Not only to possess us does the Holy Spirit live in us, but also to be possessed by us, to be ours. For love must possess, as well as be possessed. He is the Gift of God Most High — Donum Dei Altissimi.
Now, the gift that belonged to the giver becomes the possession of the one who receives it. The Gift of God is ours through the stupendous prodigy of love.
Almost every time that Sacred Scripture speaks of the mission of the Holy Spirit in our souls, we find the word give. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate”;“In this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit”;“For the Spirit had not yet been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
The word give has a meaning proper to the Holy Spirit. The Father gave us His Son because He loves us: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” It is characteristic of love to give gifts, but the first gift, the gift par excellence, is love itself. The Holy Spirit is the Love of God; therefore He is the Gift of God. God gave His Son to us through love; consequently, that inexpressible gift is through the first Gift, through the Gift of all gifts.
Now, to the giving on the part of God corresponds possession on our part. We have what God has given us. The Holy Spirit is, then, something of our own, and we can call Him, according to St. Thomas, “the spirit of man, or a gift bestowed on man.”
Have we thought of what possession of the Gift of God means in our souls? Have we thought of the divine significance of that rigorously exact phrase: “The Holy Spirit is ours”? Possession is proper to love. In its first stage, it is a desire of possession; perfect love is the joy of possession, and love that is consummated is the abyss of possession.
In earthly love, how imperfect, how ephemeral, how inconstant our possession is!
In divine love, however, the one who is loved is necessarily possessed and with a more profound intimacy than we know, and so unchangingly — on God’s part always, and on ours when love attains its perfection — that St. Paul exclaims, “I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The soul in grace has this ineffable intimacy with the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. But the first intimacy is with the Holy Spirit, because He is the first Gift. Charity, on which this close intimacy is founded, is a disposition for receiving the Holy Spirit and assimilation with Him.
Undoubtedly, the root of our intimacy with God is grace, as St. Thomas teaches: “By the gift of sanctifying grace the rational creature is perfected so that it can freely use not only the created gift itself, but enjoy also the divine Person Himself; and so the invisible mission takes place according to the gift of sanctifying grace; and yet the divine Person Himself is given.”
But grace is only the root. The immediate reason why any of the divine Persons gives Himself to us is a gift which emanates from grace and which our soul assimilates with the Person we possess. “The soul is made like to God by grace. Hence, for a divine Person to be sent to anyone by grace, there must needs be a likening of the soul to the divine Person who is sent, by some gift of grace.” And as the Holy Spirit is Love, the soul is assimilated to the Holy Spirit by charity. We possess God because He gives Himself to us, but His first Gift is the Holy Spirit.
Our first intimacy, then, is with the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that we can possess one divine Person without possessing the others, for They are inseparable; but, according to the order of appropriation, we possess the Father and the Son because we possess the Holy Spirit, who is the first Gift of God. But let us note the just-quoted teaching of St. Thomas, whose austere precision, entirely free from the exaggerations of enthusiasm, gives to his words an admirably profound meaning: through grace, the soul not only can use the created gift freely, but can also enjoy the divine Person.
Love and Possession
We have said that possession is the ideal of love: mutual, perfect, enduring possession. God, in loving us and permitting us to love Him, divinely satisfied this exigency of love: He wished to be ours, and He wished us to be His. But this possession is not superficial and transient, as in human love. It is something very serious, very profound and lasting.
God gives Himself to us with ardor and vehemence, with the deep truth of His infinite love. He does not live with us, but in us. He does not wish to come only at our call to satisfy our desires, like those who love each other on earth; He gives Himself to us, delivers Himself to us, makes us the Gift of Himself, so that we may use it according to our pleasure.
To use that Gift is to enjoy it, for it is the supreme end of our being, our life’s happiness; and no other use can be made of happiness than to enjoy it. We are able to make use of His other gifts, the effects of His love; we can only enjoy His Gift.
It is in our power to enjoy that happiness which we carry within our souls whenever we wish to, for what is ours is ours to dispose of. The Gift that has been given to us, which we possess, is ours, and we may freely make use of God. The sweet familiarity with which the saints treat God, as well as their confident boldness in drawing near to Him, attracts our attention. There is nothing strange about it. The wonderful, the amazing, thing is that God loves us and that He wants to be loved by us. The rest is the logical consequence of that love, because, as Lacordaire has so profoundly said, “For in Heaven and on earth, love has but one name, one essence, one law. . . .” From the moment in which God determined to love, He became ours. What is strange about our using freely and trustingly that which belongs to us?
To enjoy God is to know Him and to love Him. But it is not just any sort of knowledge or any sort of love that gives this joy. It is the intimate knowledge that penetrates His truth and the profound love that unites us with His sovereign goodness. For us to attain such a knowledge and such a love, our own strength is not sufficient; we need to receive from God Himself His gifts: participation in the divine Word and personal Love.
To enjoy the Holy Spirit is to love; to enjoy the Word is to know. But just as the divine Persons are inseparable, those divine joys are also intimately bound together. Intimate knowledge produces love; profound love is a source of light. Whoever enjoys the Son and the Holy Spirit attains to the joy of the Father, plunging himself, so to speak, into the bosom of immense tenderness, into the ocean from which all good proceeds.
“If thou didst know the Gift of God!” said Jesus to the Samaritan woman. If only we knew the treasures that are hidden in the higher life of the soul, the riches of that divine world into which the Gift of God introduces us! The world cannot receive these holy realities, nor does it even suspect them, because “it neither sees nor knows” the Gift of God. But from how many souls that could know the divine Gift are God’s wonders hidden!
Undoubtedly, that full participation in the Word and in the Holy Spirit that makes us know Him intimately and love Him profoundly, is sanctity, is union. But hardly does the life of grace begin in souls when God gives His gifts to them and they begin to find their joy in Him. The spiritual life is always substantially the same from the beginning until the magnificence of its full flowering.
Before the soul reaches the maturity of union, it possesses the Gift of God, but as one possessing a treasure whose value is unknown and whose advantages cannot be fully enjoyed immediately. This imperfect spiritual life is the true life, but it does not yet have full consciousness nor full possession of itself. There are such heavy shadows in the understanding! There is still such a mixture of earthly affections in the heart! The soul is so bound to creatures! It does not know what it possesses, nor has it the holy liberty of the children of God to lift its wings and soar aloft to the enjoyment of Him.
This is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit in souls: to bring to holy maturity, to happy plenitude, that seed of life which He Himself deposited in them.
The spiritual life is the mutual possession of God and the soul, because it is essentially their mutual love. When the Holy Spirit possesses a soul completely, and the soul attains the full possession of the Gift of God, this is union, perfection, sanctity.
Then the soul participates in such a way in the divine Word, and in the Love that proceeds from the Word, that it can freely know God with an intimate and true knowledge, and love Him with a true and profound love. Then the soul belongs wholly to God, and God to the soul. Then God works in the soul as one would work in that which belongs to him completely, and the soul enjoys God with confidence, with liberty, with the sweet intimacy that we use with our own.
If only we knew the Gift of God! If only we knew the goodness and love of God, and the happiness and riches that are contained for us in this profound invocation of the Church: Gift of God Most High!
This article is adapted from a chapter in True Devotion to the Holy Spirit by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post: Cover and featured image used with permission.