Tag Archives: spiritual development

Knights of Columbus

One year ago, I became a first-degree Knight of Columbus.  This past Saturday (12/06), right before the Vigil Mass for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, I entered the fourth-degree.  I’ve come to learn a lot more about the organization, and I plan to make a series of posts on my Facebook Page to share what I now know.  For this post, I want to share some thoughts on how God is leading me to grow within His Church.

We cannot become holy — the best-version-of-ourselves — in isolation.  Holiness is achieved in community; it is achieved through the Church.  I was reading the early chapters of Cardinal Ratzinger’s (a.k.a. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, when this truth about holiness resonated in me.  I felt like God was leading me more into the Church, to see the mystery of Christ’s Body.  Imperfect people make up the divine, holy Mystical Body of Christ.  The source and summit of our faith is the Eucharist.  Prayer is the foundation of all my Christian movement – I cannot hope to dance with the Holy Spirit without growing in prayer.  And, as my prayer life grows (a solitary activity), I am led to be more active in the Church (a very social activity).

Knights of Columbus Logo
Knights of Columbus Logo

My involvement in Church itself is a form of prayer.  This is what is different, now.  Before, I saw my Church commitments as, well… commitments.  Was it a burden?  No.  But, commitments are something you keep regardless of how you might feel about it.  I happen to feel good about my commitment to the Church, but still….  Now, the feeling is different.  Being involved with the Church is now infused with a different meaning.  It’s like a red blood cell that suddenly gained individual awareness.  I’m a tiny, tiny thing in the scheme of the whole body, but I play a role in bringing oxygen to the various body parts.  I return to the heart for communion and rejuvenation, and then go out again to fulfill my duties.  Whereas before, it’s what I did as a red blood cell, now I see that I’m part of a very special body.  It’s not just any body.  It’s Jesus Christ.  And to be a red blood cell in the body of Jesus Christ is an incredible privilege.  This is what it means to be active in the Church: I’m a red blood cell in the body of Jesus Christ.  By virtue of our Baptism, we all are.

So, the Knights of Columbus has a special charism that attracts certain types of people.  I never gave it much thought until now, but I guess its charism appeals to me.  God knows I’ve been trying to find a group (an organ) within His Church where I could attach myself and grow.  I looked into Opus Dei.  I thought about the various Third Orders.  Maybe my Good Shepherd has led me to this particular pasture, where I can fatten up and be a fragrant offering when the time comes?

Oh, Lord, I love you.  It is always such an adventure with you.  I trust in you and I know you won’t lead me where I ought not go.  May I persist in prayer, and may I have greater fervor for your Body & Blood with every Communion.  Help me grow in charity; help me bring my family along with me.  Show me my weaknesses so that I can offer them to you, and depend more on you.  Shame me so I can strengthen the bedrock of humility, and build a temple worthy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Don’t let me slip in my prayer, but help me make everything I do a form of prayer.  As my daughters desire me to be ever-present in their daily lives, so I desire you to be ever-present, watching me, teaching me, smiling at me, and awaken my spiritual imagination.  God, you are my Father; Christ, you are my Lord and brother; Holy Spirit, you are my love.

My 5th Advent Season

“How is your prayer life?” is a question I often ask my spiritual friends.  The answer to that question is a good measure of how one has grown in the Christian life.  The quality and quantity of my prayer life is tied to my growth in the virtues, and I can measure my growth in the virtues from the twelve spiritual fruits I see in my interior life, my family life and my professional life.  This Sunday, November 30th, marks the first day of Advent.  It’s a time of waiting.  It’s also a good time to ask myself, how is my prayer life compared to last Advent?

It has improved.  Dramatically.  I pray the Rosary almost daily.  I go to the Sacrament of Confession almost weekly.  I no longer confess mortal or venial sins, but work with God in the confessional to address deep-rooted imperfections.  Although I’ve slipped away from praying the Liturgy of the Hours, my wife has taken the habit to pray the Morning Office, daily.  I’m more at ease in doing spontaneous prayers.  I find myself speaking to God in the morning when I wake up, and thinking about God and His teachings as I fall asleep.  I recently started praying for my Korean co-workers, and I find this a good way to integrate my professional life with my interior life with God.  I may never be U.S. Ambassador, but I can be God’s ambassador right now where I work, where I live.

Last Advent, I discovered my need for a spiritual director.  I’ve been using the same confessor since then.  I haven’t really asked him for spiritual direction since I was primarily trying to get rid of the boulders and rocks in the field of my soul.  Since these have been cleared away, I can see the True Vine of Christ growing in my field.  The tree of virtue is bearing fruit.

This is only my fifth Advent Season.  Oh, the fruits that come from dying to self!  Help me, Lord Jesus… strengthen me for the greater trials to come.  Lead me to die more for You, to die more deeply.  My dear Saints: St. Therese, St. Joseph, St. Thomas More, St. Jose Maria Escrivá, and my Guardian Angel, thank you for not giving up on me.  Thank you for your prayers and all that you’ve done to bring me to where I am, today.  It’s far from over, I know.  There is still so much to do.  You know my weaknesses, dear Saints.  Pray for me.  Help me grow in Charity.  Help me do God’s will.  Dear Holy Spirit, lead me deeper into the life of the Church.  Help me bring my family along with me.  Don’t let me be led astray by the Tempter, the Accuser.  Dear Blessed Mother Mary, help me persist in prayer.  Teach me through the Holy Mysteries of the Rosary how to conform more of my life to Christ.

United by the Spirit of Christ

My family and I are getting ready to go on a long flight back to the U.S.  In case God decides to call us home, I wanted to say “I love you” even if I’ve never met you.  We will meet each other, some day.  I am praying for you, and I hope you will pray for me, too.  This is one of the many beauties of our faith: we are united in Christ’s One Body.  When we receive Communion, know that there, in that moment, we are like the hundreds of millions of cells that make up your body, but animated and unified by your soul.  As your cells are united in will by your spirit, so you and I are united by the Spirit of Christ.

Oh, how I love our faith!  How I wish I can share my excitement with you!  There is so much treasure kept within the Church, and I hope you will be inspired to go and explore.  Read “Rediscover Catholicism” by Matthew Kelly, or “Life of Christ” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Read anything written by Scott Hahn.  Subscribe to Lighthouse Catholic Media.  Buy the Lighthouse Catholic Media app and purchase the Ignatius Study Bible in the app.  Pray the Scriptural Rosary that is explained by Dr. Edward Sri.  Go to one of the Steubenville Conferences.  Pick up Dan Burke’s “Navigating the Interior Life” and join the book club at his website.  Above all, go to Confession.  If there is one thing that has helped me grow the most spiritually, it is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I try to go weekly.  The supernatural grace that is bestowed on one’s soul is indescribable.  Imagine having the power to consistently resist mortal and venial sins.  Imagine the freedom of your soul to do what is good.  Imagine the possibility to become, really truly become, the best-version-of-yourself.  It’s possible.

Oh, how I wish I can share this love with you!  In a few short months after weekly Confession, don’t be surprised to find yourself praying more often.  Don’t be surprised with finding yourself thinking about God in every spare moment.  Wealth, pleasure, power, fame… those drugs that were once so addictive, so alluring, finally lose their hold.  Don’t be surprised if you don’t think about them very much anymore.  You will be so hungry for God.  And you will likely feel like you’re alone.  Even if you are surrounded by people you love and who love you in return.  Even when you meet another pilgrim who is on the same path, your own journey is made in solitude.

If you sin, don’t worry.  It’s like falling into a ditch.  The more you try to escape, the deeper the hole seems to get.  The best thing to do while waiting for temptation to pass is to pray ceaselessly in the midst of it.  Go to Confession.  The Holy Spirit will lift you out of the ditch Himself.  He will comfort you.  Do penance.  It works.  Do penance and don’t stop praying.  Find more time to pray.  Quit Netflix.  Quit video games.  Cut back on Facebook.  Find more time to pray.  Pray while you’re on the toilet, while you’re taking a shower, while you’re on your commute.

There is so much more I want to say, but I will have other opportunities.  Just know that you are loved by God more than it is possible for us to understand.  A single soul is worth more than the whole universe in the eyes of God.  Do you believe that?  Believe it: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36)

Happy Easter 2014

My dear brothers & sisters in Christ, Happy Easter!  What a wonderful time to be alive!  How can I share my joy with you?

For the next 40 days, we will be celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord.  On June 8th, Pentecost Sunday, we will remember how the Holy Spirit descended and gave power to the first apostles to proclaim the Good News.  Isn’t it amazing, my brethren, how the past 40 days of praying & fasting is now balanced with 40 days of thanksgiving & celebration?

Please share with me how the way you spent Lent is affecting how you will celebrate the next 40 days of Eastertide.  I think how we observe Lent is directly correlated to how we experience Easter.  Let’s see if my suspicion is true!

I can tell you, I will enjoy a nice glass or two of Scotch whisky, tonight.  There were many moments when I felt the temptation to break my resolution not to drink alcohol.  While I did drink a glass of beer on two social occasions, I trust I will have enough grace to be a better witness next time.  I didn’t really need to drink; people would have understood and respected my Lenten resolution.  I gave up coffee for Lent, but intend on not drinking it again.  I will enjoy coffee ice cream, though.  While I will try my best not to watch Netflix, again, at least I can look up documentary or shows that I can watch together with my wife.

Most importantly, I’ll get to pray the other Christian mysteries.  For the 40 days during Lent, I only mediated on the Sorrowful Mysteries (the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging, the Crowning of Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion).  Now, I get to reflect on Christ’s Joyful, Luminous and Glorious Mysteries.  I look forward to seeing how the Holy Spirit will speak to me as I meditate on these other mysteries.

Oh, my soul, I love the Lord so much I feel like bursting.  This, I know, is due to grace.  There is so much horror and tragedy in the world, right now.  I read a headline today of a man who raped a baby and videotaped it on his cell phone.  I prayed an Act of Contrition for the man, but that will not be enough to help him.  The poor baby, the poor parents… God give them solace.  That’s just one tragedy.  Christ saw all the horrors he was atoning for in the Garden.  He probably saw the human error and incompetency that led to the hundreds of high school deaths in South Korea when a ferry that was taking the children on a field trip capsized.  This accident happened right before Easter, too.  The school vice principal already committed suicide (which sounds a lot like the despair that led Judas to his own suicide).  I’m sure the devil is having a field day harvesting souls for Hell.

There are so many other tragedies and reasons to be sorrowful, but I’m shielded for a time to enjoy the Lord’s Resurrection.  For this, I’m grateful.  It’s good for me to remember that only the living can praise God.  Although I did not see the Risen Christ in the flesh as the first disciples did, I do feel Him in my heart and can see with my eyes of faith how He has worked (and continue to work) in my life.

My brothers & sisters in Christ, I pray and hope you are doing well and have much to be thankful for.  If you are suffering or have experienced tragedy recently, I will pray for you this evening.  I’m praying for you, right now.  God bless you.

O God, I love you with my whole heart above all things because you are infinitely good; for your sake I will love my neighbor as myself.  Amen.

Ash Wednesday 2014

I’m excited about Lent this year.  This is unusual since Lent is a season of penance.  But, I’m excited because it will be the fifth year I’m a Catholic, and I finally feel like I’m on fire for God, again.

Where I Was

I don’t mean to blame it on my marriage, but being married did distract me for a while.  I also had a demanding assignment in Shanghai.  And, I became a father.  The daily prayer life that I had going during RCIA was disrupted.  I went from praying the rosary two to three times a day to just one decade a day to barely an “Our Father” and one “Hail Mary” before going to sleep at night.  My Catholic identity became a mere backdrop to marriage, family and work.

The work-life balance in Seoul has been a blessing.  I have been able to take a deeper look at the spiritual state of my soul these past two years.  Old sins had come back to haunt me.  I was fighting old battles and losing.  It became real clear that if I didn’t do something about my spiritual life, I would lose that burning love I felt when I first entered the Church.

It started with joining a small men’s group.  What brought us together was our love for Christ.  We all came from different Christian traditions (I was the only Catholic) and have different jobs in the Embassy community.  The spectrum of our spiritual states were expansive, too.  We were a motley group, but we all had one thing in common: we wanted to love God more.  Through them, the Holy Spirit held me accountable.  We were sheep coming together as a flock, and I was hearing my Shepherd’s voice.

Where I am Now

My prayer life is stronger and deeper than it ever was before, but still fragile, like a plant sapling.  I’ve knocked back my intellectual and spiritual pride a little bit, and can see that there is still a lot that I don’t know.  I know that as clean as I may appear on the outside, there are layers upon layers of unfertile and contaminated dirt buried in the field of my soul.  My prayer life is like the Armillaria Ostoyae fungus that stretches out beneath the soil’s top layer, building a lattice structure for my virtues to take root and grow.  Just as the Douglas-fir gives way to a diverse growth of pines, red cedars, alders and spruce, my worldly attachments and inordinate passions that once dominated the acres of my soul will decompose. My Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance will grow in their place.

Weekly confession and a deeper awareness of Christ when receiving the Eucharist have accelerated my spiritual growth.  I feel the love of God, now.  I can see the Holy Spirit using me as an instrument in the lives of my family, my work, and my immediate community.  My desire to love others have grown.  I feel more joy and peace in my life.  I am more patient with my wife and children, with difficulties at work and with difficult people.  I am more generous with my time and money, even with complete strangers.  My girls are so used to my gentleness that even using a firm tone of voice would make them cry, “Stop yelling at me!”  I feel more faithful to God.  I catch myself being immodest, now, whereas before I would find opportunities to boast.  I have more self-control over my impulses.  Amazingly, I know the meaning of chaste sex and still feel joy — and no resentment — when we are abstinent.

These fruits are only possible because of God’s grace.  Something good has taken root and I need to be vigilant in tending my garden.  It’s supernatural because no normal human being in the 21st century behaves this way.  I’m nobody special.  The only thing I do differently is pray to a Living God.

Where I Hope to Go

Where I go, other’s have gone before me.  I rest easy knowing that I can follow a map given by God Himself.  There is no need for me to reinvent the wheel.  I still have to walk the spiritual road myself, but the narrow road is well-worn.  I pray to find other pilgrims along the way.

Poverty, Obedience and Chastity in Marriage?

I know it sounds crazy.  Going into uncharted territory always sounds crazy.  I think it is possible to live out the evangelical counsels in marriage.  It’s not for everyone, just like the expatriate or Foreign Service life, but for those who are called to live out these counsels, they will bear much fruit for our brothers & sisters in Christ.

I started out writing about a contemplative life in marriage.  Quit Netflix, video games, recreational reading to simplify my life. Give myself more time to pray.  It is not natural, I admit, while my flesh is still stronger than my wounded soul.  My biology, my ego, and my passions are in alliance against the contemplative life.  My soul was once like a starved prisoner, shackled by years of habitual sin and charmed into compliance by the natural pleasures of the world (cf. Ps 106:14-15).  Christ freed my soul with Baptism on Easter 2009.  It’s like a mixed martial art battle with my body.  For the first few years, my soul lost battles more often than it won.  These past couple months, though, my soul has been winning more often.  Structured prayer and frequenting the Sacraments (especially weekly Confession and the Eucharist) have strengthened my soul.  The Holy Spirit has been the strength behind my K.O. punches.  The goal?  Total submission of my body to the direction of my soul and the Holy Spirit.  If I follow the spirit of the evangelical counsels, I believe I can achieve that goal.

Poverty

How can I practice poverty in marriage?  Easy.  Give all my money to my wife.  I need to ask her every time I want to buy something.  I should stop eating out at lunch and bring leftovers from home.  Her virtue of temperance is a lot stronger than mine.  So, I would benefit from her counsel.

There is a bit of irony, though.  My wife doesn’t like managing finances.  So, I still make our investments, do our taxes and plan for our financial security.  I have all the responsibility, but none of the (temporal) fun.  Ah… suits the spiritual life just fine, then, doesn’t it?

Obedience

As a Catholic, I obey God and His appointed leaders.  There is the Pope and his encyclicals.  There are the councils and its documents.  There is the Magisterium and its decrees.  These people and bodies are all divinely delegated authorities by Christ.  He gave them to me (for all of us, really) because he knows how frail I am when left to my own devices.  We all want to be pope and define right and wrong; few want to be slaves to the liturgy & doctrine.  Little do people suspect that there’s freedom in divine slavery!

As a husband and father, I obey my wife.  Obedience to my wife doesn’t mean I’m spineless or pusillanimous.  Just as Christ gave authority to his bride, the Church, to “bind and loose” on earth, so I give authority to my bride to bind and loose in the household (cf. Mt 16:19 and Mt 18:18).  I respect my wife’s domain, just as God respects His Church’s domain.  By obeying my wife, I am practicing the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity in the home.

As a diplomat, I obey many bosses.  They have rightful authority over me.  As long as I am not called to sin in the eyes of God, then I ought to obey my rightful superiors.  As it is in the divine order, so it is in the temporal order.  Obeying a command from a person I don’t like, or to perform a task I don’t want to do — again, as long as it does not lead to sin — would be good for my soul.

Chastity

Chastity in marriage is misunderstood.  Dawn Eden’s article “10 and a Half Reasons to be Chaste,” reprinted at Catholic News Agency, explains the difference.  It’s worth reading because most people equate “chastity” with “celibacy.”  It’s possible to have unchaste sex in marriage.  Practicing Natural Family Planning would be an act of chastity in marriage.  Abstaining from sex, or what spiritual writers call continence, seems impossible without resentment.  However, I can testify that by the grace of God not only is chaste sex possible, but even joyful abstinence is possible in marriage.  Is that too much information?  Well, “what is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk 18:27; also Mk 10:27 and Mt 19:26)

I live in a culture where sex is pleasure divorced from creation, where everything is sexualized: men & women, young & old, animals, inanimate objects… everything.  Ignorance of sex’s divine power to create new souls creates a mentality where it’s considered okay to use one’s spouse for sexual gratification.  Even well-meaning Christians use the Bible to “prove” that spouses are supposed to have sex even when one of them is not interested (Eph 5:22-23).  We can see the error in that interpretation when we logically extend it to the whole passage.  Husbands are supposed to imitate Christ by sacrificing their own life to help make their wife spotless before God, just as Jesus died on the Cross to make His Church spotless in Heaven.  The Church obeys Christ because of that sacrifice.  Wives would obey their husbands, too, if men were so self-sacrificing.

Dear God, thank you for protecting the wealth of knowledge in your Church, handed down from generation to generation.  Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange, pray for us.  May your work reach out to other souls.  May it continue to guide me deeper into Our Lord’s intimate life.  Amen.

What are the Three Counsels?

In a previous post, I was writing about the possibility of living a contemplative life in marriage.  I got to a point where I wanted to talk about adapting something that religious people do for practice in the married life.  These are the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience.  What are they and how are they practiced?  How can I adapt them to my life?

The Three Evangelical Counsels

In Chapter 13 of Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange’s book on the interior life, he makes the case for why the three evangelical counsels are very difficult to observe in the married life.  The three counsels are poverty (cf. Mt 19:21), chastity (cf. Mt 19:11-12) and obedience.  As Jesus said in Matthew 19, the counsels of poverty and chastity are voluntary.  Obedience to God, of course, is a given.  However, the evangelical counsel of obedience means something different.  Obedience, in this context, is the voluntary submission to a person, like a spiritual director or the Superior General of a religious order.

These three counsels specifically counter the three concupiscences (cf. 1 Jn 2:16) that we all suffer from as a result of Original Sin: concupiscence of the eyes (greed), concupiscence of the flesh (sensuality), and vanity of life (power; independence from God and from each other).

Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange is careful to emphasize that these three counsels are not obligatory to all Christians to obtain eternal life, but “it is a most suitable means more surely and rapidly to reach the end and not run the danger of stopping halfway.”  So, while my justification for eternal life is made through my belief in Jesus Christ, Christian perfection is another matter.  If we seek Christian perfection in this life (in order to reach the Beatific Vision faster in the next life), then the quickest route is by observing these three counsels.  Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange contends that it’s easier to follow these counsels when a person lives in a monastery or convent.

While he concedes that some saints managed Christian perfection in the married state, they are the exceptions that prove the rule:

The Christian who lives in the world is often exposed to excessive absorption and preoccupation about a situation to be acquired or maintained for himself and his family.  He is also in danger of forgetting to some extent that he must advance toward another life, another fatherland, and that to reach it, something is needed quite different from the understanding of worldly affairs: in other words, the help of God, which should be sought through prayer, and the fruit of grace, which is merit.  In family life he is also inclined to dwell on affections in which he finds a legitimate satisfaction for his need of loving.

His next statement was difficult to read because I can see how I am often guilty of it:

He is also led to forget that he must above all things love God with his whole heart, with his whole soul, with all his strength, and with his whole mind.  Frequently charity is not in him a living flame which rises toward God while vivifying all other affections; instead, it is like a burning coal which slowly dies out under the ashes.  This explains the ease with which a number of these Christians sin, scarcely reflecting that their sin is an infidelity to the divine friendship, which should be the most profound sentiment in their hearts.

The dagger of his words go deeper still:

The Christian living in the world is often exposed to doing his own will, side by side… with the will of God….  Then faith seems at times reduced to a number of sacred truths that have been memorized, but have not become truths of life….  The great truths about the future life, about the helps that come to us from Christ, remain practically inefficacious, like distant truths that have never been assimilated and are lost in the depths of the heavens.

While I don’t disagree that it would be difficult, it is important to know that it’s possible and that there are couples who have succeeded.  My journey, then, consists in finding out how I can progressively grow in holiness without abandoning my wife and children.  Next question to answer: How can I adapt the three counsels to my life?

Contemplative Life in Marriage

Praying Hands on an Open Bible
Praying Hands on an Open Bible

Is it possible to live a contemplative life in marriage and parenthood?  The Catholic Encyclopedia gives a very profound definition.  To me, it’s about developing a relationship with God that rests on top of my visible, temporal life — like a spiritual blanket.  It’s about seeing God in every event in my life, in every interaction I have in the world, in every person that I meet.  This isn’t easy, but from what I’m reading, I think I can chart a path for a married man like myself.  I also recently posted some wise words from St. Francis de Sales that reinforce my belief that a contemplative life in marriage is possible.

Make Time to Think About God

I need to deliberately make time to think about God.  It should be part of my daily routine.  When I wake up in the morning, I should say a quick prayer, asking “God, give me the graces I need this day to do Your will and glorify You, Lord.”  During the 25-40 minute shuttle ride to the Embassy, I should read the morning Divine Office and contemplate what I’ve read in the time left over.  If I need to connect with another soul during the ride, then I should read the morning office first-thing when I get to my desk.  It takes a few minutes, anyway, for my computer to boot up and Outlook to update emails.  So, I can close my door for the 15 minutes it takes to do the morning office before starting my day.

At lunch, I should do some spiritual reading.  I should save the last 15-20 minutes of my lunch time to do the Rosary.  If the day is slow, I could take a 15-minute break and sneak in another session of reading.

On the ride home, there is another 25-40 minutes for spiritual reading or the evening office.  Both my wife and children are asleep by 9 or 10 p.m.  This is where I can do some serious contemplation of an hour or more.  Do the Rosary if I didn’t do it at lunch.

Just from my commute and lunch break, I can get in almost two hours of prayer time during my normal work day.  I have two to four hours at night while my family sleeps.  That’s four to six hours a day that I can spend with God in prayer and contemplation.  Season 2 of House of Cards is coming out in February.  So, maybe my time with God will be drastically cut back, then.

Seeing with the Eyes of Faith

Trade missions, VIP visits and family time on the weekends would preclude that much time hanging out with God.  But even then, if I look with the eyes of faith, I can maintain a dialogue with God.  During a trade mission, the fast-paced schedule and quick decisions needed for crisis management are opportunities to harvest the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  I can show my colleagues that, because of my faith, even in stressful situations I am able to be charitable… joyful… peaceful… patient… kind… good… generous… gentle… faithful… modest… self-controlled… and chaste (especially when there are a lot of beautiful women around!)  When I support high-level government official visits, these are great opportunities for acts of charity (service), humility, and obedience.  The less I like the task, the better it is for my soul (mortification).  All that time planting seeds of virtue during my normal days will come to bloom during these times of high activity.

I include family time along with the above two examples not because it’s a chore.  Quite the opposite; it’s what I look forward to every week.  However, it is easy to look at family time and taking care of the children as ordinary tasks instead of analogies to my relationship with God.  When Maya or Hana are slow to obey, or defy my authority, I can recognize that behavior in my spiritual life with God.  I am slow to obey the Holy Spirit’s gentle promptings.  I defy God when I sin.  Seeing that similarity, I am able to be more patient and merciful with my own girls — just as God is patient and merciful with me.

This post will have to be continued.  I need to explain what the three evangelical counsels are.

My Intellectual and Spiritual Pride

As I go through Chapter 28 of Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange’s book on the interior life, I find myself horribly exposed to my intellectual and spiritual pride.  I was aware that pride was my root sin, but I did not realize how badly I suffered from it.  It’s odd: I’m disappointed with myself, but I’m also filled with joy to discover this flaw.  I want to be perfect, as Jesus is perfect; but, I know I’m not, yet.  By His grace, I was able to remove the big rocks on the field of my soul.  My intellectual and spiritual pride is hidden, like garden cutworms, potato tuberworms and other soil-dwelling pests.  Now, with the light of the Holy Spirit shining on my wounded soul, I can see how these hidden types of pride have infested the garden of my soul and blinded me from seeing these truths about myself:

  • I believe that I have through my own efforts what I have received from God
  • I believe that I have merited what I have gratuitously received
  • I attribute to myself goods I lack, (i.e. great learning, strong faith, heroic charity), when I do not possess it
  • I wish to be preferred to others and depreciate them

I felt the loving finger of God pointing at me when I read this passage:

Some finally, who are theoretically in the truth, are so satisfied to be right, so filled with their learning which has cost them so much, that their souls are, as it were, saturated with it and no longer humbly open to receive the superior light that would come from God in prayer.  Intellectual pride, even in those who are theoretically right, is a formidable obstacle to the grace of contemplation and to union with God.

I thank the Holy Spirit for the grace and consolation in knowing this fatal flaw in my soul.  How can I grow in Christian perfection with these soul-dwelling pests eating the crops planted by the Holy Spirit?  So, while I am truly disappointed with myself, I am also happy to experience this grace.  What a mercy to know that I’m still a sinner!

St. John of the Cross, pray for me.  Your words have brought me to shame:

When beginners become aware of their own fervor and diligence in their spiritual works and devotional exercises, this prosperity of theirs gives rise to secret pride — though holy things tend of their own nature to humility — because of their imperfections; and the issue is that they conceive a certain satisfaction in the contemplation of their works and of themselves.

From the same source, too, proceeds that empty eagerness which they display in speaking of the spiritual life before others, and sometimes as teachers rather than learners.  They condemn others in their heart when they see that they are not devout in their way.  Sometimes also they say it in words, showing themselves herein to be like the Pharisee, who in the act of prayer boasted of his own works and despised the publican (Luke 18:11)….  They see the mote in the eye of their brother, but not the beam which is in their own.

If you are reading this, pray for me.  Pray that I do not imitate Christ in the wrong way.  Pray that I bear with the equality of our fellow men & women, that I do no wish to impose my domination on them.  Pray that I live with them in humble submission to the divine law.

The Field of Our Soul

I came across a wonderfully analogy for the pursuit of the interior life in Dan Burke’s book, “Navigating the Interior Life.”  He also maintains a website promoting the themes in his book.  I highly recommend the book to anyone whose prayer has led them to an awareness that a spiritual director is needed.  While you’re still searching for one, this book is a godsend.

When we begin the work of a serious commitment to holiness, we will discover that the field (the soul) that we desire to plow and plant is riddled with rocks (sins) that need to be removed in order to make progress.  At this point of discovery, the faithful farmer begins to remove these big obvious rocks (usually mortal sins).  At some point the farmer becomes satisfied with this effort, pulls the plow out of the shed and sets out to prepare the soil, but then is startled at a disconcerting discovery: Though all the big rocks are gone, there are many more rocks that are smaller (venial sins) that had not been seen before.  The big rocks had properly drawn all of the attention.  Now that the big rocks are clear, a more detailed and sometimes more rigorous effort is then needed to further prepare the field.  The same is true with the progressive nature of root sin identification and clarification as we grow in spiritual maturity.