“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9)
I remember reading a story about someone who bought an inexpensive painting (perhaps at a garage sale) and hung it on a wall in his home. Some time later he discovered to his surprise that there was another painting underneath the canvas – a painting that turned out to be an original of a very famous painter and worth, perhaps, millions! We are like that inexpensive painting: – beneath the canvas of our life is a hidden, infinitely superior life living in the very depths of our soul!
It is a particularly important moment in our lives when we come to discover and comprehend that the Holy Spirit truly lives within our baptized souls (“closer to us than we are to ourselves”). When we become aware of our “interior guest,” and our duties toward Him, we are certain to make advances in the spiritual life.
Holy Scripture speaks of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (or of the Divine Persons) in a number of places including the following instance in the Gospel of John where Jesus says:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [the Holy Spirit], to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14: 16-17).
And the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity. But even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity: ‘If a man loves me’, says the Lord, ‘he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.'” (CCC 260)
In The Spiritual Canticle, one of the Church’s greatest mystics, Saint John of the Cross, expresses the theological principle of the indwelling of God within the soul in a strikingly beautiful way, saying:
“Oh, then, soul, most beautiful among all creatures, so anxious to know the dwelling place of your Beloved [God] so you may go in search of him and be united with him, now we are telling you that you yourself are his dwelling and his secret inner room and hiding place. There is reason for you to be elated and joyful in seeing that all your good and hope is so close as to be within you, or better, that you cannot be without him. Behold, exclaims the Bridegroom, the kingdom of God is within you [Lk. 17:21]. And his servant, the apostle St. Paul, declares: ‘You are the temple of God’ [2 Cor. 6:16]. It brings special happiness to a person to understand that God is never absent….” (Stanza 1; emphasis added)
And another great mystic and Carmelite, Saint Teresa of Avila, encourages us to practice the prayer of active, interior recollection in order to obtain an experimental, mystical knowledge of this indwelling (see note below):
“I only beg you to test it [by interior recollection], even at the cost of a little trouble. I assure you…you will find Him within you” (see The Way of Perfection, Chapters 28-29).
To be aware of God’s presence within your soul is a great help in the spiritual journey. The Benedictine monk and well known spiritual writer, Dom Hubert van Zellar, makes this point in a wonderful way in How to Find God:
“The discovery of God present in the soul is one of the most momentous in the soul’s spiritual career…Once the soul has grasped the significance of this doctrine, the whole horizon changes; the implications are limitless…More and more, the soul of prayer should come to realize that it is the Holy Spirit who is acting….” (edited from pages 119-121).
My dear friend, “be attentive to the presence of the Holy Spirit within your soul.”
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Note: Saint Teresa of Avila’s encouraging words are an incentive to practice interior prayer, but it would be rash to think that one can become an instant mystic. Normally a very profound purification of body and spirit is needed before entry into mystical prayer. Nevertheless, all those in sanctifying grace are called to this lofty state! If you are interested in practicing this type of prayer, I would recommend, to begin with, a short book called Progress in Divine Union by Father Raoul Plus. I also recommend Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila. Father Garrigou-LaGrange sets forth our duties toward our “interior guest,” the Holy Spirit, in Chapter IV, Volume 1, of The Three Ages of the Interior Life, the first of which is to “think of Him often.” Good advice. The mystic, Tauler, speaks frequently about the “depths of the soul.”
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