Much of parenting, then, comes down to the example we set. But there is a deeper lesson to be learned from children, and that is the way of our own spiritual advancement.
Many times, we overcomplicate the spiritual life. We want a sophisticated program, involving perhaps copious study of theology and philosophy. We want to pray many prayers and read many books. But while these things are well and good in their place, they are not the essence of spiritual growth. In reality, the program of spiritual progress is very simple: It is carefully imitating God our Father with childlike simplicity.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,” teaches St. Paul, for indeed, that is what we are—children of God. In a very real sense, we can call God, “Abba, Daddy.” By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we share his nature, the fullness of his life lives in our souls. And as his beloved sons and daughters, we should aspire to say, “I’m just like you, Daddy.”
The proud in heart reject this simple way of childlike imitation. They see the spiritual life as involving many complex and difficult requirements, as a way for only the strong, mature, and knowledgeable. They have nothing but scorn for those who follow Christ in simplicity. They forget the words of Christ, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
When my little boy looks up with me and says, “I’m just like you, Daddy,” my heart is filled with love and joy. I want him to be like me. What father doesn’t? So to it is with the family of God. God our Father longs for us to be just like him, to radiate his image fully and completely. His fatherly heart greatly desires us to look up at him with love and say, “I’m just like you, Daddy.”
In sum, the Christian life, the Catholic life, is striving after conformity to Jesus Christ, our elder brother in the Divine family. We want to exchange our lives for his, to the point that he lives perfectly in and through us. We must imitate him in every thought, word, and deed, until we can say like St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
I am not alone when I pray. The Holy Spirit is there to guide me. My friends, the saints whom I often turn to are there (St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Joseph, St. Thomas More, St. Jose Maria Escriva). Prayer is a solitary activity, but I’m not alone.
I learned this past year the importance of liturgy in my prayer life. While personal prayer is like pillow talk between God and I, active participation in the liturgy is prayer at a higher level. Praying through liturgy is transcendental. I am part of something greater than myself. It is the spiritual equivalent to the conjugal act between husband and wife — it’s happening between Christ and His Bride, the Church!
Communion at Mass is more profound than sex. Christ enters every member of His Bride, and His Body and Blood is absorbed into each member of her body, the Church. The very divinity of Our Lord seeks to enter each soul, to unite with each member of her body. This transforming union takes place to the extent that each member is holy.
That’s why I pray. That’s why I want to be holy. to be united with my beloved through the Church. I am nothing on my own, by I am everything when I am with God in the Church. Great sex with our spouse is only a shadow of the ecstasy we will experience in the transforming union with God.
Reading Fr. Thomas Dubay’s “Fire Within” has been the spiritual direction I needed. It’s not the same as having a real-life coach, but the book is a stop-gap until God connects me with one. Discursive meditation should lead me to simple contemplation. Increasing distraction should be normal. Feeling like I’m failing at prayer is also normal — although, I admit, I haven’t really experienced that aridness, yet. When I do feel dryness in prayer, I should persist. God doesn’t ask for us to “feel it” during prayer. He asks us to be faithful. I don’t have to feel like going out on a date with my wife. I just have to do it faithfully, regardless of my feeling at the moment.
When I finish “Fire Within,” I should refrain from jumping to the next book. I should instead put more time towards contemplation. I should use the Liturgy of the Hours as a springboard to lectio divina. I suspect the Office of Readings will be particularly fruitful.
Dear Holy Spirit, I do not know how to pray as I ought. I fear that I am not advancing in my prayer life. I seek to be united with you in the Most Holy Trinity. Show me, Most Holy Counselor, how to grow in contemplation. Help calm me if I fret. Remind me that the process takes time, that this kind of prayer is less about effort and more about fidelity.
Help me, dear Holy Spirit, to be more detached to the creations of this world. Reveal to me my hidden faults. Purify me. Burn away my imperfections so that the windows of my soul can shine your light without filter.
I love you, my Lord. Abide in me and help me abide in you. Amen.
Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him.
Here we can learn to realize who Christ really is. And here we can sense and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth: the places, the tenor of the times, the culture, the language, religious customs, in brief everything which Jesus used to make himself known to the world. Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning. Here we can learn the importance of spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and to live by the teachings of his Gospel.
How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths. But here we are only on pilgrimage. Time presses and I must set aside my desire to stay and carry on my education in the Gospel, for that education is never finished. But I cannot leave without recalling, briefly and in passing, some thoughts I take with me from Nazareth.
First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.
Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings; in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children—and for this there is no substitute.
Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value—demanding yet redeeming—and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.
In closing, may I express my deep regard for people everywhere who work for a living. To them I would point out their great model, Christ their brother, our Lord and God, who is their prophet in every cause that promotes their well being.
Remember how I prayed for the couples who were trying to conceive? Glory be to God, many of them now are parents. Since that post, many visitors come to this website to see that post (web analytics for your greater glory!) It inspired me to start a novena for this Advent Season and pray for those people who are praying to have a baby, or praying for a smooth and healthy pregnancy.
I started a Facebook event for this novena. No one but me plans on going to this event. That’s okay. Only a few grains of salt are needed to change the taste of a bite of food. Let me be that grain of salt. You know the couples whom I hold in my heart who are still trying to conceive. If I may be so bold, may I ask the first fruits of these novena prayers go to them? Including the Vigil Mass that I offered for these intentions this past Saturday?
I know I am weak and that my prayers are imperfect. Look not on my sins, but on the perfect prayers of St. Gerard Majella. I am joining my novena prayers to his and I will be asking for his intercessions on behalf of those who are trying to conceive or want a healthy pregnancy. Thank you, Jesus, for the Communion of Saints. How lonely would our prayers lives be without our saints praying beside (and for) us!
I humbly ask you, dear Jesus, to grant the prayers of St. Gerard Majella. Bless those who visit this website, looking for someone to pray for them to conceive. They have St. Gerard, St. Therese, St. Joseph, St. Thomas More, St. Jose Maria Escrivá and myself. We pray for them. Hear our prayers and grant them the joys of parenthood. We ask this in your name, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Wow. I can see why Lord Sacks got a standing ovation! Dear Readers, please read the whole transcript of the speech. It is beautiful…