Our spiritual life is like a journey – one that requires change as time passes. St. Paul compares our spiritual life to the maturation process that we go through as we age. We start off like a baby drinking milk and unready for solid food (RSV, 1 Corinthians 3:2). As we make progress in spiritual maturity, we prepare to contemplate the mysteries of Our Lord and Savior more deeply. As we continue our journey, we find that a different form of nourishment is required.
As new Christians, we mimic the prayers that have been passed on to us by more mature Christians. We learn to recite the words Christ gave us in the Lord’s Prayer. We might learn to pray the Rosary. We begin to conform our lives to God and use spoken words as an aid to point us toward the deeper truths that God has desired to share with us.
Unfortunately, at times new Christians become stuck in such rote prayers. We are happy to recite the prayers, but we do not move beyond reciting words into a more robust prayer life. If we are to grow from infancy, we must allow the seeds of God’s grace to overshadow us or we will bear but little fruit (Siena 68). We need to shed our imperfect prayer and move toward more perfect devotion, that is the ready and diligent practice of all God’s commands (De Sales, Pt 1. Ch. 1).
A more developed Christian does not abandon vocal prayer but he begins to use it as a tool to progress toward a more perfect prayer life. Mature prayer life requires us to join our vocal prayers to our mental prayer. Mental prayer is an elevation of our mind to God’s love, to consider our own defects and to contemplate the depths of His charity. We should recognize His profound goodness and acknowledge how completely reliant we are upon Him. Over time we slowly become more perfect by means of deeper love.
As Christians mature, one way that we move closer to perfection is recognizing our own faults. Grace, especially as received in the Sacraments, enables us to conquer our passions so that we can be put at the service of God and neighbor. We slowly move from a fear of self-loss to the joy of self-giving. As we give more of ourselves our prayer becomes unceasing because all of our actions become part of our prayer. We see how much Christ gave up for us and we no longer begrudge Him our small sacrifices because we allow Him to deepen our love.
In the beginning, God offers us consolations to help us on the way. We feel His sweet embrace and it draws us ever closer to Him. We long for His sweetness and the good things that He offers. As we move closer to Him, we often start to experience desolation. Through these desolations, Christ helps us to desire Him for His own sake and not because of the gifts He offers to us. He gives us the chance to merit by desiring only Him, and not the sweetness of our passion. He reminds us that we are not meant for this world and that the things of this world cannot bring us satisfaction.
St. Teresa tells us to “Keep [our] eyes fixed upon [our] spouse” (Avila, ch. 2). He will give us everything that we need and there is no reason to fret about this world. But without Him, we will certainly perish. It is better to forgo all worldly pleasure than to glance away from Our Christ for even an instant.
We are often distracted by the things of this world. The adversary desires that we should look away from Him who sustains us. We must resist the whispers and remain firm and devoted to Our Lord. When we repeat His words and ask Him to remove our temptations, we remember that He understands our weaknesses. He is our perfect mediator for He took our flesh and so can sympathize with our failures. He reaches out and gently turns us back toward Himself, but we often resist His caress.
We must increase our true devotion to Him. We must burn away the chaff of our imperfections so that we may unite more perfectly to Him. Often, we make outward signs but remain unclean inside. St. Francis of Sales offers many examples: One man fasts but his heart is full of bitterness. Another considers himself devout because of his many prayers but is full of anger and conceit. His heart is empty of the charity that would make his prayers pleasing (De Sales, Part 1 Ch. 1). True devotion cleanses us both inside and out. We must be full of love both for God and neighbor.
We cannot abandon the moral law and still call ourselves holy. What does it mean to be set apart if we harm our neighbor? Such hypocrisy burns us and repels those around us who are perishing for lack of charity. Our lives must be such that we draw others to Christ, not drive them away from the Master. Our lives are our prayer and we must demonstrate that Christ makes a real difference in our life so that we may draw others to Him through that prayer.
As Christians, we draw closer and closer to Christ and eventually as mature Christians we learn through His freely given grace to love Him for His sake. His grace inspires us to act with virtue and our virtue is a prayer that draws us and others closer to Him. We cannot remove our devotion to Christ from our day to day life, but the Divine Love must pervade our lives. No matter our station in life, no matter our work or vocation it must be infused with service to God and neighbor. That service then becomes the mature prayer that we offer Our Lord. As we develop, we see how great a Lord we serve and no longer need the sweet milk that beckons us in the beginning.
Avila, Teresa. The Way of Perfection. Translated and Edited by E. Allison Peers. Image Books,1964. 1995, http://catholicplanet.com/ebooks/ Way-of-Perfection.pdf. Accessed 3 Jan. 2020.
De Sales, Francis. Introduction to the Devout Life. https://www.catholicspiritualdirection.org/devoutlife.pdf. Accessed 3 Jan. 2020.
Siena, Catherine. The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin. “A Treatise on Prayer.” Translated by Algar Thorold. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd., London,1907. 1994, http://catholicplanet.com/ebooks/Dialogue-of-St-Catherine.pdf. Accessed 3 Jan. 2020.
The Holy Bible. Rev. Standard Version, Meridian, 1962.