“The Holy Spirit and Our Longing for God” (5/29/2019) Acts 17 and Jn 16
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
The human heart is made for God. We can define man as a rational animal but we could just as well define him as one who longs for God. The human being cannot be understood apart from God. Our knowing and loving of good things in this world is never satisfied and points us to the infinite Good that God is himself. Human existence ultimately doesn’t make sense apart from God. Man bears a God-shaped hole in his heart that only God can fill. Apart from God, man remains an empty container, like an empty throne without its king, like a frame without its picture, like a monstrance without the Blessed Sacrament.
St Paul today, in the Acts of the Apostles, appeals to this reality. He’s in Athens, at Areopagus dialoguing with the philosophers. He says of God, “He made from one, the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us.” This is the reality of man. To grope after God and to find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
This is the great privilege of monastic life. To dedicate everything, insofar as possible, to this searching after God. This searching that leads to finding. And this finding that leads to searching more. The most essential thing humanity was created for, is the one thing necessary for you here in this monastery. You lead humankind, with its longings, into the eschaton.
With the coming of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit, this human reality remains. Man remains one who longs for God, who gropes after him. Yet this groping and groaning, in the Christian, is now anointed by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8, St Paul says “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” The humanity reality of our longing for God attains a new level through the Spirit working in our hearts. It may still feel like a very human longing but we know that behind it, and within it, is the stirring of the Holy Spirit.
In our Gospel today, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” Human longing can lead people to many different directions, some healthy, many unhealthy. But the Spirit of truth guides us to the true God and more than that, he guides us to all truth, to the fully reality of who God is. This fullness of the truth of God, the Spirit guides us to. Some of this can be described or even expressed in doctrinal formulations. But much of it is going to be indescribable.
The Spirit of truth guides us gently more and more into the full reality of God. How does he do this? In part, through our longings and holy desires, through our attractions in prayer and to what we are drawn to. Man’s longing for God, his groping after him, reaches a new fulfillment through the Spirit’s guiding him. The Spirit draws us deeper into God.
What does this look like in prayer? St Augustine gives us one way it can work out. In commenting on Ps 42, he speaks of the interior leading of the Spirit and going deeper into God in terms of going to the house of the Lord. As the pilgrim hears the far-off music of the temple, so we hear the silent music of heaven in our souls drawing us deeper into God. In a long passage, he says, “By following the leadings of a certain delight, an inward mysterious and hidden pleasure, as if from the house of God there sounded sweetly some instrument…[“From that everlasting, perpetual festivity [of heaven], a certain sweetness and melodious sound strikes the ears of the heart, provided only the world does not drown out the sounds.”] The soul hears a certain inward sound, led on by its sweetness, and following the guidance of the sound, withdrawing himself from all noise of flesh and blood…As he walks in this tabernacle, and considers God’s wonderful works for the redemption of the faithful, the sound of that festivity charms his ears and bears the hart away to the waterbrooks” (C. Butler, 20).
Augustine points us to the silent music of God and to that gentle drawing of God’s gravitational force—the gravitational force of divine love. Drawn by love we cry out with words inspired by the Song of Songs, “Draw us by your ointments and we will run after you!”