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Spiritual Fruits in Midwinter
February 2014 — Vol. 3, Issue 6
It may seem odd to think about planting and growing anything at this time of the year, in the middle of the winter. South Bend, at the moment, is under more than a foot of snow, and this is by far the most severe winter I have experienced in my almost ten years in the area. At the same time, the interruptions in our schedules that can frequently happen because of winter weather can also be times to study those schedules with new eyes and think about whether we have made room for the most important pieces in those routines.
Good stewardship of time, careful crafting of daily and weekly schedules, is like planting different seeds in the various sections of a garden. God’s grace can intervene and provide gifts at any time, but we should also seek to set ourselves up for success by striving to make time for Mass and for prayer, especially in the midst of busy lives and school events. If you don’t plant any vegetables then of course there won’t be any to pick later on. If we don’t set aside time for prayer, then it should not come as a surprise when later we feel that our relationship with God is not making much progress.
What practices, then, should be “planted” in our schedules to set us up for success and confidence in our vocational discernment? What are the tried-and-true ways that the saints assure us are worthy of the investment of our time? Firstly, and most importantly, make it a point to frequent the Sacraments, especially Mass and Confession. Sunday Mass is the crown of our week, and we should strive to treat it that way. Go to daily Mass, too, when possible. While the Church counsels that annual Confession is sufficient for the faithful, going more often, perhaps monthly, can help reap more substantial fruits from this sacrament because it is easier to make a study of the ebbs and flows of your spiritual life over a shorter timeframe. Adoration and the Liturgy of the Hours are ways to extend our worship of Jesus, the Eternal Word, beyond scheduled Mass times.
A healthy prayer life should have both public and private dimensions, and so the public liturgy of the Church (Mass and the Office) needs to be supported by a devoted private spiritual life as well. Jesus taught, “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Mt. 6:6) This personal prayer can be “customized” to fit your needs and personality, and the Church has an enormous treasury of diverse and powerful prayer practices. There are the trusty standbys, like Scripture reading, the Rosary, or the Divine Mercy Chaplet, but there are also perhaps slightly less well-known devotions that could be explored as well, like meditation with holy images and icons, or the Jesus Prayer.
In an active, apostolic community like Holy Cross, we must also seek to hone our skills as servants and leaders for God’s people. Look for leadership opportunities at school and at your parish and learn how to be part of an effective team. You can also take advantage of trips or organizations that do work on behalf of the poor, elderly or otherwise marginalized. Working hard to do something for others, especially those who cannot return the favor, when offered in a spirit of prayer and charity can help form in you the heart of a pastor, a strong and tender heart that goes out of its way to find the lost sheep.
Finally, when making an inventory like this of what elements to plant in your life and routine, it is important also to be realistic about what you really have time for. It is important to do SOMETHING to nurture your spiritual life, but it is not possible to do EVERYTHING. Put in the pieces that feed your desire to spend time with God, and don’t worry if you can’t do everything that sounds helpful all at once. A good spiritual director can help you decide what pieces to add and when. Like in the Parable of the Talents, God will multiply the time and energy you invest with Him. Give your life and gifts to Him, and He will grow in you the fruits He intends, to nourish the Church and the world.
Collect from the Roman Missal,
Mass for Promoting Harmony
O God, who have taught your Church
to keep all the heavenly commandments
by loving you and loving our neighbor,
grant us a spirit of peace and grace,
so that your entire family may be devoted
to you wholeheartedly and united in
purity of intent.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
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