Love of the Holy Spirit consists in letting oneself be possessed by Him with complete docility, with perfect purity, and with total abnegation. This is true devotion to the Holy Spirit, but it is only one aspect of love. The other, essential also, is to possess. Yours and mine: the whole essence of love is in these two words. Thus the spouse of the Canticles sings, “My Lover belongs to me, and I to Him.” And this is the way that Jesus expresses the mystery of infinite love in His magnificent prayer to His Father on the night of the Last Supper: “And all things that are mine are Thine, and Thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.” In the same prayer, He tells of His immense love for men: “I in them and Thou in me, that they may be perfected in unity.”100
No one can let himself be possessed without at the same time possessing. These two aspects of love, which our imperfect understanding must keep separate, constitute the reality and unity of love. To love the Holy Spirit, then, is both to let oneself be possessed by Him and to possess Him. He is not only the Director of our life, but also the Gift of God, our Gift.
Let us recall the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas previously quoted: “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. The rational creature does sometimes attain thereto, as when it is made partaker of the divine Word and of the Love proceeding so as freely to know God truly and to love God rightly.”
To possess Love is to love Him; it is to allow oneself to be penetrated by His fire, and to receive the ardent effusions of love and, in them, to receive Love itself.
This possession has its degrees. For the lowest degree of charity, it is enough to possess the Holy Spirit because He and charity are inseparable, according to the words of the apostle St. Paul: “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Only the Holy Spirit can pour charity into our souls; together with created love, we are given uncreated love, so that the principle and seed of charity is the Holy Spirit.
In proportion as the soul grows in charity, this happy possession of the Gift of God increases. The more we love the Holy Spirit, the more He is ours; and the more we love Him, the more we are His. In other words, the more perfectly the Holy Spirit is the principle of our love, the more perfectly He is the completion of that love, the more perfectly He is our Gift.
To have an idea of the degrees of possession, it is helpful to consider the perfect degree, for ordinarily the perfect leads us to a knowledge of the imperfect, as we judge what a seed is like from the ripe fruit. In the works of the mystics, expressions like these are frequently found: “To love with the heart of God”; “To love with the Holy Spirit.” Some saints, such as Catherine of Siena, tell us that God gave them His heart in exchange for theirs. Certainly these expressions should not be taken literally. On the other hand, we should not consider them as mere figures, like those we use to express our poor earthly sentiments, to tell the intensity of our affections or the ardor of our desires. It would be profitable for us to examine the mysterious realities hidden under the symbolic words of the saints.
Every act of charity proceeds from the habit of that virtue which the Holy Spirit infuses into our hearts. No matter how imperfect an act of love may be, we love with charity, the most perfect supernatural gift that we receive on earth. It is the created, but most faithful, image of the Holy Spirit.
We can use this charity in two ways: by moving ourselves to perform an act of love, or by being moved to it by the Holy Spirit with that special movement. When we love under the special movement of the Holy Spirit, it can be said with theological exactness that we love with the Holy Spirit. For, as St. Thomas teaches, “The operation of an effect is not attributed to the thing moved but to the mover. Hence, in that effect in which our mind is moved and does not move, but in which God is the sole Mover, the operation is attributed to God.” And such is the case of the soul that works under the special movement of the Holy Spirit, as the holy Doctor himself assures us: “The spiritual man is not inclined to do anything as by a movement of his own will principally, but by the inspiration of the Spirit.”
The mystics call this love produced by the special movement of the Spirit passive love. This love is not called passive because the soul does not move, for, indeed, the soul is never so active as then. It is called passive because the soul does not move itself. The Holy Spirit moves it, and it works under His divine impulse. The act of passive love belongs to the Holy Spirit and the soul, but more to the Spirit than to the soul. Therefore it can truly be said that the Holy Spirit loves in the soul and that the soul loves with the Holy Spirit, especially when this passive love has reached its perfection.
It will help us to understand this doctrine if we recall a comparison used by St. John of the Cross to explain something similar: A piece of wood is thrown into the fire. The fire envelops, penetrates, and possesses it. To the wood, being possessed by the fire and burning are the same thing. But, at first, the wood is not wholly burned, because the fire has not penetrated it completely. Penetration and possession come about little by little as the wood burns, until, perfectly penetrated by the fire, it is converted into it and burns with the same fire and has all the characteristics of fire.
The Holy Spirit is rightly called fire, a living fountain, charity, because He is Love. The spiritual life is nothing else but the penetration of the soul by that divine fire. The Holy Spirit possesses the soul, and the soul burns — that is, it loves. Charity is the intimate fire that burns the soul, but the Holy Spirit, quite as intimately present in the soul, is both the cause of that fire and its glorious end. At first, the soul does not burn totally, because it needs to be purified in order that the divine fire may perfectly penetrate and possess it. Little by little, the divine penetration is effected, and the soul gradually burns more thoroughly, more profoundly. The divine penetration becomes so perfect, the spiritual combustion so complete, that the soul is “deified”; one might say that it is changed into fire, into love. It may be said to burn with the fire of God, and to love with the Holy Spirit, for the divine Spirit moves it to love so intimately and fully that, in all truth, this love is attributed to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God loves in us the way we ought to love in the Holy Spirit!
As the wood, when perfectly penetrated by the fire, takes on the very character of fire, so the soul that loves with the love of the Holy Spirit participates in the divine characteristics of eternal Love. Who can describe this love? As the Scriptures say, it is “intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, and pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure, and very subtle.” Is not Love perhaps the Spirit of Wisdom?
A beautiful and profitable commentary could be made on this passage from the Scriptures. How easy it would be to find in perfect love all the participated characteristics of infinite Love! We would see all the multiple kinds of love in that perfect Love! By understanding it, how well we would comprehend the new life, the life “hidden with Christ in God” of which St. Paul speaks to us and which is nothing but participation in eternal love — unutterable intimacy with the Holy Trinity! How well we would understand the divinity, the fruitfulness, the abnegation, the heroism, the tenderness, and all the goodness of love of neighbor if we understood how we ought to live in the Holy Spirit!
When this acme of love is reached, the soul is perfectly possessed by the Holy Spirit, for He moves it entirely at His good pleasure; and the soul possesses the Holy Spirit perfectly, for, in the sense already explained, it loves with Him. The mystery of love is completed; the soul has attained with love the most perfect union that is possible on earth. What else is love but aspiration toward unity, fruition of unity, expansion of unity?
Then the soul fully enjoys the Gift of God. The words of St. Thomas are realized to their fullest: the soul shares in eternal love in such a way that it freely loves God with complete rectitude. This glorious liberty and holy rightness are the result of the wondrous unity brought about between the Holy Spirit and the soul.
From the heights of this perfection, the degrees of the mutual possession of the Holy Spirit and the soul can be contemplated, as, from a mountaintop, one looks down on the winding paths that lead up to it. In each stage of the mystical ascension, the soul is letting itself be possessed by the Holy Spirit, and possesses Him exactly in the proportion in which it is possessed; for the Holy Spirit is the soul’s Gift in the degree in which He directs it, in the measure in which He moves and possesses it. This mystical possession, these two aspects of a unique possession, form a sort of divine ring: love, which, as it grows greater, as it becomes perfect, unifies, simplifies, and deifies the soul; for all these ineffable things — love, simplicity, and unity — are reflections of God, who is unutterable unity, infinite simplicity, and eternal charity.