As we make our way through Lent, the Season of Mercy, it is important to maintain our dedication to the sacrificial practices that we pledged to perform in order to build our personal spiritual life.
Doctors will tell us that we need to exercise for our physical well-being and we also need to engage in spiritual exercises for the well-being of our soul. If anyone were to ask a teacher, coach or music instructor what to do to develop his or her ability, he or she would quickly answer, “Practice, practice, practice.” A teacher will assign homework, give tests and quizzes all to sharpen the intellect of the students.
On the playing field or in the gymnasium, a coach will quickly tell the players that the game is won or lost in practice. Coaches repeat plays over and over because the constant repetition of skills strengthens the player, instills the game plan and ensures proper response in the heat of competition. The artistic director can often tell how sharp a person’s performance will be by the practice sessions days and weeks before the performers are actually on stage. It is similar in the spiritual life.
We need to spend time on our spiritual formation. It is the most important aspect of our lives. It makes us fully aware of our earthly life with a focus on the life to come.
The most difficult aspect of developing our spiritual life is discipline. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We come up with all sorts of excuses: “I’ll do it tomorrow,” the procrastinator’s statement: “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” Another is: “I’m too tired.” This excuse never seemed to make an impact on my mother who would counter with, “You never seem to be too tired to have fun, go to the movies, etc.” The longer we put off those spiritual exercises, the longer we deny ourselves the fullness of life.
Spiritual discipline is easily accessible: pray daily, receive the sacraments, read sacred Scripture and spiritual writers and intentionally do good works for the sake of Jesus.
Forming a prayer life is extremely important. Many will ask, “Should I pray formally or informally?” The answer I quickly give is, “Both.”
Formal prayer helps us to connect our thoughts to some of the great spiritual masters who have developed special prayers – St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus and St. Ignatius of Loyola. We share in their insights. One of the most powerful, formal devotional prayers is the rosary. What a comfort the rosary is and the mysteries offer insight into the life of Christ. Informal prayer is speaking to God in a conversational manner. You are speaking to a best friend who cares about you.
Frequent reception of the sacraments is a source of grace in our lives. The Eucharist is the summit of the sacramental life, to understand that we are actually receiving the Son of God. How could we not take advantage of that relationship? In eucharistic adoration, we deepen our intimacy with our Lord.
During this Lenten season, I will preside at all 14 reconciliation services throughout the archdiocese. We often forget why Jesus came into the world: to save us from sin. The sacrifice of Christ opens for us the way to heaven and that way is through Jesus Christ.
Examining our consciences allows us the opportunity to see our sins as failures in the loving relationship offered to us by God. We are not deserving of his forgiveness, yet he offers his mercy and love. The sacrament of reconciliation is a source of grace. When one participates in the sacrament, grace is received. It is little wonder that Pope John Paul II taught that these sacraments would be the source of renewal in the spiritual lives of the faithful. In our own spiritual lives, the life of graces strengthens us for the challenges that the world places before us.
If we desire to know Christ, then we must read sacred Scripture; the path to holiness takes place in the company of Jesus. No one had seen the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. I have noticed throughout my years in the priesthood that many will begin reading popular spiritual writers who articulate the problems of modern life. Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes) stated: “…in the face of the way in which the world is developing today, there is an ever increasing number of people who are asking the most fundamental questions or are seeing them with a keener awareness: What is man? What is the meaning of pain, of evil, of death, which still persist in spite of such progress? What is the use of those successes, achieved at such a cost? What can man contribute to society, what can he expect from society? What will come after this life on earth?”
The grappling of these questions with modern spiritual writers will often lead those who are forming their spiritual life to the classics (St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, etc.). The richness of the spiritual writers in the church is a true treasure.
Lastly, we need to intentionally unite our prayer to action. Our prayer life should lead us to share our time, talents and treasure for Christ’s sake. The action doesn’t have to be spectacular – visiting the sick, helping your pastor, teaching catechism or any of the Corporal or Spiritual Works of Mercy – but it must be done for Jesus.
In this manner, we are uniting our action to prayer.
So this Lenten season, practice, practice, practice because practice makes perfect. God bless you!