The first step in making a good confession is an examination of conscience that walks us through the Ten Commandments or other listings of sins. The examination of conscience asks penetrating questions that helps us to know ourselves and recognize our faults. If we do not examine our conscience, we may fail to realize our sins and weaknesses.
How do we root out sin if holiness persists in rising again after falling? The sacrament of reconciliation is a very important gift given to us by Jesus Christ. In past issues we focused on the importance of the Eucharist in our spiritual growth. Now it is necessary to emphasize the role of the sacrament of reconciliation.
Let’s begin the subject of the sacrament of reconciliation and purification from sin by reviewing the journey to holiness. If we wish to become holy, we must overcome our sinful tendencies and seek union with God the Father through Christ his Son, in the person and power of the Holy Spirit. This union is the essence of the term, “interior life.”
In conclusion of the phases of discernment, we recall that discernment is the art of the spiritual life in which we understand how God communicates himself to us. Through discernment we avoid deception and learn to recognize truth. Discernment is the art of speaking with God rather than with temptation. The main character in this journey is the Holy Spirit. We use our intelligence in the most complete way only when our intellect is enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
In the last issue we talked about developing a “spiritual sense.” A person can refine this sense with experience by resolutely and faithfully following the path of Jesus Christ. If everything ended here, the evil one would never be able to conquer the person.
The second phase of discernment is to live constantly in God. The special ability that enables us to easily recognize and respond to the divine movements of God is the development within our interior of a spiritual sense. This spiritual sense is almost nonexistent at the beginning of our life; however, a person can refine this sense with experience by resolutely and faithfully following the path of Jesus Christ. This grace-filled gift allows us to recognize the unmistakable voice of Jesus. It is a loving instinct that permits us to distinguish the voice of the Spouse more easily in concert with all the sounds that present themselves to our hearing.
In the past issues we have looked at the first of two phases of discernment: to recognize God as the center of my life.
What type of thoughts or feelings direct me most toward God? What type of thoughts or feelings enclose me in my own world where I choose only my will?
The action of the Holy Spirit on the person oriented toward God:
The Spirit of God always attempts to maintain and keep reason and feeling oriented toward God. The Holy Spirit will try to make the believer’s level of adherence to God not only ideal and profound, but also detached from feelings of the heart. When a person is seriously oriented toward God, the Holy Spirit nourishes his feelings with spiritual consolations.
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.
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: