“In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” (Rom 8:26)
Prayer is not as easy a thing as one might think. Some say that it is only a “conversation with God” but it is very unlike the face-to-face (or Facebook to Facebook) conversations we are accustomed to these days. In fact the Latin root of the word conversation has as its meaning, “intimacy”, “familiarity” and the notion of “living among” others. To converse well with God, one must live among him (and his household).
Now anyone can speak to God, and if you do not now, you are encouraged to begin at any and all times in any way you can. However, to gain intimacy with God you must let Him do the speaking; you must sit quietly and listen as he tells you about his life, especially through his word and sacraments. Even so-called “passive” prayer requires effort, just as listening to anyone requires attentiveness. In order to listen well, a person needs patience and needs to put away his pride. This also takes effort.
Hence, we are most fortunate to learn today from St. Paul that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in the matter of our weakness in prayer; the Spirit teaches us how to pray. If however you listen to some Christian’s today, including some Catholics, they will tell you that the only way to pray in-the-Spirit is the “charismatic” way. Thus, some take the phrase in our quotation above, “inexpressible groanings” to mean speaking in tongues. Yet how can this be since tongues are expressed quite emphatically whereas the groanings Paul speaks of here are “inexpressible”. Even the word “groaning” sounds not very salutary in that it can mean “creaking” of “grunting”. What is meant here is that the person who in prayer joins his interior sighs to the sighs of the Holy Spirit will enter into this Spirit through a mutual, loving yearning. That is, just as the creature yearns for the Creator, so the Creator yearns for his created.
In order to celebrate this Pentecost Sunday, we place on our bulletin cover a work by the Dutch Renaissance painter, Jan Joest, entitled simply, Pentecost. In particular the Dutch Renaissance is called the Northern Renaissance to distinguish it from that other work particularly in Venice, Florence, and Rome. Like so many northern masters Joest gives particular detail to each of his figures so that the distinctness of their features seems to tell a story about each of them. In Pentecost, we see young, middle aged and elder men; elder men with full heads of hair, younger men who are balding, and men without hair; bearded and fully shaven faces; men who are elated or somber; yet all prayerful as the Holy Spirit comes to each of them offering them what they need to pray in their diverse weaknesses. In the center of the scene is Mary, focusing us (the observers) on the Word of God, her beloved Son.
Notice that the pages of the book Mary is holding appear to turn on their own – in the breath of the descending Spirit. It could be said, that once again, Our Lord Jesus has come to do the breathing (Jn 20:22).
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services