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Sunday: The Holy Spirit and Discouragement

We often feel that Christianity is not all it’s cracked up to be. This Pentecost, the Church provides a beautiful antidote to that sinking feeling, but it is easy to miss it.

First, let me describe what I mean.

Christ promises a “peace beyond understanding,” but we often feel stressed and sad. In fact, it can seem like Christians worry more: We worry about wayward family members, our own propensity to sin — and the failures we see in the Church itself.

St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” but as often as not, the Lord is just another thing on our to-do list. Our daily prayers often feel like our daily cross, not our daily refreshment. And God often seems not the kindly attentive Father he claims to be … he seems alternatively an indifferent uncle or an exacting tyrant.

St. Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” a beautiful sentiment. But what about the many times we are in a state of grace and practicing our faith — and so are fully “in him” — but still feel restless?

I remember speaking to a priest about all of this once. He said, “I am going to give you a popular prayer to start praying, but you can’t use the version everyone typically uses. That one doesn’t make any sense.”

The prayer was the Pentecost Sequence prayed at Mass this Sunday, but he wanted me to pray the rarely seen “prose version” of the prayer. I have looked for it many places since, and have never found it. I only have it because he brought me to the sacristy of the church and told me to copy it out longhand from a liturgical book he had.

The only paper I had was a three-punched yellow folder separator, so that’s what I wrote it on.

Here is the prose version of the Sequence. I have also posted it separately (click here) so that those interested can access it without having to pick through this post:

Pentecost Sequence (prose version)
Come, Holy Spirit, and from heaven direct on man the rays of your light.
Come, Father of the poor, come giver of God’s gift. Come, light of men’s hearts.
Kindly Paraclete, in your gracious visits to man’s soul, you bring relief and consolation. If it is weary with toil, you bring it ease; in the heat of temptation, your grace cools it; if sorrowful, your words console it.
Light most blessed, shine on the hearts of your faithful — even in their darkest corners; for without your aid man can do nothing, and everything is sinful.
Wash clean the sinful soul, rain down your grace on the parched soul, and heal the injured soul.
Soften the hard heart, cherish and warm the ice-cold heart, and give direction to the wayward.
Give your seven holy gifts to your faithful, for their trust is in you. Give them reward for their virtuous acts, give them a death that ensures salvation, and give them unending bliss.
Amen. Alleluia.

For me, the prayer helped changed my whole perspective. The condition I described was all about feelings. I should feel peace … but I feel worry. I should feel joy … but I feel discouragement.

I seemed to be making two unspoken assumptions: God should be a psychological salve that soothes my feelings, and God should intervene in human beings’ lives in such a way that problems simply disappear.

The prayer reminds us that God does not work that way. He is not a narcotic and he is not a means of escape and he does not interfere with man’s freedom.

Rather, he is what he is: The almighty Father of all who provides us generously with everything that we have, including our very lives and those of each person we worry about. And what he brings isn’t an artificial relief, but grace.

Grace is not a peace drug, it is God’s love, and it corrects us and fills us with peace in the subtle way that love does. Think of how a mother’s constant love corrects us and fills us with peace as children, or the way friendship brings us joy and peace.

The Pentecost Sequence is often attributed to Englishman Stephen Langton, a 13th-century Archbishop of Canterbury. He composed a six-line version that gets to the essence of what grace does. He prays to the Holy Spirit:

Wash what is unclean.
Water what is parched.
Heal what is diseased.
Bend what is rigid.
Warm what is cold.
Straighten what is crooked.

He sees in the Holy Spirit the same mysterious power we see in photosynthesis: The power of water, earth and the sun. This is how the Holy Spirit operates in our life: Through the slow, subtle and overwhelming power of constant love.

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