Let me explain why spiritual exercises are helpful. Do you ever get a little antsy when you are on vacation for too long?
Don’t get me wrong, I need breaks, and these couple weeks have been welcome. I’ve been home writing, spending time with family, and otherwise doing nothing. But I can never go too long before wanting to get back to a routine. For me, at about the two-week mark, I’m ready for the down-time to be over.
Sometimes in our spiritual lives, we can have the same problem. Our prayers become exercises in daydreaming, or we read the Bible and get nothing out of it. We fast aimlessly here and there… why, exactly?
Just as we need structure in our workday, it is helpful to have structure in our spiritual lives. That structure can get stale, just as our jobs can cause burnout. But done right, these spiritual exercises can be like a jar catching God’s grace and power in it.
The Spiritual Exercise of Praying Throughout the Day
In her book of practical advice on how to raise Catholic children, Mary Reed Newland tells us to counsel our kids to turn to God throughout the day, and she suggests the practice of taking a moment to think about the Trinity and simply thank God for being there.
For us adults, we could take a moment to pray a decade of the Rosary or pray the Jesus Prayer as we walk from one place to another or as we do mundane tasks: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
I specifically choose set prayers because they focus my thinking. Also, these prayers have fed the spirituality of countless holy men and women of God. One Eastern Orthodox monk in the book, The Mountain of Silence, describes how praying the Jesus Prayer over and over again ended up steamrolling his sin. It was like the Devil couldn’t handle the constant attack.
The Spiritual Exercise of Going to Daily Mass and/or Eucharistic Adoration
In this time of Covid, it might be difficult to do this, but going to Mass on a daily basis or sitting and praying in front of the Eucharist can set your entire day right before it has even started. Or it can end your day right when it’s been a mess.
Both of these practices bring us to the heart of the spiritual life: Jesus Christ himself. In Eucharistic adoration and at Mass, we spend time with Jesus, the source and summit of our faith, and it doesn’t matter if it is in silence. He is with us there in a special way, and that will change us.
At Mass, we live out the entire Christian life in miniature as we pray for others, hear the Bible, confess our sin, praise God, and take Christ into ourselves. If it is hard to practice our Catholic spirituality, the Mass spoon-feeds it to us, and far from it being what only the “really good Catholics” do, it can be, for any Catholic person, a set of training wheels for the spiritual life.
The Spiritual Exercise of Examining Your Conscience
The church recommends that we regularly look back on our days and ask ourselves, “Where did I falter?”
I think one of the best times to do this is at the end of the day, and one of the best ways is to ask the simple questions, “Did I love God, and did I love the people around me today?” We look at the moments, the conversations, the interactions we had with others and consider, “Was that loving?”
There is no other goal God has for us than this: to love him and love others with everything we’ve got. Our success in life, from God’s view, is measured only by how far we advanced in those twin missions.
I get distracted from those missions all the time and begin to think that my goal in life is to make a certain amount of money or get to a certain point in my career. I fret over not being as successful at (insert pet project here) and then get anxious.
God simply does not care about how successful we are at anything so long as we become saints.
The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.Leon Bloy
Are these Spiritual Exercises Too Much?
Doing these spiritual exercises is like putting yourself under a waterfall. They are not attempts to drum up spirituality but rather lift our cup to God to fill it.
But faithfully doing these things can still feel overwhelming. I don’t always want to pray the Rosary or get to Mass on a weekday, even if I have the time and know it’s good for me.
The good news is God wants to give us the grace to even want his grace.
…it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.Philippians 2:13 (NRSVCE)
If you want to put into practice these spiritual exercises, start by asking the Holy Spirit to give you the willingness to do them. It starts and ends with him.
I hope these benefit your life as they have benefited mine, and please, pray for me that I would not neglect them in my own life.
SIDE NOTE: It’s also important to note that there is nothing sinful in skipping all these particular practices. I just find them helpful. I hope you do, too.
©2021 Catholic Anonymous
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