The final step in our three-part schema for the spiritual life is to take action. As a reminder, this step happens only after we have become aware and understood the voice speaking to us. If we fail to do this, there can be some unfortunate consequences. Let’s take an example. You wake up one Sunday morning and you are tired after a short night of sleep. Mass begins in just over an hour, but as you lay in bed you think: “I don’t really get much out of Mass these days. I find myself distracted and not terribly interested in the homilies. This bed is nice and warm, and another hour or two would sure be nice. Maybe I will just go back to bed. I’ll make it back to Mass next weekend.”
Perhaps our subject is somewhat aware of the voice that is speaking, but there is not much of an effort to understand here. The person is experiencing some spiritual desolation, not feeling the closeness of God, feeling sort of dry and tired (physically and spiritually). If this person would understand that this is what is going on, they would realize that the voice they are listening to is not the good spirit. Instead, they will remember what St. Ignatius teaches in his fifth rule of discernment:
In time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which he was in the preceding consolation. Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad, with whose counsels we cannot take a course to decide rightly.
Therefore the person who is paying attention, being aware of what is going on, then understanding what is being said, will more easily take the necessary action, rejecting the suggestion from the evil spirit to just stay in bed, and being firm in the commitment to going to Mass.
As I wrote in last week’s article, taking action really boils down to accepting and obeying the voice of the good spirit, and rejecting that of the enemy spirit. If the first step of being aware is the most necessary step, and understanding is the most complex, perhaps taking action is the most difficult step. It is hard for us to act contrary to the temptations and desires that often attack us. Giving in to these temptations if often much easier, and we like to take the path of least resistance. But choosing to do the right thing will always be a source of blessing to us.
Let us never forget that this whole process is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit come to our aid in understanding the truth of what is going on in our minds and hearts. These gifts also come to our aid to help us to do what the Lord is calling us to do, especially with the gift of fortitude. Rejecting the bad and choosing the good is not dependent on simple willpower from us. No, the Holy Spirit generously comes to our assistance to provide the strength we need to act in accordance with God’s will.
With that in mind, perhaps a good phrase to keep at the ready in our daily life is the simple prayer: ”Come, Holy Spirit!” As we become aware of the voice that is speaking to us, we call out to the Holy Spirit to come and help us to understand whose voice is speaking. Then, in becoming aware, we call out again: “Come, Holy Spirit” to strengthen us to reject what needs rejecting and to choose what needs to be chosen.
Prayer with the Holy Spirit, as I have mentioned, is a pathway to freedom. The more aware we are of what is moving within us, the better we will understand, and that understanding will lead us to making choices that will lead to the freedom the Lord desires for us as His beloved children.