There’s a way of looking at our religion as a series of truths to be acknowledged and then followed out. There are the ten commandments, the behaviors highlighted in the Beatitudes, and also the long list of virtues praised throughout the Scriptures. Viewed from this angle, living out our faith consists mainly in the challenge of reaching for these ideals, of making efforts to meet those standards.
There certainly is truth in holding up these criteria as standards, especially the many ways to love one another. But left to itself, this approach leaves out another dimension of our life with God, a complimentary one which is just as vital, if not even moreso. And that is, what is happening on the inside of the believer? What about the interior movements in the life of a disciple, not just the outer words of praying but the inner experience underlying them?
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans touches on this interior dimension of believing. Someone approaches him, “I’m not sure of my praying, not convinced I’m doing it in the right way. I don’t know whether I’m getting anywhere in my attempts to reach God. How do I go about it, what words do I use, how do I improve it?”
Paul’s response: call to mind that when you pray, it’s not just you who is doing the praying. Certainly you’re having the conversation, but something more is going on: this Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is praying inside you and right along with you. This Spirit is doing so from a place much deeper than any of the words you can draw up, deeper than any feelings you are experiencing. This Holy Spirit is praying right from your core, is alive in your center, is living in your heart.
This dimension of praying reaches beyond the words, Paul instructs, but is more like a sigh rising up — or in his expression, a groaning coming out of your depths. From this foundational spot, God’s very Self is praying with and for you. It’s not just you, but is at the same time God’s voice speaking from right inside yours, praying with and rising up from within you.
A present day author, Joyce Rupp, reflects on this when she writes about the inner Presence. These are “the unexpected moments that restore inner peace and bring greater clarity to the meaning of life. They provide assurance that I am not alone. An invisible Presence stirs inside of what seems quite ordinary. This hidden Guidance moves my attention to what uplifts and consoles.” (“News From Joyce Rupp,” Reflection – July, 2023)
There’s a short set of phrases describing the Holy Trinity which also sheds light on this dimension of prayer: God the Father is for us; God the Son is with us; God the Holy Spirit is within us. Yes, our external behavior does enter into our life of faith and influences our praying. But with that, there is also a vibrant presence that runs still deeper. And this is God’s own Self, present in God’s Holy Spirit, who is praying right along with us. As Paul tells it, this is the Spirit interceding for us, speaking along with us and praying within us. It is the Holy Spirit of God, bringing our prayers before the all loving Father, and doing so through Jesus Christ, the beloved Son.
When we speak with the Divine, God is right there, carrying us and praying deep within our hearts.
In one of his conferences,Vincent touches on this. “No Monsieur, neither philosophy, nor theology, nor discourses can act in souls; Jesus Christ must be involved in this with us — or we with Him — so that we may act in Him and He in us, that we may speak as He did and in His Spirit, as He Himself was in His Father, and preached the doctrine He had taught Him. Those are the words of Holy Scripture.”
(CCD XI, conference 153)