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.
All the fathers, doctors, saints and spiritual writers indicate essentially the same thing: their desire to belong totally to Mary as the means to belong totally to Jesus, and to place oneself into the hands of Mary that she may lead us to a more perfect union and likeness with Christ.
Devotion to Mary is to live in imitation of Jesus’ relationship with Mary that we may become more like him. In the Gospel of Luke at the Annunciation, Jesus entrusted himself entirely to Mary as an embryo in her womb and as a little child in her care. Mary cooperated with the Holy Spirit in the birth, development, education and formation of Jesus.
How do we receive the Eucharist in a holy manner? Aside from being in a state of grace, there are practical steps to be taken to benefit the most from this blessed encounter:
It is important to grasp that sanctifying grace is a real transformation of the soul! Luther taught that the soul in grace is wearing the garment of Christ’s merits, which cover the soul like a cloak covers a leprous beggar. The church teaches that the very substance of the soul is renewed. The soul is affected in its very being so that it can genuinely be called a “new creation.” Sanctifying grace gives a new life to the soul, a life with its own new abilities, powers, and destiny, given as a gift from God. Thus, the baptized Christian can now perform actions at the level of its new being, actions which because they are supernatural, merit a supernatural reward. (cf. 2Cor 5:17; Titus 3:8; Eph 2:10.)
Actual grace: a kind of divine or supernatural thrust or impetus that allows us to act above our own power. This is because our own natural powers are incapable of attaining supernatural rewards. Prior to the reception of sanctifying grace, we need a special help from God, which is called actual grace.
The spiritual doctors of the church offer us a simple way of understanding the steps along our path to sanctity.
In previous articles, we learned about the various stages of prayer: vocal, mental and contemplation. Let’s now simplify the stages and examine our spiritual life in terms of personal conversion.
Lectio Divina, or “divine reading,” is another form of mediation by the reading of Scripture in the context of prayer. It is a traditional Benedictine practice intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s word. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied but as the Living Word.
The following points can be of help in growing closer to Jesus if you find it difficult in getting into a habit of daily mediation.
St. Theresa of Avila mentioned that without a book written for spiritual reading on her lap, she found meditation almost impossible. The following is based on and inspired by her instruction to her nuns on how to practice meditation:
Just as you and I get to know people by meeting, listening and speaking to them, so in meditation we get to know God by conversing with him in a quiet place. “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father in the secret place.” Matthew 6:6.
We listen to God speaking to us through the beauties of nature, Sacred Scripture, the texts of the Liturgy and the lives and writings of the saints. In meditation, we ponder what Jesus says to us in all of these ways and then we respond with our inner thoughts, applications and words. It is a mental conversation between two friends.