“The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words.”
St Paul’s description of the Holy Spirit that helps us in our weakness puts prayer into a new and encouraging context. We are tempted to think of prayer as a solitary undertaking, an activity whose success is determined solely by the virtue and piety of the person who prays. Paul understood prayer differently. Having first acknowledged the weakness of all who turn to prayer, he then encouraged us to believe that we never pray alone, that the Holy Spirit prays with us. The Holy Spirit, despite the limits of our concentration and an inability to pray as we would wish, will always bring our prayer to God. Seen from this perspective prayer is not a matter of finding the right words. Even when God seems to be beyond our prayer we should always begin our prayer with a conscious surrender to the Holy Spirit, knowing that his presence, deep within us, makes our prayer one with the Father and the Son.
The same Holy Spirit enables us to hear the scriptures as a prayerful reflection on our own lives. This was what Jesus intended when he spoke to his disciples in parables. We are the field that was first sown with good seed, but was later contaminated with unproductive darnel. Prayerful reflection on the parable enables the Holy Spirit to guide us to discern the good and the bad, the wheat and the darnel in our lives. The parable ended with the harvest, when the wheat was gathered into the barn and the darnel destroyed in the fire. The Holy Spirit enables us to anticipate the harvest, to repent of all that is unworthy in our lives, to hold fast to the many graces that we already enjoy.
Other parables, heard with the prayerful discernment of the Holy Spirit, are an encouragement to faith. However much faith we have we shall be tempted to feel that our faith is not enough. There will be times when we feel that nothing changes within us for the better. It was to such inner doubts that Jesus spoke the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast. However frail our hold on God, his presence within us, like the mustard seed or the yeast hidden in flour, has the power to transform our lives. The Holy Spirit that comes to help us in our weakness enables us to discern Christ’s presence, to trust in that presence as the sower trusts in the seed, the baker in the leaven.
The Book of Wisdom calls us to this same trust in God. Here, the emphasis is on the strength of God, a strength that is expressed in love. “There is no god, other than you, who cares for everything.”
This Wisdom becomes a prayer when we turn to God, knowing that his power can achieve within us what we cannot achieve of ourselves. This is the God who treats the humble with great lenience, who has only to will and his power will raise us up. This is the God who has given his children the sure hope that after sin there is repentance. Without the Spirit these words are empty. When we allow the Spirit to speak these words to our hearts, faith and hope are rekindled.