“If God is already at work in the world, we should discern his presence and activity as we seek to cooperate in his labors.”
By Jim Graves
The serious Catholic is one who makes an effort to improve his spiritual life. I asked Father Greg Cleveland, director of the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Denver and author of the spirituality book Awakening Love, to share some thoughts on how one may grow in his spirituality.
What are some concrete steps a person can take to begin growing in his spirituality?
Develop a plan of life that includes daily prayer disciplines including the following:
- Daily prayer with Scripture for at least 15 minutes.
- Daily Mass, ideally. If not possible, then at least once during the week besides Sunday.
- Daily spiritual reading for 10-15 minutes.
- Rosary – five decades if possible, or at least one decade.
- Daily examination of conscience for 5-10 minutes.
- Striving to live the virtues. I recommend reading Donald Demarco’s The Heart of Virtue.
- Make an annual weekend (or longer) prayer retreat.
As you begin to practice these disciplines, it will help you to engage in spiritual direction on a regular basis, perhaps once per month. Spiritual direction is the help one Christian gives to another to pay attention to one’s relationship with God, to grow in intimacy with God and to live out the consequences of that relationship. We weren’t meant to journey alone, but to help one another on the way of the Lord.
Growth in the spiritual life can be difficult. Why would you encourage such a person to persevere despite these difficulties? What benefits will he bring to himself, his family and his community/society?
When you give yourself to God, He will not be outdone in generosity. Opening ourselves to God on a sustained basis will give Him the permission to act in your life. You will know his presence and providential care. God will order your life and make it fruitful. You will become more loving and merciful. People will be drawn to Christ through you.
Are there any mistakes people commonly make that might deter their deepening their spirituality?
One danger is biting off more than you can chew. Sometimes people in their zeal try to do too much too soon. It is like beginning to exercise. If you have never done it before, you might work out excessively and either grow physically exhausted or injure yourself. In either case you would give up quickly. The spiritual life is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to begin with important things we can do and build on that foundation.
We live in a time when there is much unrest in society, and there has been high level corruption exposed in the Church. Do you have any advice about avoiding fear, discouragement, anger or other negative emotions at this time?
St. Augustine said, “As we are, so are the times.” If I am healthy spiritually, I will be able to cope with corruption and scandals. If I am not tending to my own spiritual life, my faith will be easily shaken. Jesus said to build our houses on solid rock, upon a relationship with Him where I am constantly seeking to do his will. He may even use me as part of the solution.
God is renewing his priesthood. There are many good and holy priests who have been ordained in the past 25 years and they are reason to hope for the future of the Church. God will never abandon his Church, but will constantly work to purify her. We each need to be about the work of being purified in our own lives.
What are some books on spirituality you think the average Catholic might find helpful?
Awakening Love, An Ignatian Retreat with the Song of Songs by Gregory Cleveland, OMV (Boston: Pauline Media, 2017). This book is great for spiritual reading, group sharing or to make your own personal retreat. It offers an accessible and comprehensive perspective on the spiritual life.
The Discernment of Spirits, An Ignatian Guide to Everyday Living, by Timothy Gallagher, OMV, (New York: Crossroad, 2005). Pope Francis wants the whole Church to learn more about discernment of spirits and discerning God’s will. This book offers an in-depth understanding of discernment.
The Heart of Virtue by Donald De Marco (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996). A very inspiring and practical approach to living the virtues.
What other thoughts do you have about spirituality?
Regarding finding God in our work: If God is already at work in the world, we should discern his presence and activity as we seek to cooperate in his labors. Discernment becomes a matter of noticing that God is active, already at work in our lives and our daily routines.
It is not so much a question of inviting God to be with us in our labors as realizing the privilege of being called to share in God’s labor for us and the world. We are co-creators with a God who is already busy bringing about salvation of the world in love. St. Ignatius has us contemplate God’s primary and fundamental work in our immediate environment. Once we are more aware of his ongoing activity, we can enjoin ourselves to Him as cooperators in this work.
Discerning God’s activity is a far cry from having our own agenda and enlisting God to carry out what we have envisioned. It means getting in tune with God’s desire for our lives in our concrete situation and then having the detachment and freedom to follow his will.