By Msgr. Michael Heintz
“Spirituality” or being “spiritual” means nothing more, but also nothing less, than being animated and guided by the Spirit of the Lord that is received at baptism. This is what St. Paul means by “living according to the Spirit” or being “spiritual.” It does not necessarily mean some intense form of interiority. Perhaps the most helpful way we can understand the spiritual life is to see our goal as the reformation by grace (particularly by the Holy Spirit, often called “uncreated” grace) of the image of God within us, wounded by original and actual sin. Grace purifies our intellect in knowing the truth and rectifies our will in loving the good.
Essential to spiritual health — maintaining the health and vigor of the Holy Spirit’s life within us — are prayer, silence and nourishment through reading. All of these require dedication, discipline and the development of habit. Silence is an essential prerequisite to prayer and the spiritual life. It is imperative to cultivate times of silence within our daily life. Silence helps us to grow in self-awareness, which is essential to genuine growth, since pride is the absence of self-perspective induced by self-absorption. As we grow in self-awareness, two things happen: We recognize our real poverty and come to see our true identity in Christ.
Nourishment through solid spiritual reading is also essential. Pride of place belongs to the inspired text of Sacred Scriptures. Scripture must be read Christologically: Christ is the key to unlocking the meaning of the Scriptures as a whole — including the Old Testament. He is the Word revealed in and through the words. He is the alpha (“In the beginning was the Word”) and omega (the One who will “draw all things” to Himself), framing the text. If you plan on reading the Scriptures, always start with the Gospels, which provide the lens for the rest of the Bible. Small bits of Scripture, each day, over which we can mull or meditate, are the basis. Also helpful is to read the Scriptures along with the whole church: following the Lectionary cycle, we can follow the daily Mass readings and make them a source of real nourishment.
Another source of nourishment is the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Universal Church. Comprised of psalms, canticles and passages from the Scriptures, it is designed to become the hinge, or pivot, of our daily prayer life. The cycle of Morning Prayer, called “Lauds,” and Evening Prayer, called “Vespers,” can structure and mold our day-to-day existence.
The lives and writings of the saints are another excellent source of spiritual nourishment. The more we see ourselves as part of a living Tradition of spiritual practice, the more we can appropriate the best of it for ourselves.
All of these practices are predicated upon self-discipline: the ability to shut off the TV, computer and the iPod and set time aside every day for God. The secret is to start small and let it grow. All of these practices have to be in accord with one’s state in life. A mother of seven cannot be expected to live like a Trappist; one has to discover what works for oneself, based upon the formula outlined above. Like everything else in life, balance is important. These practices will be helpful only if you are striving to live fully the sacramental life of the church, in particular through faithful and regular celebration of the Eucharist, which the church teaches is the most effective thing we can do; and the regular celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation or confession. In the end, it is all about habit: not simply as repetitive behavior, but habitus, a firm and reliable disposition of the will, inculcating good habits and rooting out bad habits, assisted all the while by grace. This is why regularity is more important than volume. It involves more than mere willpower or self-discipline; that alone is insufficient, because it means we are relying primarily upon our own efforts and not upon the grace of God.