive what was so obvious to the first Christians decides how full our Christian life will be—and ‘fully,’ ‘completely,’ and ‘abundantly’ is how the Lord wants to share Himself with us.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (Jn 10:10)
…that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (Jn 15:11)
…my peace I give to you. (Jn 14:27)
…that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (Jn 17:26)
Christ wants us to enjoy His gifts of life, love, joy, and peace to the full because, as St Josemaria reminds us, “The presence and the action of the Holy Spirit are a foretaste of eternal happiness, of the joy and peace for which we are destined by God” (Christ is Passing By, no. 130).
Does this reflect our inner experience each day? Or do we only notice an apparently random flow of thoughts, feelings, and impressions that seem to come from nowhere and lead nowhere?
If we lack this promised joy and peace, the “foretaste of eternal happiness,” we really have only one place to look to find out why: What’s going on in my heart? Do I bear hatred toward anyone? Do I refuse to forgive anyone? Am I holding on to resentments? Is there a persistent hardness in my heart toward someone? In other words: Am I allowing the Spirit to be Lord of my heart, my interior life?
If the earliest Christians had a deeper sense of God’s work within the soul, it’s not because such awareness was more automatic or effortless for them. For them, as for us, everything hinges on love.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. …[Y]ou will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.
The Lord reveals Himself to those whose hearts have been opened by love. And the more our lives are full of authentic love, the clearer the presence and action of the Holy Spirit becomes—clearer, not because more spectacular, but because of the unique changes He brings about within us.
His work, depicted by St Josemaria as “polishing, uprooting, and enkindling,” creates a longing within us to keep commandments, to be faithful—both of which confirm our awareness of being loved and a wish to return that love through obedience. The clearest sign that we have grasped the truth of the Spirit’s presence within is this personal accountability, this kinship, we feel in response to the Spirit’s love: “You feel his Love within you, and you want to talk to him, to be his friend, to confide in him…”
How this relationship of love unfolds in daily life is often very humble. It frequently means: restraining ourselves, affirming others, going out of our way to serve, apologizing, and giving preference to others’ wishes over our own. This is why St Paul lists the Spirit’s fruits as what we might call unspectacular, ‘household’ virtues: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Yet they are primarily how we recognize or grasp God’s presence within us. They are essentially our response to a presence, an answer to the love, joy, and peace that the Lord has given us in giving us Himself.
If our natural instincts tell us (mistakenly) that love ought always to feel good, warm, easy, and occasionally romantic, the Lord enlarges our hearts to embrace what love truly means in daily life, in a fallen world—the world He loved so much that He died for it:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:12-13)
We often associate the Holy Spirit with the extraordinary—with miracles, signs, and wonders. And that is right, but incomplete. Because the same Spirit that produces signs and wonders through the hands of the Apostles produces in every disciple something even more wonderful: the capacity to love like Christ, the strength to lay down our lives for others in the name of Christ—this is worth more than all miracles combined. Because the Holy Spirit’s main work in us is to remake us into other Christs.
The Holy Spirit manifests Himself by miracles on an ‘as-needed’ basis. But more often He acts in a quieter way. He simply enables us to love God and neighbor, to have confidence in God, to serve God “not only without a murmur, but even with delight.” Is there any miracle you would rather see instead of loving and serving God in your life with a confidence and joy that no one can take away from you? With a delight that can outshine any obstacle or difficulty?
St Josemaria shows us the way to this:
Listen to him, I insist. He will give you strength. He will do everything, if you so want.
Pray to him: Divine Guest, Master, Light, Guide, Love, may I make you truly welcome inside me and listen to the lessons you teach me. Make me burn with eagerness for you, make me follow you and love you. (The Forge, no. 430).
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community’s seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms (Scepter Publishers 2019). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.