Earlier this week, a friend texted me that her pregnant daughter, who struggles with heroin addiction, had left a support program and returned to the streets. After years of trying to help her child get clean – calling rehab centers, stockpiling Narcan, throwing the poor girl out of the house at points – my friend began to despair at this latest relapse.
“Even having a baby can’t make her change,” she cried.
I promised to pray and to enlist other intercessors, including several cloistered nuns experienced with such difficult, life-or-death cases. But indeed the darkness my friend’s daughter faced, within and without, was daunting.
How would God’s light reach her – and if she saw it, would she choose to approach?
When Love itself called, offering healing and mercy, would she respond?
How exactly does a soul come to “repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15) – the Good News that we are made by and for a God who laid down his own life “that we might have life, and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10)?
There are places deep within us that we ourselves cannot fathom, as St. Paul lamented: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. … When I want to do right, evil is at hand. … I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am!” (Rom 7:15, 21, 23, 24)
As Christians, we believe that battle was definitively won through Christ’s passion, death and resurrection: “Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24-25).
This mighty victory, wrought more than 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, remains ours today – and through every season of human civilization – because “its entire salvific power” has been “transmitted to the Holy Spirit” (Dominum et Vivificantem, 11).
At the Last Supper, Jesus promised the gift of the Spirit as one absolutely essential: “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7).
As St. John Paul II points out, “these words also say that what begins now is the new salvific self-giving of God, in the Holy Spirit” (Dominum et Vivificantem, 11).
Silent, unseen, breathing over raging waters and within the recesses of the heart, the Spirit accomplishes what all our handwringing, shouting, social media campaigns, strategic plans and international diplomacy cannot, though he may choose to work through such imperfect means to fulfill his purposes.
Our very prayers depend upon the power of the Spirit, who “comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. … (and) intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Rom 8:26,27).
Moving through eternity and human history, the Spirit travels with ease to the most remote terrain within us, for he “searches everything, even the depths of God,” and “knows from the beginning the secrets of man” (Dominum et Vivificantem 35, 1 Cor 2:10f).
And it is there he speaks, to “bring sin to light” – not in condemnation, but as “the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1433).
Only the Spirit can accomplish this mission: “No one but he himself, the Spirit of truth, can convince the world, man or the human conscience of this ineffable truth” (Dominum et Vivificantem, 32).
In both trial and triumph, we overcome “not by might, and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4:6).
Of course, it is possible to deliberately refuse God’s mercy altogether; such hardness of heart is “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” that Jesus warns “will not be forgiven” (Mt 12:31). So frightening a prospect – which can lead to the loss of heaven – drives us to our knees all the more.
Yet in his relentless mercy, God reserves to himself “ways known to him alone” that “can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance,” though one take his own life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2283).
I know the Spirit will find my friend’s daughter and her baby, because he has never lost sight of them.
I know too that what my friend and I and others cannot, of ourselves, do for this wounded young woman – and for all of us, ravaged by sin – the Spirit, who is one with the Father and the Son, can and will.
All that remains is for us to seek him, and to place our hope in him.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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