Sunday, 27 June 2010
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
How do I know what the Holy Spirit is saying to me?
In our 2nd reading we heard St Paul talk about being “guided by the Spirit”, and people often wonder what this means in practice. I’ve been pondering this a lot recently; one very useful book I’ve read is listed in this week’s newsletter: Jacques Philippe, In the School of the Holy Spirit (Sceptre Press, 2007).
To talk a simple example from my daily life: in trying to plan what to do this Saturday afternoon, does the Lord want me to pray for an hour, or visit the sick for an hour?
Does He want me to call my Mother on the phone, or write a better sermon?
-These are all good things, but doing one means I won’t do the other. Which does the Holy Spirit want me to do?
Now, pondering these things can get taken to extremes. I’ve heard pious young ladies (in particular) ask whether God wants them to wear a red shirt or a blue dress today?
For me, that’s an easy answer. He wants me to wear a black shirt, again.
But generally speaking, it’s not really meaningful to ask what colour shirt the Holy Spirit wants you to wear.
-to ask a question like that is a misguided piety
A mis-directed piety, but basically starting with the right premise: I should want to do God’s Will, and He has a Will for every detail of my life.
However, for most details of my life, the way He speaks to me is much more mundane. He has given me a brain, the ability to reason. If He has not given me any other reason to think He has a specific answer to a question, which with many questions He hasn’t, then He just wants me to use my reason to decide which colour shirt to wear.
But there are ways we can discern what the Lord wants us to do:
First, is it a matter of sin, a matter that the Bible or the Church clearly teaches me? For example, I don’t need to pray about whether I should sleep with another’s man wife –we just know that the Bible and the Church tell us that this is the sin of adultery.
Second, it is a matter that my state of life makes clear? Like a duty as a parent or a worker or a boss?
Third, is there some other matter that indicates it is a matter of sin?
None of these cases need much sophisticated analysis, but all of them DO show me what the Holy Spirit is telling me.
And, to be open to the Holy Spirit in subtle things, I need to be in the habit of being open to Him in those more basic things.
Having that spirit of openness to His Will is what will enable me to be better able to detect His promptings in more subtle things –but that, in many ways, is a later skill.
What do I mean? Well, we heard St Paul contrast the promptings of the Holy Spirit with those of “self-indulgence”(Gal 5:17). Let’s consider the self-indulgence of laziness: If the entire goal of my day is to get to that TV show at the end of the end. If the entire goal of my afternoon is set on that cake with my tea. Then I am not going to let other things get in the way of ME, my priorities, my pleasures.
These might not be big pleasures, often they might not be sins –at least not sinful in themselves, only in how I might be attached to them.
But if my priorities are such that these things mean more to me than anything else, then I am not going to be open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
And so CONTRASTING within ourselves the promptings of self-indulgence with those of the Spirit, and seeking to DETACH ourselves from self-indulgence, is a key way that will led us to be in that “liberty”(Gal 5:13) that St Paul spoke of, a liberty where we are not enslaved by the desire of the flesh.
So, if I want to grow in my ability to be able to discern what the Holy Spirit is prompting me to do, that detachment from self is a key place to start.