In his monumental work of Catholic theology, the Summa theologiae, St. Thomas describes the mission of the Holy Spirit as being a natural progression from visible to invisible realities (I, q. 43, a. 1-8). For Aquinas, the visible mission of the Son (the Incarnation, Paschal Mystery, and revelation of the inner life of God) is a preparation for the invisible work of the Holy Spirit whereby God comes to dwell in the individual by means of grace.
This progression can be seen most dramatically in the story of the Apostles. In a sense, Christ’s paschal mystery and his resurrected presence among them was a progressive pedagogy whereby the Apostles were taught how to receive and ultimately be guided by the Holy Spirit. By walking and talking with Jesus, they were able to be reintegrated into that intimacy with God that humanity shared before the fall. Christ then prepared them to receive that same intimacy in a way that moved beyond their sense perception.
The Church is incorporated into this progressive pedagogy by means of the sacraments and the Word of God. Through the sacraments, God communicates his Divine life in ways accessible to the senses. In turn, they open us to the more invisible reality of the Holy Spirit by means of the interior illumination of God’s grace. Likewise, in the scripture we encounter Christ again, and so learn to walk in the presence of God.
Our growth in the spiritual life involves our cooperation with this progressive pedagogy. We must allow ourselves to be led into the darkness and uncertainty of spiritual knowledge and contemplation. Such knowledge does not mean that we leave behind the humanity of Christ, or that we somehow ignore our created nature, but it does mean that we must learn to operate by a new mode of existence. This new life in Christ is a pathway of listening and responding to the inspirations and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The new mode of existence which is by its nature a life in the Holy Spirit is an invisible reality that can only come through us opening ourselves to God’s presence within. This way of living requires our interior life to be stripped of its attachments to self and natural modes of operation. By means of faith, hope, and love, we must purged of everything that prevents us from our full flourishing in Jesus Christ. This flourishing consists of a radical convergence whereby our wills are brought into harmony and submission to the Divine will of the Father.
The fundamental means to opening our hearts to and accepting these invisible realities is the sacrament of confession. The more we allow ourselves to receive the healing and strength of this sacrament, the more we develop the habit of vigilance and conversion. By the natural means of the humanity of the priest, we are led to the invisible reality of God’s mercy, and so the priest becomes a visible conduit of God’s continuous invitation. Today, I ask you to consider accepting this invitation of God, an invitation to intimacy with the Holy Spirit.