A SPIRITUAL LIFE (revisited)
A basic truth about the spiritual life is not like a hundred yard dash. It is more like a marathon, requiring endurance and perseverance. According to a statement attributed to Michelangelo, the greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high, but that we aim too low and reach it.
Wounded by original sin, our progress is never a straightforward advance. We are a sinful people who would be lost unless God bestowed his mercy on us. The wound of original sin is experienced on two levels: that of the intellect and that of the will. We are prone to error and we are prone to sin. We are subject to temptation and more often than we would like we fall. Without the help of grace that is inevitable. The test of faith is to accept failure without despairing. Many as our sins may be, God’s grace is greater. The important thing is to move forward again after a fall. A proverb, attributed to the Japanese is helpful. “Fall seven times; get up eight!”
We are haunted by a misleading tendency to confuse meritorious action with degree of difficulty of effort. The basis of merit is not hardship. The basis of merit is love. True, monotony and difficulty can be proof of love, but it is the love, not the hardship that counts. Where there is love, nothing is too menial or too trivial, and nothing is too monotonous.
C.S. Lewis pointed out that because we are dependent on God’s grace our highest activity must be response, not initiative. That does not mean there is nothing for us to do, that we can be completely passive. Our role is to actively remove and obstacle to grace coming into our lives. We must be open, receptive. Even omnipotence cannot give if there is no capacity to receive.
It is important to remember the spiritual life is not based on feelings. One single hour of suffering, taken as the will of God, does more for the soul than any amount of sensible devotion. We cannot avoid having feelings. It is crucial to recognize their role and keep them under control.
God does not ask us to always be right. God asks us always to be honest, always true to the best understanding of his will that we can attain. God wants us to be good but his love does not depend on our goodness. God’s love is unchanging. It never lessens because of our unworthiness. Love is not one of God’s attributes. It is his very essence.