Discerning the presence of the Holy Spirit


By Patrick Schmadeke 
Come Holy Spirit,
Fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
(Prayer attributed to Archbishop Rabanus Maurus, ca. 789-856).


The Synod has reminded us that we are always and everywhere discerning the presence and promptings of the Holy Spir­it. Through the Synod we can exercise this essential activity of faith: a posture of individual and communal discernment. The above prayer to the Holy Spirit speaks to me in a deeper way because of the Synod. In this article, I unpack it and offer questions for reflection on each clause.

Come Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is present everywhere, so the invitation for the Holy Spirit to come is theologically confusing. Regardless, we can still take this as an invitation to ourselves to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. There is also something beautifully poetic about this phrasing. Where do you need to invite the Holy Spirit into your life?
Fill the hearts of your faithful: Romans 5:5 says: “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The love of God floods our hearts. This is the ground of all conversion, of all love, of all peace and joy. How do you experience the Holy Spirit filling your heart? How can you share that experience with others?

Kindle in them the fire of your love: The Holy Spirit is not passive. The Spirit is active and working on our hearts. The love that fills our hearts is filled with is kindled by a divine spark. Fire, like the Holy Spirit, is unpredictable. Is your life on fire with the love of the Holy Spirit? What does that look like? Who do you know who is on fire with the Holy Spirit?


Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created: This is my favorite line from this prayer because it feels somewhat off balance. Were we not created before the Spirit was sent? Well, yes and no. In the creed we refer to the Holy Spirit as the Lord and giver of life. Being, human-being-ness, is not a static reality. Being is a dynamic reality. To be is to become. We are not entirely who we were yesterday and we are not yet entirely who we will be tomorrow. The Holy Spirit is still creating us. To become who we ought to become, sometimes we have to let go of those things that make us feel secure that are not of God. How is the Holy Spirit still creating you? What do you need to let go of?

And You shall renew the face of the earth: There are twin errors to be avoided. On the one hand, we might think that God does everything and we do nothing. On the other hand we might think that we do everything, and that the Holy Spirit is just along for the ride. Instead, we co-operate with the grace of God. The Holy Spirit renews the earth, and it is we who are along for the ride. Like actors in improv theater, we respond, “yes, and…” to the Holy Spirit. God invites us to participate in renewing the face of the earth in our most local settings. Where is God calling you to participate in this renewing?

At baptism we are initiated into the Christian Church, and we are initiated into the work of the Holy Spirit in a new way. We are all about the Holy Spirit’s work together as members of the Church. This work begins in concrete experiences, progresses in discernment and blossoms in action.

(Patrick Schmadeke is Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Davenport.)

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