The first of two phases of discernment is to recognize God as the center of my life. There are primarily two entities involved: God and me. In discerning, we ask ourselves:
God speaks through our thoughts and feelings. It is of fundamental importance to know our thoughts and arguments and to understand where they come from in order to discern which to follow. The interaction between thought and feeling is important because it permits us to verify adherence to God or to the realities that take us away from God. Feelings can betray the effective adherence to God. I can have a good thought of Gospel content but associate it with a negative feeling. The question becomes: What is it that resists this thought that is good in itself?
Some final considerations: Any predominant fault will be opposed to either an active or passive pursuit of God’s will. We will either fail to actively do what God wants by disobeying, sinning against the virtue of charity or seeking our will over his own; or we will fail to passively desire what God does by rebelling against his will for us with complaining and growing impatient because things seem out of our control.
The examination of conscience is indispensable for gaining self-knowledge. Frequent confession and spiritual direction are also wonderful aids in finding our predominant faults.
We must seek to divide and conquer. Trying to root out all of our faults at once will only unsettle us and we will lose heart. It is not possible to do this anyway. Aim at only one objective at a time.
In the previous issue we examined the deadly sins of pride, anger and envy. We continue that examination of the seven deadly sins with those of lust, gluttony, avarice and sloth. The purpose is to enable an honest evaluation of our weaknesses and begin to take steps toward a positive change in our lives and to embrace our Lord’s mercy and forgiveness.
Before moving forward in A Disciple’s Journey to Holiness, let’s review the four R’s of mental prayer: read, reflect, relate and resolution. We end our meditation by choosing a practical concrete resolution to keep in mind and live throughout the day. Resolve to apply the grace from this meditation to transform you. You can, also, take a phrase or word that struck you—and repeat it throughout the day. This will keep your mind on the meditation and help to focus your thoughts and heart on God and following the example of Jesus.
Because our physical life is a good, as stated in a previous article, another aspect of our plan of life should be exercise. Thirty minutes of brisk exercise at least three times a week is a feasible goal. We must also combine this with a healthy diet and proper sleep. God gave us the night to rest and the light to work. Staying up late and sleeping in late are often signs of imbalance and disorder in our life.
The next element to establish a “plan of life” is to practice daily meditation and spiritual reading. As mentioned in earlier issues, it is in our daily meditation that our hearts and minds become like Christ’s because we spend time with him. (cf. Mt 6:6) In fact, meditation is nothing other than a discovery of God’s indwelling in our souls. He is already in us, we need only remove the obstacles in our wills and intellects to let him flood us with his sanctity. (cf Jn 14:12)
This first element involved in establishing a plan of life is to realize one very important fact: Holiness is for you and everyone else. It is possible? Yes, sanctity is not just for the priest, nun or monk living in some cloister somewhere. It is for you as well, and you must take advantage of the means available to achieve this marvelous destiny.
The first order of business is to review what has been said regarding faulty notions of holiness. To do this, we will discuss the following:
The basic personal goods we all desire. The basic relational goods we all desire. The basic spiritual goods we all desire.
Past articles of A disciple’s journey to holiness have offered systematic information of some of the truths of our faith to guide us to a personal knowledge and relationship with our Lord. Knowledge of the Lord is good. Yet, this good is also designed to achieve something even more magnificent — holiness. So, it may be helpful to discuss a very practical way to synthesize what we have said thus far and put it to good use. To do this, let us discuss and understand what spiritual writers mean by the term “plan of life.”
All evil and all sin comes from pursuing a good in an inappropriate way. When we do this, we hurt ourselves and others.
Let’s look at some of the good, and see how it can become evil.
To understand virtue, let’s begin by understanding our motivations — what do we desire? We are complex creatures, and so we have different longings that we must categorize to appreciate and understand. Philosophers and theologians have identified eight different categories of goods for which we all desire and long.