A Mature spirituality
Our interest is to begin this New Year with a review of our spirituality that is exemplified by our spiritual life and how to chart the way forward. Therefore, we shall be looking at a mature spirituality under the subtitles of the degree of our knowledge of the self, the elements of a focused spiritual life which include what the spiritual life is, the place of God in our lives, prayer, holiness, tools of the spiritual life and the need for help as we move on.
A Mature spiritual person
A person is said to be mature spiritually from the Christian point of view if he/she is able to relate or connect his/her beliefs, feelings, behaviours as reflected in attitudes, convictions, values, habits, and the environment, all to attain union with Christ. In the Church today, we have a lot of examples of spiritual immaturities that are displayed by members in the areas of poor response to situations in life, shallow self-awareness, poor self-concept/identity, confused decision-making, unhealthy mannerisms, and stagnations in psychological, social, moral and spiritual growth. For us as slaves of love who are devout Catholics and are willing to discover more avenues to grow in our Christian vocation, Total Consecration to Jesus is an absolutely beautiful exercise and way of life to upgrade our spirituality and ability to truly serve our Lord Jesus Christ and ultimately attain spiritual maturity. St. Louis Marie de Montfort lays his simple claim that we can conform, consecrate and gain union with God in a very short time if we follow the divine path and divine logic of going to Jesus Christ the king and centre of all Hearts through Mary Queen of All Hearts. The divine path and logic state that Jesus Christ came into the world through Mary and that for us to always be assured of being close to Jesus, even closer than ever before, we should go through Mary.
Therefore, the signs of a spiritually mature slave of love are conformity, consecration and union with Jesus Christ through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Furthermore, there is something ahead that a sign points to. The sign of a mature slave of love is his/her degree of cultivation and practice of virtues. According to St. Louis Marie de Montfort, one of the characteristics of True Devotion to Mary is being HOLY and to be holy is to be rooted in virtues. Hence, the ten principal virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
In TD 108 we find a list of the “ten principal virtues” of Mary: her “deep humility, lively faith, blind obedience, unceasing prayer, constant self-denial, surpassing purity, ardent love, heroic patience, angelic kindness, and heavenly wisdom.” In TD 144, Father de Montfort refers to this list, taking up three virtues that are reemphasized further on: “her lively faith, . . . her deep humility, . . . her truly divine purity” (TD 260). In LEW, he shows us a Mary wise, charitable, generous, faithful, and so on (LEW 222). There are other lists as well (TD 34, 261; LEW 107; SM 15).
Mary for us is the model and the immense treasury and treasurer of the virtues identified above. Accordingly, St. Louis Marie de Montfort would say in the Little Crown of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Thy virtues, O Virgin, surpass the stars of heaven in number.” We have a duty as well as a responsibility to honour her by imitating her virtues. The secret of imitating Mary is for us to entrust ourselves into the very depth of her being and in return experience transformation from our waywardness into the image and likeness of her Son – Jesus Christ. Hence, she is identified by St. Augustine as “the mold of God.” However, we seem to be slow in actualizing the expectations above because we have not taken care of the Self and the barriers that are standing against it serving as a channel to embrace Our Lady and her virtues.
Knowledge of self
During our formation/preparatory classes for TC, we usually go through four phases: The spirit of the world; Knowledge of self; Knowledge of Mary; and Knowledge of Jesus Christ. How come there is knowledge of self in-between the formative programme? The knowledge of self affords us the opportunity to discover the psychology (the behaviour) of our souls. It tells us about who we are in terms of our origin, identity and destiny. As a fact finding phase of the TC classes, the knowledge of self exposes to us the major task of knowing ourselves – “Man know thyself.” There are many things we can discover about ourselves: our strengths of virtues, willpower, lovepower; gifts/charisms, talents/skills and shadows (weaknesses, hurts, and pains that we have hidden or repressed in our unconscious and we have neglected or forgotten them).
What is the self?
Many philosophers, psychologists and lay people alike have laboured to define the Self. For instance Plato and Kant saw the Self as the immortal soul that transcends the physical. That was opposed by other philosophers especially Hume who saw the self as a bundle of perception. However, from the psycho-spiritual perspective, Carl Jung speaks more to this work, especially from his holistic and spiritual points of view. The Self he says is “The royal archetype of the whole person; the Self is the totality and purpose of the psyche; … a transpersonal power that transcends the ego … the Self is the imago Dei (image of God), ‘the God in us.’” In addition, the Self for Carl Jung is also the human soul in which the Divine resides. It is the discovery of the self that leads to self-awareness. This being the case, we come to discover the Self not by direct knowledge only but “by hints that reveal its presence” (Monbourquette 2006, p. 107). These hints include symbols such as dreams, myths and legends. And also through the instruments of reason, faith, intuition, the will and the Holy Spirit’s inspirations (John 14:26). In simple terms, the Self is the “I” that I know and the “Me” that you know. The “I” plus the “Me” equals to the self. Very difficult to define, I must confess!
Listen to this story:
One Sabbath day, the son of a rabbi went to pray at another rabbi’s synagogue. On his return, his father asked him, ‘Well, did you learn anything new?’ The son replied, ‘I certainly did!’ His rabbinical pride somewhat hurt, the father continued nevertheless, ‘So, what do they teach over there?’ ‘Love your enemy!’ came the answer. The father exclaimed eagerly, ‘Why, they preach the same thing as I do. How can you say you learn something new?’ His son explained, ‘They taught me to love the enemy that lives within me, the one I am so desperately trying to fight.’
Therefore, the main aim of the phase of knowledge of self is to be determined to get into our dark treasury or our unconscious where we have repressed and suppressed fears, shame, hurtful feelings, sexual feelings, and selfishness, the seven capital sins of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. Jesus Christ says in Matthew 15: 10-20,
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
What comes out of us through talking therapy and acknowledgement of what they do to us sets us free. Unless we know our shadow and befriend them, it will be difficult if not impossible to grow in the spiritual life. It has been observed and confirmed that the foundation of a sound and mature spiritual life is a good psychological foundation. So, the basic condition for all human growth is the dictum “Man Know thyself.” To know oneself is to know ones strengths, gifts, talents and also the dark side of one’s life (weaknesses). Those areas of our life that we are ashamed of, those areas we hide from others as identified by the biblical passage above, they constitute our shadow! Secondly, we need to accept who we are and befriend especially our shadowy side of the soul and then reintegrate it into our very being. Integration begins by identifying our shadow, and if they have been played out through reactions that result in sins, then we need to confess them through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Otherwise, we can also handle them in therapy, counselling and spiritual direction as the case may. It is dangerous to deny our shadow (weaknesses), and to hide them. When we sincerely engage ourselves by talking and handling our shadow responsibly, we reduce the dark side of the Self and upgrade the True Self. We dethrone the false self and enthrone the True Self! Once, we hide our shadow, they will manifest beyond our control in the form of Self-absorption, rigidity, dismissiveness, harshness, disrespect, secretiveness, fornication, adultery, theft, indifference, negativity, overly judgmental and critical assessments, closed-heartedness, addictive behaviors, and lack of self-observation. A display of immaturity becomes the order of the day and it will show itself in behaviors such as indecisiveness, intolerance, impatience, low self-esteem, distrust, and procrastination, as well as being unappreciative, guarded, uncharitable, inhospitable, aggressive, defensive, unfocused, impulsive, unrealistic, competitive, insistent, avoidant, controlling, self-doubting, and blaming. The foregoing behaviors causes a level of pain and suffering for the individual. Thus, we have to prayerfully imitate St. Augustine who prays, “Lord, may I know myself” or pray like this: “Lord that I may see!” We pray that the Lord may enlighten the eyes of our mind, soul and spirit to discover ourselves in order to live a balanced and wholistic life (Eph. 1:18). Amen.
Let us hope that we shall take time to discover ourselves and transform ourselves into the image and likeness of God as we were created. And if that is achieved, then we do not need to slow down but to keep ascending the ladder of holiness. How can this be or come about? This is where we need to anchor our spiritual maturity project on a focused spiritual life by following the following tenets of the spiritual life.
A Focused spiritual Life
What is the spiritual life?
We have made numerous resolutions to achieve so much within this New Year and I believe that part of our resolutions is about our spiritual needs. A core spiritual need in life is the ability to attain a mature spirituality through a sound spiritual life. The spiritual life is a life of self-transcendence and union with God. A life in search for higher values such as truth, love, peace, beauty, faithfulness, fruitfulness and fulfilment. A life that goes beyond the physical life. For us Catholics, the spiritual life is a life of Gal. 2:20, where St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” And for us slaves of love, the spiritual life is TWIF; that is doing all things through Mary, with Mary, in Mary and for Mary. Thus, this is a life that experiences the indwelling of the Holy Trinity through the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A life with a strong yearning for God and His will. A life of total dependence on God for every breath we take, every thought we have. What are the aspects of the spiritual life to take into consideration?
God as our priority
The beginning of every spiritual life and its path is a sound relationship with God. Similarly, the starting point for spiritual assessment is not so much about our immediate spiritualities and sometimes our inclinations to pious devotions/sodalities or their spiritual drive but an examination of our relationship with God. Accordingly, Matt. 6:33 asserts, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” We need to examine our relationship with God because our level of faith largely depends on the image we have about God. Again, we live in an age that equates the assessment of the place of God in our lives based on the instrument of pragmatism. If there is God, why suffering? If God is, why did I lost my job, my wife, my husband or my children? Nowadays, it is more of what we can get from God in terms of riches and material accumulation, hence there is greater patronage for prosperity gospel, materialism, power and the quest to control. The goal of the spiritual life is God and His will, nothing else, nothing more and nothing less.
Persistence in prayer
So intimate is the connection between God and each one of us. St. Augustine asserts that God is “more intimate to me than I am to myself.” Even so, we are encouraged to keep that bond alive through the activity of prayer. To pray is to speak the language of God. Thus, the Pauline counsel, “pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thess 5:17 &18). Sometimes, we interpret this advice as an impossible task. We imagine prayer as a task and say, “I cannot be always praying.” Anyway, must we pray? We have this popular saying: “Behind every great man, there is a great woman”! In the context of the spiritual life and its progress, we could as well say: “Behind a great spiritual life, there is a great deal of prayer.” Saints who are the doctrines and practices of holiness made visible would never have been icons of our faith today if they had not persevered in the art and act of prayer. Jesus, who is Lord and God with all the powers of heaven and earth in His hands, worked assiduously during the day and at night He withdrew to lonely places to pray, (cf. Luke 6:12, 5:16, Mark 1:35). What else are we to say? Prayer is sine qua non to our spiritual life and progress. Listen to the Weekday Common Preface IV in Ordinary Time of the Church’s liturgical calendar, it goes thus: “You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in your grace, It is reasonable to infer that prayer provide graces to cope with the challenges of the spiritual life; prayer itself is a transformative process (prayer takes away from us our woundedness, our bitterness and hatred, and many negative energies); more so, it instills peace of mind because it offers hope and makes us calm.
The target for holiness
The greatest disaster besetting our spiritual life today is the confusion and distraction that our modern world poses on us. We have lost touch of the essential purpose of the spiritual life. Some do not even know let alone remember the goal of the spiritual life, which is holiness. The big question therefore is this: who can attain holiness in this adulterous and sinful world? Must one become a Priest, a Religious, Monk, and Nun in order to attain holiness? Can the marital life lead to holiness? Can a Businessman or woman in a world that celebrates and glorifies cheating, lying, and smartness attain holiness? Is it possible to relate our sexuality with holiness, pleasure and holiness? These are questions to guide our attempt to unfold the possibility of holiness in our troubled world. The world says it is not possible to be holy. Hence, the world mocks, pities and ridicules those who strive to be holy. They say that God commands us to be holy, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16), but the same God contradicts Himself when He says “No one is good but One, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). To this end, Matthew Kelly maintains that, “These are all the very unnatural and unattractive ideas that the world proclaims about holiness. The world ridicules holiness. The world pity the saints, saying, oh, he could have been so much more! Or she had so much potential!” Anyway, we are reminded of the necessity of holiness, “Make every effort . . . to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
The tools of the spiritual life
St. Paul teaches that “For though we live in the world, we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2Cor. 10:4). So, we need to know and remind ourselves of the tools/weapons of the spiritual life. They are prayer (Eph. 6:18); worship (the Holy Mass is the setting to join our fellow companions of the spiritual life and gain strength and renewal daily, Ps. 59:17); Eucharistic adoration (Acts 20:7-12); fasting (Mark 9:28); Sacred Scripture (Is.55:9-11); the Sacraments and sacramentals, journaling and the pursuit for virtues as contained in the beatitudes (Matthew 5: 1-12).
The need for help
The world we are in today is gradually changing as we keep embracing the tenets of the New Age. These changes affect both the inanimate and animate elements of our world and our spiritual health. The world is full of diseases or infirmities and we are not immune from their effects. More so, life is a journey with a lot of uncertainties. Therefore, the need to assist one another and actualise the purpose and meaning of our collective and individual lives. There is a principle generally in Christianity and specifically in spirituality that we need to know; there is no lone ranger in the spiritual life (Acts 8:29-31). We cannot be making our human journeys as spiritual beings without spiritual direction, psychotherapy, psycho-spiritual therapy and counselling and spiritual mentorship.
We have gathered that a spiritually mature slave of love is one who is able to connect his/her personality and its dimensions with that of Christ and through the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, we have the following necessary responsibilities toward ourselves. This is in the areas of knowledge of self and embracing a focused spiritual life. Let us use the various resources at our disposal and respond appropriately for our collective, individual and common good. May Jesus Christ the Wisdom Incarnate and the Master of the spiritual life guide and guard us against the wrong ways and lead us towards the right path and fruitfulness through the maternal office of Mary, Queen of All Hearts. Amen. Happy New Year!
Fr. John-Mary Atep