I remember when I was first told that God authors every act of prayer, not to mention every other kind of good act, before we do. In other words, as creatures, we are radically dependent on God for two things: our existence and our actions. He freely moves us to exist; without Him, we cannot and would not exist; if He did not will it, we would no longer be. But He moves us to be free creatures. As people, therefore, we are free to author (some of) our own actions, that is, we choose to do or not to do things. I am certainly not saying that we are not free, or that free choice is any kind of illusion. Quite the opposite! Our freedom consists precisely in that God, who exists by His own nature, grants that we can participate in His freedom. By this free gift, He above all authors every good thing we do.
(If God is the primary author of everything that happens, is He then the primary author of all the evil in the world? Certainly not. Humans and demons alone choose evil, God never does. Rather, God chooses to be faithful to His creation, allowing it to continue to exist even when it rebels against Him, so that He can bring out of its wickedness greater good. We can say, then, that God authors every choice insofar as it is chosen by a will, but insofar as it is evil, He only suffers it.)
But when I was told this about prayer, I was filled with deep wonder. God must always be calling me to Him, trying to teach me how He can inspire my actions with His grace, how He can make anything a good prayer! The sort of prayer that Christians practice, I thought, is surely supernatural, a participation even in the life of the Father through Christ.
I was reminded of this during mass on Pentecost. Our pastor, Fr. Parks, was speaking about the Holy Spirit and His powerful presence in the Church. In particular, he was speaking about the name of the Holy Spirit and what it signifies. In Hebrew, His name is ruach; in Greek, pneuma; in Latin, spiritus. All three mean the same thing: spirit, air, wind, breath. Their basic, literal meanings refer to the physical phenomenon of moving air, but in a deeper sense they signify the invisible principle of life. So the scriptures say that our Lord breathed on the Apostles in the upper room and said, “Peace be with you,” just as the Father had breathed life into the inert clay in the beginning to make Adam and Eve.
Then Father said something that moved me very much. He said, “How long can you go without eating? Maybe a couple weeks. How long can you go without water? Maybe a couple days. How long without breathing? Maybe a couple minutes. If you stop breathing, you will die. Breath is the sign that someone is alive. You have to breathe to cry.”
I am not entirely sure why he said that at the end, “You have to breathe to cry”—the rest of his homily was about the essential role of the Holy Spirit in the evangelizing work of the Church—but I am glad he did. It is a profound meditation on the hope we have in the Holy Spirit as members of the Church. Father had mentioned at the beginning of his homily how when we sin we suffer a very serious spiritual kind of death, and when we sin mortally we die to grace altogether. We become hostile to sanctifying grace in our soul. We cannot breathe. The Holy Spirit, however, does not abandon a sinner. Rather, He inspires him to repent.
How precious, then, are a sinner’s tears in the eyes of God! They are true signs that the soul is ready to live again, that the Holy Spirit still strengthens it. Tears, of course, are not required for repentance, but I think the soul can sob in its own way. When we are in a state of mortal sin, we are physically alive, but incapable of heaven, unable to receive God’s love. The Enemy tempts us to despair in these times, whispering that we are beyond saving, or that God’s mercy would be wasted on us. Let us refuse these lies, seeking in the Holy Spirit a heart of repentance, which, with its ragged and uneven gasps, announces that even before God has sanctified His creature, He is working a miracle of love within it.