I have developed a spiritual routine over the past few years that serves me well. It has helped to keep me focused, driven and on track. But, lately I have been reduced by my own willfulness.
I was definitely not a shining example of penance and mortification this past Lenten season. I did manage to stick to my fasting, but floundered a bit with the rest.
This Lent, and actually even before Lent started, I found myself reaching for replacements to penance and mortification.
I mostly blamed it on my mood, my schedule, and oh yeah, even winter.
But either way, the result left me feeling, at times, somewhat spiritually barren.
My morning prayer, over time, was gradually being more and more replaced with news, Facebook and Words with Friends.
My everyday practice of reciting the rosary in my car was becoming replaced with listening to music.
Evening spiritual reading was morphing into spending time with my new pup, Rudy.
Again – God replacements.
Objectively, none of these things I’ve listed are bad, or destructive. In fact, my dog needs my attention and me.
But I have replaced my Creator with what is created. I need God more than that.
Where Do God Replacements Take Us?
In the spiritual life, one must progress. As with everything in life, there are only two directions one can take.
I’m learning that by avoiding things like prayer and spiritual reading, I’m avoiding progress, and consequentially I’m really avoiding God.
I’m putting myself at risk of heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps without ever having realized it.
The progress of becoming a more virtuous person really depends on two things: grace and our own determination. And grace is pretty much always at our disposal, if we ask and pray for it…but it’s often our own determination that wavers and changes.
Growing in virtue is not, and cannot be, just about making good intentions. Sure, good intentions are necessary as a start, but what’s most important is recalling and renewing these good intentions throughout our day. Progress doesn’t just happen on its own. We also, with God’s help, must act.
Each day we must examine how faithfully we are following our intentions, and seek to improve our effort.
They’ll start to show up in our lives. Perhaps even unconsciously. And we will start to become someone we did not want to be.
But, if it has happened, don’t give up! It’s never too late to make or renew our good intentions. In fact, we must never lose hope of making spiritual progress. There is still time. And why put off good intentions until tomorrow?
Now is The Time for Action
And starting over is easier than you think.
You just need to simply:
1. Examine your life
2. Face what needs to be done
3. Pray to God for His strength and guidance
4. Start doing it.
Make a daily effort, and don’t turn away at the first sign of difficulty. Try again and again, in spite of repeated failures. Perseverance.
Refuse to quit.
Personally, I have decided to seek out some good spiritual books…and dig in. The news and Facebook must take a backseat, even if it’s a challenge for me.
Because if I keep doing nothing…
Then nothing will never change.
Originally published at Growinvirtue.com
Alan Scott is a writer and graphic designer residing in Virginia. A former Agnostic, he converted to the Catholic faith in 2004. In 2014 he started his blog GrowInVirtue.com, which focuses on growing in holiness, by attempting to live a life more simple and virtuous, a life that is lived for God. When he’s not writing or designing, you’ll find him, hands dirty, in his garden. You can find him on Facebook, too.
St. Thomas More said there is only one thing needed to achieve holiness – to will it. Of course the details are that you never give up and get up immediately upon a fall. St. Therese said not to run into a corner when you sin because you think that God doesn’t love you. Rather imagine yourself throwing yourself into your Father’s Arms and sitting on His Lap.
It was St. Paul, I am pretty sure, who said “I do the things I do not want to do and do not do the things I want to do” (I’m paraphrasing.) But it’s so true. We all know what we should be doing, but so often the world competes and the world wins. Every day though, we get to try anew. Until we don’t.
Yep, Romans 7.
Romans 7 – the story of my life.
Excellent advice! I needed to hear that. I’m just as guilty and then I moan that I’m not making enough spiritual progress. Thanks for this column!
Thanks Alan. You sound like all of us. You might consider adding to your list establishing a specific time during the day, preferably first thing in the morning, when you can enhance your spiritual life through prayer, spiritual reading and meditation. Also, always thank God constantly for everything He does for you. And finally become continually sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in will help you along the way.
Michael, thank you for the good advice. And you’re absolutely correct about starting the day off with prayer and meditation. No more lazy mornings! 🙂 – Alan Scott
My weekday mornings are bombarded with noise. The only time I can pray is in the car. At work, the music blasts from the front, Y back or both. This morning I had to wear headphones to block out the noise – didn’t help that much.
It doesn’t help that I’m a nighthawk (it’s about 11:20 pm now) and I am definitely not a morning person. Hey I can’t function without morning and evening prayer.
Like I said before – Romans 7 is the story of my life.
Loved it! Thanks Alan. Recommend the works of St. Alphonsus Liguori. Would start with “Preparation for Death” (should be called Preparation for Life, it changed mine)…while there is time. He wrote amazing stuff. I read in St. John Bosco´s Bio. that he worked for a long time as young man to get enough money to be able to buy and read St. Alphonsus´ works.
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877-1964) wrote something like this on his book “The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life” (which I consider a must read). He says (paraphrasing though) “In the Spiritual life if one doesn’t move forward, he falls back”
How I wish I could follow your, and his, advice on this point. Thanks for refreshing my mind on the importance of it.
I actually have the book and never read it.
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