Growth in our faith is something to which not every Catholic truly aspires. At the other end of the spectrum, some try to adopt all the Catholic devotions known to man and soon find that they have no time for their spouses, their children or their own lives. They live with the belief that if a little is good then more is better and if more is better then everything is best. Soon, tired and unhappy, they leave their journey or perhaps their loved ones leave them. It can be a recipe for failure.
It is amazing that people set out without a clear view of the essentials needed to prosper their efforts. We need help, and we should admit it. We need to stop and take stock of what we truly possess and what we don’t. Just like we would if we were leaving to go on an actually pilgrimage through a strange land, we would try to prepare ourselves as best we can for each eventuality.
The first step in the development of an authentic and valid spirituality is to find out who you are: not as a psychologist might look at you from a distance as an object but in conspectu Christi. That means to examine oneself in the Presence of Christ. Looking at ourselves and our past as a dispassionate image of an actor in a movie is not going to cut it. We will have to enter into a real understanding of who we are and what we are. What we possess and what we lack.
This inspection of self requires a serious and mature personality that desires to find true humility and knows that this examination must be made with the light of Christ (lumen Christi). Only through this lens will we ever know who we truly are in relationship to God and how much we need and depend on Him for any chance of transformation to occur in this life or for gaining salvation in the next. We rely solely on Him. If you cannot bear to see yourself as you really are and witness the wretched state of your being then the spiritual life may not be something that you desire at this time. But we are all called to the spiritual life, make no doubt about it. The first step then is the one that most of us forget and usually skip. It’s forgotten because it is unpleasant.
You might wonder how long this might take so we can move on to the next step. My answer is: a lifetime.
The first step is in a way the last step. You will not know if you are growing unless you are put to the test. Repeated tests are needed so that you may examine your progress or your regression. Humility is being built all throughout our spiritual pilgrimage. It starts slowly and progresses slowly but it is a growth in knowledge of Christ and knowledge of self. It is the naked viewing of Reality, as it truly is, it is not covered over by our egos, our desires or our good intentions.
What do we possess? Almost nothing! And even that was a gift we neither deserved nor earned. It is free will. It is the only thing we possess that God has given every individual to use: for our good or for our self-destruction.
What are we lacking? Everything! We are solely dependent and we need come to a True Realization of our need-fulness. It is only through this realization that we develop the plasticity needed for Christ to mold and change us as He would. In this way Christ may make us into His own image: transformed in Christ.
What can I do to gain this transformation in Christ? First and foremost, stop thinking you can do anything to accomplish it. It is Christ who will do the accomplishing within you. All you need do is lay yourself at the Mercy of Christ and see yourself as you truly are. By doing so you will commit your life and your will to whatever your Lord has in store. To give of your will is the first, last and only gift you possess that can be given back to God. It is a requirement if we are to be capable of dying to self so that Christ may live in us. To put on the new man; to live, not I, but Christ lives in me. How few are willing to make the commitment.
To realize the Love of God and to respond to His love is essential. Knowing the miserable state of our souls and our nothingness when placed before the All Good God lets us free ourselves from any misconceptions we have of ourselves; freeing us to let go of our wills and do die to self. Our sacrificial love can then be given out of love for His Supreme Act of Sacrificial Love which was given us first. It is the pinnacle that we seek and that which He wills for us. Love is the “the one thing necessary.”