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by Bede Jarrett, OP


After the intelligence comes the will which also, because of the very large part it plays in all human action, needs to be perfected by the Holy Spirit. It is necessary to repeat that the Holy Spirit does not by His gifts bestow on the soul new powers and new faculties, but develops, refines, perfects faculties already there. It is not the creation of new eyes to see new visions, but the strengthening of the eye of the soul so as to see more clearly and with a longer sight. The will, then, has also to be strengthened, for it is the will that lies at the very heart of all heroism. Merely to have a glimpse of greatness is but part of a hero’s need. No doubt it is a larger part, for very many of us never by instinct at all touch on the borders of greatness, we do not see or understand how in our little lives we can be great, we have not the imagination lit up by God, no vision; yet, when the vision fails, the people shall perish. But even when that sudden showing does by God’s mercy come to us, we still fall far short of it. It is too high, too ideal, too far removed from weak human nature to seem possible to us. That is to say, our will has failed us. We are faced by some huge obstacle, or even by a persistent refusal to budge on behalf of someone (ourselves or another) to go forward and to do; we struggle, fail, lose heart, surrender, cease our efforts. What do we want? Fortitude, that “persistive constancy” that to Shakespeare was the greatest quality of human wills.

How is this achieved? By appreciating the nearness of God to us. The gifts make us responsive to God with an ease and instantaneousness that operates smoothly and without friction. That is God’s doing, not ours. He gives us this wonderful power of being able to register at once every passing inspiration. The gifts that refine the intelligence allow it to perceive sights which else were hidden. The gift that refines the will must do this by some kind of kindred action. Now the difficulties that beset the will must necessarily be difficulties for whose overcoming strength is needed. Therefore the will must be refined by being made strong. How can it be made strong by the Holy Spirit? What exactly happens to its mechanism to secure for it the power of endurance? The easiest way of understanding how this effect is brought about is to suppose that the soul by its refinement, by that delicacy whereby it responds instantly to a divine impression, is quickly aware of God’s nearness to it. It perceives how close it is to the Spirit of God, and the sense of this nearness makes it better able to hold on to its duty. In the old method of warfare we often read of wives and mothers coming to the field of battle that their presence might awake their men to the topmost pitch of courage. Even in the modern methods of fighting, the moral effect of the emperor or king is considered to have an effect upon the troops. Of course, here it is more homely, since the familiar presence of the Holy Spirit strengthens and inspires by love, trust, and sympathy.

For this reason, the name Comforter was given to the Holy Spirit in its original sense of strengthening, becoming the fort of the soul; and the result is that the recipient is able to hold on or, carry on. By nature so many of us are prone to seek our own comforts at the expense of what we know to be the higher side of us. Human respect makes us again cowardly, or the sheer monotony of perseverance dulls and wearies the soul. We get so depressed with the strain of making efforts that we are very much inclined to let the spiritual side of life go under, or at least be rendered as little heroic as possible, for it is real heroism even just to “go on.” The “silent pressure” of temptations, when their passion and fury have died down, is a constant worry, an unconscious weight on the mind, like the thought of war that lies heavily at the back of the consciousness of those whose external lives seem empty of war reminders. We want to be courageous and fearless, to undergo. Then we must hold fast to God’s nearness to us, though He does but touch the hem of our garments by His indwelling.

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