You and the Physician
This would have been more appropriate during Lent, but I’ve only just come across it.
In his reflections on Psalm 50 , St. Augustine notes that in v. 11 the Psalmist asks God: “Turn your face away from my sins,” but in v. 13 he pleads: “Do not cast me away from your face.” In Augustine’s comments there is a perhaps deliberate ambiguity about the phrase “holy spirit”: does it refer to the Holy Spirit of God, or to a holy spirit in the Psalmist? But do we have to choose between them?
The Psalmist pleads for the face of the One whose face he fears. “Do not cast me away from your face, and do not take your holy spirit from me.” For there is a holy spirit [the Holy Spirit] in one who confesses. It is already a gift of the Holy Spirit (a holy spirit) that you are displeased with what you did. Sins please an unclean spirit; they displease a holy one. Although you are still pleading for forgiveness, the very fact that you are displeased with what you did joins you to God, since the thing that displeases him displeases you too. Now there are two fighting the fever, you and the Physician. Since by himself there can be no confession of sin nor punishment for it in anyone, when someone is angry with himself, displeased with himself, this cannot be without a gift of the Holy Spirit [a holy spirit]. Note that the Psalmist doesn’t pray, “Give me your holy spirit,” but “Do not take your holy spirit from me.”
This reminds me of a couple of things. Bernard Lonergan once remarked that as a young Jesuit he was asked by his spiritual director if he loved God. When Lonergan replied that he’d like to, his spiritual director said: “If you’d like to love God, you already do.” And elsewhere Augustine said with the very cry De profundis–Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord!–one has already begun to rise from the depths. Ask people who work with the depressed.