Take not Thy Spirit from me

Today is Holy Spirit Day. I continue with Fr. Reardon’s other two points regarding the verse from Psalm 50:

Second, “Cast me not away from thy face; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” Even though we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in the reception of the sacraments, we must be conscious that this sealing was not an act of magic. The maintenance of this seal is to be jealously and fervently defended. Even when we are sealed by the Spirit in the sacraments, we explicitly pray that God will protect that seal until our life’s end. The Holy Spirit’s guarantee is from God’s side, not from ours. This prayer reminds us each day of the danger of God’s casting us away from His face and taking His Holy Spirit from us.

It is important to think of this truth each day, because if we do lose the Holy Spirit, it will not be suddenly. It will not happen in a moment, nor, as it were inadvertently. Oh no, the loss of the Holy Spirit is gradual and comes from the accumulation of many small infidelities.

We look at Saul, whom Samuel anointed in the Holy Spirit—Saul, on whom the Holy Spirit poured out the gift of prophecy. Saul did not lose that Holy Spirit in a single moment. His downfall came, rather, at the end of a string of infidelities. This brave young man, who heard the messenger of Jabesh Gilead and rushed to their rescue, gradually deteriorated into the craven old man who consulted a witch on the night before the battle of Mount Gilboah. Humble Saul, who confessed himself to be the least in his father’s house, by degrees waxed into the arrogant man scorned by Samuel and rejected by God. If we want to know what happens to a man of impure heart, from whom the Lord withdraws the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there is no need to look further than the sad career of King Saul.

Third, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and strengthen me with thy governing spirit.” If the second prayer fills us with a healthy measure of godly fear, this third one strengthens us with the hope of godly restoration. The Spirit we pray for is the Spirit of our salvation and the joy with which this salvation fills the pure of heart.

The Spirit for whom we pray is what our psalm calls God’s “governing Spirit” (Pnevma hegemonikon). This is the Spirit that leads. But the Spirit leads only the pure in heart. St. Paul makes this doctrine clear in the eighth chapter of Romans (8:5-9,13-14):

“. . .  they that are of the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are of the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. . . . For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

If we want to be led by the Spirit of God, says the Apostle, there are certain things in us that must die. Our situation in this world really is an either/or. This is why we pray, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and strengthen me with thy governing spirit.”

The Spirit of Pentecost, then, calls each of us as persons, and all of us as the Church, to purity of heart, to resistance against those many spirits that are inimical to the Spirit of God, and to that godly guidance that leads to the transformation of our hearts and lives.

To illustrate this image, we go to the Book of Deuteronomy. We recall that Jesus quoted three passages from the Book of Deuteronomy in order to defeat Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. This is the reason that some Christians refer to the memorization of Holy Scripture as “sword practice.” We want to have the Holy Scriptures constantly in our minds and on our lips; this is our sword to drive away temptation.

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