For many people, God is an unseen force acting in secret and subtle ways. Even Christians can fall into the error of doubting God’s personhood, especially in regards to the third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. But, as Blessed John Henry Newman identifies in his meditation, “The Paraclete, the Life of my Soul,” the Holy Spirit is God with us; truly, He is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
In the life of almost every Christian there are times when we resist God and want nothing to do with Him. Sometimes, like Saul of Tarsus, we oppose Him with force, and at other times we try to sneak away, like Jonah. But when we come to ourselves, as the Prodigal Son does in Jesus’ parable, how eternally grateful we are to God for not giving up on us, even though we had given up on Him.
God’s relentless pursuit of sinners is the action of the Holy Spirit who reveals his intimate love for us. Blessed Newman begins his meditation, “God, I adore Thee for taking on Thee the charge of sinners; of those, who not only cannot profit Thee, but who continually grieve and profane Thee. Thou hast taken on Thyself the office of a minister, and that for those who did not ask for it.” The Holy Spirit stoops down even to the very sinful depths of our souls. And while no one respects our human freedom more than the God who created it, God is not content until He has pleaded, persuaded, and loved every sinner back to Himself.
We can imagine God’s desire to bring us back to himself when we read stories like the Prodigal Son, but the reality is more powerful than the story. When we return to the Lord, we do not simply dwell in His house – He takes up residence in our souls. Newman writes, “But in Thine infinite compassion Thou hast from the first entered into my soul, and taken possession of it. Thou hast made it Thy Temple. Thou dwellest in me by Thy grace in an ineffable way, uniting me to Thyself and the whole company of angels and saints.” We cannot begin to understand how God possesses us without destroying our individuality, but as the life and sustenance of our souls, He is nearer to us than our own breath.
God’s intimacy with us has another effect, Newman says: that of keeping us close to Him. We are prone to wander, as the hymn goes, but the action of the Holy Spirit can keep us from sin. Newman writes, “O my God, can I sin when Thou art so intimately with me? … My God, I have a double security against sinning; first the dread of such a profanation of all Thou art to me in Thy very Presence; and next because I do trust that that Presence will preserve me from sin.”
In this meditation Newman expresses two attitudes toward repentance, both of which God accepts in His mercy. The first is a contrition based on fear of punishment, or losing God; the second, and more perfect contrition, is the desire to change for love of God. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Newman was contrite for past sins and tried to overcome any defects that would keep him from remaining in union with God.
Like Blessed Newman, we, too, want to keep the Holy Spirit close. Let’s thank Him for not letting us wander too far from Him, and pray for our loved ones who still need His gentle prompting to return.