‘How Can We Foster Inspirations?
God loves everyone with unique love; He wants to lead them all to perfection, but at the same time has very different paths for different people. This means that the frequency and the characteristics of the inspirations of grace will differ from one person to another.
We cannot force the Spirit, and God is the master of His gifts. That said, it cannot be doubted that God will grant each person at least the inspirations he needs for his own sanctification.
This is what St. Francis de Sales says:
Those who keep their hearts open to holy inspirations are happy! For they will never lack those that they need in order to live in their state well and devoutly, and to exercise the duties of their profession in a holy way.
For as God gives, by way of nature, to each animal the instincts that are required for its conservation and for the exercise of its natural properties, so too, if we do not resist God’s grace, He gives each of us the inspirations we need in order to live, act, and maintain ourselves in the spiritual life.
It should also be added that these motions of the Spirit (even though, unfortunately, they have little place in the lives of many Christians) are not something exceptional in themselves, but form part of the “normal functioning” of the spiritual life.
St. Paul suggests this when he says: “All those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God,” and also: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
We have all received adoption as children of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. The normal fruit of this Sacrament is the germinating in our lives of what theology terms the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” whose aim is to “prepare the soul to follow promptly the impulse of divine inspiration.”
St. Thomas also says: “The gifts of the Holy Spirit render all the faculties of the soul capable of submitting to the motions of God.”
Every Christian should desire and pray for these inspirations of grace. Of course, God grants them in greater or lesser measure, and “From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required”; and those to whom less is given will have less asked of them.
But it remains true that inspirations are not an optional extra in spiritual life, because they can be decisive for spiritual progress, and it is a matter of the greatest importance to welcome them into our lives.
What specifically will enable inspirations of grace to take place in us? What can we do so that God gives us the benefit of them as much as possible? There are a certain number of conditions that are conducive to their appearing in our souls.
- Practice Praise and Thanksgiving
What prevents us from receiving more abundant graces from God may be quite simply our not being sufficiently grateful and not thanking Him for the graces He has already given us.
There is no doubt that if we thank God with all our heart for each grace received, especially for the inspirations, He will grant us more.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux said to her sister Céline:
What most draws down graces from our dear Lord is gratitude, for if we thank Him for a gift, He is touched and hastens to give us ten more, and if we thank Him again with the same sincerity, what an incalculable multiplication of graces! I have experienced this: try it and you will see. My gratitude for all that he gives me is boundless, and I prove this to him in a thousand ways.
This should not be something calculated, but the result of realizing that ingratitude toward God imprisons us within ourselves and closes us to His grace. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits!” says the Psalm.
Praise purifies the heart and prepares it marvelously to receive divine grace and the motions of the Holy Spirit.
- Desire and Ask For Them
We must, of course, desire God’s inspirations and ask for them frequently in prayer: “Ask, and it will be given you.” One of the petitions we make to God most often should be: “Inspire me in all my decisions, and never let me neglect any of your inspirations.” We should ask for them in all the circumstances of our lives.
At more critical moments, when we are faced with important choices, or when we have the impression that our life with our Lord is limping a little and needs revivifying, it can be very good to go on retreat for a few days and pray more intensely for the light of the Holy Spirit. It would be strange if God were then to refuse us his inspirations.
- Resolve to Refuse God Nothing
What matters even more than conscious, explicit prayer on this subject is that we should have a strong and constant determination to obey God in everything, big or little, without any exception.
The more God sees this disposition of total docility in us, the more He will favor us with His inspirations. This is not to say that in fact we must be able to obey God in absolutely everything: that is still something that is impossible for us to do because of our weakness.
But we do have to be determined to do so, and do all in our power to ensure, particularly by prayer, that we keep strengthening our resolution not to neglect a single one of the wishes that God might express to us, no matter how small it is.
We should also be clear that this determination should not become a scruple that the devil could use to discourage us, a fear of “missing” God’s will or not understanding it. In this area, as in everything, we should let ourselves be led by love and not by fear; and, as St. Francis de Sales used to say, we should “love obeying more than we fear disobeying.”
We should strengthen ourselves continually in our resolution to be docile to God, mindful that the devil never use our docility to get us upset or discouraged over our inevitable failures.
- Practice Filial and Trusting Obedience
If we want God to reveal more of his will to us by his inspirations, we need to start by obeying his wishes that we already know. This obedience can be applied in various ways.
As we saw earlier, each act of faithfulness to grace attracts new graces, in ever-growing numbers. If we are attentive and obey the motions of the Holy Spirit, these graces will become more abundant. If we ignore inspirations, on the other hand, there is a danger that they will become less and less frequent.
“To everyone who has more will be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away,”
Jesus tells us. This is the beginning, then. To obtain more inspirations, we need to begin by obeying the ones we receive. Next, it is obvious that God will grant us more inspirations if He sees us being faithful in fulfilling his will when it comes to us by other ways: the Commandments, the duties of our state in life, and so on.
God’s will is expressed in many ways, and we know these without any need for special inspirations. We know God’s will as expressed in a general way through the commandments of Scripture, the teaching of the Church, the demands that are part of our vocation, and those that come from our job, for example.
If we have a sincere desire for faithfulness in these domains, God will favor us with more motions of his Spirit. If we are careless about our normal duties, then however much we beg God for special inspirations there is not much chance of His granting them.
Let’s not forget either to consent, for love of God, to all the legitimate opportunities for obedience that present themselves in the areas of community, family, or social life.
Of course we must obey God rather than men, but it would be an illusion to think we were capable of obeying God if we are incapable of obeying other people. The reason for this is that the same obstacle has to be overcome in both cases: attachment to ourselves and to our own will.
If we can only obey people when it happens to please us, we are fooling ourselves about being able to obey the Holy Spirit. If we are never prepared to renounce our own will (our ideas, our tastes, our attachments) for other people, what guarantee is there that we’ll be able to do so when God asks us to?
“It is easy to understand how enraptured children can become at the contemplation of a tiny Babe in a manger. To have God reduce Himself to their own status, to become a child like them, to need a mother, what more could they desire! They feel on a footing with Him. The Almighty is of their stature!” – Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J., Christ in the Home
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