Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps to Holiness

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Step 11: Recollection

“I will lead her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart” (Hos 2:14).

Our union with God is strengthened by it.

Our life in Christ must have it.

Our soul desires it.

Our heart seeks it.

Our life keeps order with it.

Our world needs it.

St. Augustine was right in saying, “my heart is restless until it rests in you”, he speaks for all of us whether we acknowledge it or not. We have an immortal soul, one that is going to stick around for a long time, for eternity actually. This soul is fed by one single source of sustenance . . . God. And I imagine it would behoove us to get to know him and his workings within us. The one who sustains us is the same one who animates our soul and he alone can show us the best way to exercise its fullest potential in our every thought, word, and action.

We first need to look for him, not because he is not present but because we are not present.

“The LORD was not in the wind . . .

the LORD was not in the earthquake . . .

the LORD was not in the fire . . .

after the fire; a light silent sound . . .

When he heard this, Elijah hid his face” (1 King 19:11-12).

This is where we look for him! Elijah knew he was now in the presence of God and he “hid his face”. We can adopt that in our own response to God and enter into solitude both of the heart and in the world. Step aside from the daily “wind . . . earthquake . . .fire” NOISE and enter into the “silent sound” SOLITUDE; create this space for him in your life. God speaks if we cooperate with his encounter. This physical stepping away from the world is good but once the solitude of the heart is strengthened it will not be depended on. Foundational is the recollection of the heart, “In order to remain united with God, we must endeavor to keep alive within us a vivid recollection of Him and of the immeasurable goods He bestows on them that love Him” (St. Alphonsus 154).

Our entire day is lived with him present, I bet if we remembered this truth before every action, every word, and every thought, there would be a consideration of how it might be carried out before executing. To remember he is present is to recollect His existence in our lives. The times that we are able to do this are times when we receive a foretaste of heaven, our union with him is sacred and authentically marked with love. But being the fallen race that we are, we “seek the society and excitement of the world so that the voice of conscience may be drowned in the voice that reigns there” (154). And then we make excuses as to why we cannot find God.

If we make a conscious effort to detach from the world then God’s effort of providing the graces needed for our fruitful attachment to Him will not be wasted. “The light of God cannot illuminate a heart that is full of attachments for the joys, the pleasures, and the honors of this world” (157). Receive those graces and when you have them do not be IDLE in them. Yes you reached the point of solitude, both inner and outer, hurray now what? Is this solitude a tool for entering into the depths of union with the beloved or is it simply idle and inactive? Love and know God! If we do this then we will love and know others as Christ desired it. Our recollection should become a complement to our lived life. If these do not mirror each other in fruition then we are doing something wrong.

“In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Put on the eyes of faith and see that he is present at every moment, examine your life in his, give him room to enter where he has not yet been invited, live for him, seek him, know him, love him. He already does this for us, who are we to not do the same for him?

Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps To Holiness

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Step 10: Mortification

He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. John 12:25

External and Internal mortification or “self-denial”. It is Lenten season by the way, what better time to bask in the richness of this virtue. I think St. Jose Maria Escriba had it right when he said that the virtue lies in self denial because if we recall the second most greatest commandment: “thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself”(Mk 12:29) or “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn 13:34) or even “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Rm 13:8); there is a great deal of justification in St. Escriba’s statement.

I know many of us have heard the phrase, “give until it hurts.” But what exactly does that mean and why would we ever consider doing such a thing? Who are we giving so intensely too anyway? It kind of mirrors another common biblical phrase “There is no greater love than this, to lay down ones life for one’s friend” (John 15:13).

God asked us to do these things, not only for the sake of the other but for the fruitful gain of our soul and its union with Him. He knows that as human beings we are prone, because of original sin, to desire gain and are not so inclined to give. He uses our weak inclination and purifies it by commanding us to do that which we find most difficult in order to give us that which we seek; to receive. But he is not going to gift us that which the world can provide (temporal delights), what good would that be, Him being God and all. No, He will give us the best of the best, the divine, the fullest of all gifts; Himself.

We do have to make one thing clear though, mortification is not required or obligatory. But, for those seeking perfection, it is unquestionably necessary. In order for us to successfully grasp the two greatest commandments we have to start at ground level. Habitual practice of self-denial looks something like this; Exterior mortification “consist in doing and suffering what is opposed to the exterior senses, and in depriving oneself of what is agreeable to them” St. Alphonsus goes on to say that we should treat our body like a horse rider treats his wild horses; ” he draws the reins tight, lest he should be thrown off” (139). Would  a doctor prescribe a sick man a diet that would make him happy or feel good according to his pleasurable appetite and completely ignore the diet that will aid his recovery? If such a doctor exists it would be in my greatest interest to stay far from him during my illnesses.

We do not deprive ourselves in vain, it is a virtue we practice in order to train the body to detach a little from the dependence of this world. Taking reign over the body’s inclinations, whether they be good or bad in themselves, allows us to step into the second habitual practice mentioned by St. Alphonsus. It also allows us to consider a meditation on the richness of God and the life he has prepared for us in eternity. If he calls will we be ready? or will we still have earthly bonds weighing us down, preventing our assent?

The second practice is what completes the package: Interior mortification, which consists in always seeking the will of God by “restraining our self-love and self-will”. “If the body is not mortified, it is very difficult to make it obedient to the law of God” (141). For example, lets say that for lent I decide to begin going to the earliest Mass available, everyday. The discipline I have chosen requires external and internal mortification.

  1. My body has to get used to rising earlier than usual
  2. My attitude has to consciously remain charitable toward others so early in the morning and before my coffee.
  3. My mind has to strive to comprehend what the Word of God is voicing during Mass; a passive involvement is not a mortification.
  4. My intention for being at Mass in the first place has to be purified and elevated as an expression of love for God.
  5. My heart has to be still and open in order to receive the graces of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
  6. I have to continue my ordinary day after Mass and attempt to apply the message received during Mass and give the graces God has given me to others.

As we can see, both the body and soul have to be in unison since true denial of self requires the effort of both. Here is a good nip at the bud by St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, for why we do what we do in this exercise of mortification: “self-love is the worm that gnaws at the root and destroys not the fruit, but even the very life of the plant” (145). We are the plant, virtue is our fruit, The love of God is our root; see the full picture? So let us run the race of perfection in Jesus our Sacrifice, Savior, Redeemer, Lord; all those things we celebrate after lent in the Resurrection. Let us make this Lenten season a fruitful one, one pleasing in the eyes of God. Because in the end His eyes are the ones we desire to gaze upon for all eternity not the world’s.

Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps to Holiness

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Step 9: Meekness and Humility

“Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt. 11:29)

A builder walked up to an empty lot one day and stood before it, contemplating what it could possibly become. He toyed with creative possibilities and . . . alas! It’s purpose was determined! This parcel of land will become a temple, a beautiful place of worship. He gathered his men and instructed them to begin mixing the cement. One man walked up to him and asked, “could I first design the stain glass windows?” The builder said “No, first the concrete” Then another man approached him and ask, ” may I get a jump start on the pillars?”, the builder again replied, “first the cement.” After a couple more “suggestion” attempts from the workers the builder gathered all the men and asked “who here agrees that the infrastructure of this building will be one of great beauty and marvel?” simultaneously all men voiced their agreement. Then he asked, “who here believes that we can build a breathtaking temple by completing its kingly pillars, piercing windows, and golden walls without ever laying a hand on its foundation? Will we have a place to lay the toil of our day?” . . . “well, will we?”

“In the spiritual life humility must precede everything else in order to banish pride, to which God is so opposed. He, therefore, who endeavors to acquire the other virtues without humility is scattering dust before the wind” (Alphonsus,123). It is not appealing to acquire a virtue that is simply a passive response to life. According to society, it is a shameful lack of consideration or importance for one’s own personhood. If that were true, I would be the first to denounce it.

What was the Passion of Christ? After all, it is a perfect description of what society believes to be a ludicrous act of humility. One thing that they do not consider is the underlying significance of this virtue. What they don’t know is what they do not consider; namely, humility comes with one key ingredient indispensable to its genuine fulfillment. God!

“If a horse were decked with gorgeous trappings would it-supposing it were able to do so- pride itself on having such fine adornments, knowing that at a moment’s notice its master could take them away?” (Alphonsus 124).

“By the grace of God, I am what I am” – 1 Cor. 15:10

Yes, by his grace I am successful,

by his grace I am loving,

by his grace I have virtue,

by his grace I have ____________.

By his grace we are what we are. “humility is truth” says St. Teresa, our gifts and talents cannot be hidden, truth requires we acknowledge what we have been given; that which is unique to us. These gifts must be used and shared, not suppressed. But any praise derived from them should not be accepted with pride, and most importantly it cannot be “humbly” dismissed as if to please God; it is not within our power to shun down praises, true humility calls for an offering of these praises to God’s glory. The more we are convinced of our nothingness apart from Him, the more we recognize our dependence on Him. And when grace finds us, there is no other word we wish to udder than, “He that is mighty has done great things for me” (Lk. 1:48).

“By the grace of God, I am what I am”” – 1 Cor. 15:10

by his grace I am torn,

by his grace I suffer,

by his grace I fear,

by his grace I am laid low,

by his grace I am ________.

By his grace we are what we are. There is no human praise for the grace of lowliness. This is the humility Jesus came to live. He became flesh and humbly took on humanity. He was a man who humbly submitted to Mary and Joseph. He retired to Nazareth and humbly went unnoticed. He appeared among men and humbly embraced mockery. He approached Jerusalem to humbly take up his cross. He rose to Calvary and humbly outstretched his arms in crucifixion. Where is the pride in this??? Is there room for praise? Can we offer such “grace” and expect to glorify God? Yes!!! It is easy to offer praise and success to God, it feels good, very good. But the thorns that we carry are both a cross and a grace they are unquestionably greater than any human praise could ever be. It allows for a more intimate sharing in the offering of Jesus on Calvary. “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart: and you will find rest in your soul” (Matt. 11:29).

It is our intellect which aids an acknowledgment of our nothingness before God. It is our will that provides the desire to seek it. If these two are in harmony we will not be lacking. “Many are humble with their lips but few are humble of heart” (Alphonsus 129). Our meek response to the world purifies mans ill intent. By our example of meekness and humility the world will encounter Jesus Christ.  If we are mocked, we return blessing. If we are hated, we return love. If we are ignored, we return acknowledgement. If we are struck, we return mercy. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

“Jesus meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine!”