How Are We Docile to the Holy Spirit?

The following words from Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s spiritual classic, The Spiritual Combat, merit some deep reflection:

It must be observed that it is not sufficient to desire, or even to execute what is most pleasing to God. It is also requisite to desire and to perform our actions under the influence of His grace, and out of a willingness to please Him.

These words lay down the conditions for our actions to merit any supernatural reward. It implies that it is not enough for us to merely perform good acts! We must also be moved by divine grace and perform these acts, without any selfish motive, but for the greater glory of God.

This is a very high calling indeed, one that is utterly impossible for our unaided fallen human nature to even attempt. We need the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, a free participation in that gift of His divine love, and complete docility to the Spirit’s impulses.

Here are three concrete questions to help us ascertain the level of our docility to the Holy Spirit’s inspirations.

Firstly, does our love for God move us to seek what is most pleasing to God at each moment of our lives? By making us God’s beloved and loving children, the Spirit puts in us the very same desire that burned in the heart of Jesus, a desire that He expressed in these words about His Father, “The one who sent me is always with; He has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:29) In the face of all the possible choices at hand at any given time, the Spirit constantly moves us to pursue what is most pleasing to God out of that filial love we have for God as our Father.

When we are not docile to the Spirit, we seek only what is pleasing to us and according to our taste. We then do things out of routine, human respect, self-satisfaction, or custom without that conscious intention of doing them to please the Lord. We settle for mediocrity, or we abandon those good acts when they become difficult or we do not see visible results. Hearts that seek to please others or self at any cost eventually neglect seeking the good pleasure of God and fall into the most depraved of sins.

Secondly, how deep is our desire to know the truth, to live according to that truth, and to proclaim that truth in word and action? The Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” reveals to us who we truly are before God, who God truly is, and the truth of what our relationship with God demands from us. The grace of the Holy Spirit moves us to know, love and act on the revealed truth; the Spirit of God will never let us settle for any of the comfortable lies of our times. We must be willing to let the Spirit guide us deeper into the truth as Jesus promised us, “The Spirit will guide us to all the truth.”(Jn 16:13)

If we ever think that know the truth so well now that we do not have need to know the truth better, then we have ceased being docile to the Holy Spirit. We become deaf to the Spirit’s inspiration when we ignore studying, reading, and meditating on the word of God or we disregard the infallible teachings of the Church and opt for the legion of innovative teachings that abound in our world today. We become obstinate to the Spirit too when we refuse to listen in prayer to what God is speaking in our hearts but focus only on what we want. We are stubborn to the Spirit when we do not take time to examine our consciences every day. We cannot be docile to the Spirit when we settle for picking and choosing only our comfortable truths and rejecting the rest.

Thirdly, how readily do we forget ourselves so as to do and endure things for the greater glory of God? The Holy Spirit gives us a share in that self-emptying of Christ for the Father’s glory so that we too forget ourselves and strive to act for the greater glory of God. When St. Peter exhorts his audience, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,” he is pointing to our reception and docility to the Holy Spirit because “we cannot say ‘Jesus is lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”(1Cor 12:3)

When we are not docile to the Holy Spirit, we are so focused on self that it is impossible for us to believe the words of St. Peter, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.” Lacking this docility to the Holy Spirit, we give up the inspired good that we are doing in the face of opposition, criticism, rejection, and personal suffering. Sometimes we even return evil for evil.

Speaking about the Holy Spirit Jesus said that “the world cannot accept it, because it (the world) neither sees nor knows it.” The world cannot accept the Spirit and it just cannot accept the Church that is filled with and led by the Spirit. The world looks at the Church and her hierarchical structure and labels the Church misogynist and sexist. The world looks at the Church’s sacraments as empty medieval magical rites. The world hears the Church’s moral teachings and considers it out of date and even bigotry. The world sees only rules and obligations in the Church, rules that we too fail to obey, and they label us hypocrites.

But the world cannot see the Spirit that sanctifies and animates us as God’s children, teaches us saving truths, and moves us to live by this truth and to do so for the greater glory of God. The world cannot see the many “reasons for our hope” as God’s children in His Church even as we face our sinfulness and weaknesses.

Our mission is not to make the Church acceptable to the world as many in the Church’s hierarchy are trying to do today. The spirit of the world, focused on pleasing self, seeking our own glory and self-exaltation, has an orientation diametrically opposed to and irreconcilable with the movement of the Spirit of Jesus.

Our mission is to bear fruit of personal holiness and faithful witness to Jesus before others for the greater glory of God. We are to use His grace and do His works for His glory, no matter what the world may think or say about us. We are to be the “unprofitable servants” who “do all that we are obliged to do,”(Lk 17:10) and leave the rest to God. We must leave the rest to God – our sins, struggles, oppositions, failures, criticisms, etc.

We cannot expect divine rewards when our good actions are prompted by self-love and self-interest. God will only reward us with heavenly merits for our graced actions performed for His own glory. The grace of the Spirit continuously moves us along this path and we will surely receive our heavenly reward if we remain truly docile to the Holy Spirit till the very end of our lives.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Photo by June O on Unsplash

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Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at

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