God’s guidance is of two kinds: one is of God’s external providence in the circumstances of life; the other is internal in the direct action of the Holy Spirit on the human soul. There is great danger in separating these two. The key to many spiritual problems is found in this truth: the direct action of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, which is interior, is in harmony with God’s external providence. Sanctity consists in making them identical as motives for every thought, word and deed in our lives. The external and the internal are one in God and consciousness of both is to be one divine whole in man. To do this requires heroic life sanctity.
St. Alphonsus says, “all sacraments of the Church, her authority, prayer both mental and vocal, spiritual reading, fasting and devotion, have for their end and purpose to lead the soul to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” St. Alphonsus says in his letters that the first director of the soul is the Holy Spirit. “The guide to the soul is the Holy Spirit and the criterion or test of possessing that guide is the divine authority of the Church.”
The holy Council of Trent teaches that without an interior movement of the indwelling Holy Spirit no act of the soul can be meritorious of heaven. It bases human justification on an impulse of the Third Person of the Trinity. This impulse precedes the soul’s acts of faith, hope and love and of sorrow for sin. The first stage then is the entering of the Holy Spirit into the inner life of the soul. The Holy Spirit is received by the sacramental grace of baptism and renewed by the other sacraments; also in prayer, hearing sermons, reading the Scriptures or devout books and on occasions; extraordinary or ordinary, in the course of daily life. Each movement of virtue, especially love, hope, faith and repentance is made because the Holy Spirit has acted upon the soul in an efficacious manner.
For Servant of God Isaac Hecker, the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives, or what Hecker calls “God’s guidance,” happens in two ways, internal and external. God’s Spirit dwells within us through baptism and moves and prompts us towards acts of faith, hope and love. At the same time, externally God speaks to us in the circumstances of our lives. God guides us internally and externally. Father Hecker says that these two paths of God’s guidance should never be separated but rather should merge together within our spiritual lives. “the external and internal are one in God.” And for Father Hecker they should be one in us.
This begins internally when the Spirit which we have received in baptism moves us to acts of faith, hope and love. To this Father Hecker adds, repentance of sin. As we open ourselves to the experience of God’s internal promptings, so virtue or the disposition to do good, grows in us. Virtue becomes habit forming as we grow in grace. The other sacraments as well as spiritual exercises such as prayer and spiritual reading become means for the Spirit to deepen His presence and His guidance within us. At the same time Father Hecker reminds us that just as the sacraments are external signs of an internal action of God, so the internal and external should not be separated. God is at work in our lives, guiding us in the ordinary and extraordinary events of our daily lives. As we grow in holiness so we seek to merge the internal and external guidance of God. As Father Hecker says, this much more difficult task requires heroic (far more than ordinary) holiness. It represents an ultimate challenge in our lives to grow in God’s grace.
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington D.C.