We are beginning a new series on the spiritual life. This post will introduce the meaning of the spiritual life by way of its definition.
We live in a time in which we have become accustomed to taking things apart, often for the sake of studying the parts, but forgetting that all the parts form a whole. Not only that, but with anything organic, the whole is always much more than the sum of the parts. This is true for biological entities, it is true for knowledge, and it is true for the human person. We are body-soul unities. God created this unity such that the soul was not intended to be separated from the body. One consequence of this is that the spiritual life cannot be treated as a separate part of our lives if our lives are to flourish. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the spiritual life is the center and fullest meaning of our whole lives because our spiritual souls are the foundation of our ability for love and relationships. Like one’s bodily health, the spiritual life is easy to ignore but if we do so we will not escape the consequences. We are made for communion with God and one another. If we reject, or even ignore, this fact the result may be increased experiences of pleasure but the more we pursue pleasure and ease as an end, the less we will be able to love heroically. Heroic love is the essence of communion and its fruit is supernatural joy. This alone can satisfy the desire of our hearts.
The spiritual life is, at its most basic, our focus on responding to Jesus Christ’s on-going invitation to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Communion with God in Jesus Christ is the full meaning of the Gospel. Communion though is a relationship of total, self-giving love. Repentance is necessary for such communion because we regularly abuse Jesus and our relationship with Him through our sinful thoughts, words and actions. We regularly reject Him and His love, damaging and, at times, rupturing our relationship with Him. For this reason, our lives must reflect on-going repentance and conversion. We must build the ability to say no to our fallen inclinations through the development of self-mastery. Only when we have said no to our fallen selves, are we then able to respond rightly to Christ. After turning out of our selfishness, we must then say yes to Him through a life of faith, hope and works of love. The spiritual life is simply our efforts at coming to the deepest communion of love with Jesus Christ that is possible, and this can only be accomplished when we cooperate with His grace. Only with the power of grace, can we successfully love Jesus more and more deeply. The spiritual life interpenetrates every aspect of our daily lives and so we must live consistently if our spiritual lives are to be fruitful. For example, if we limit our spiritual lives to Mass on Sundays and prayer time before going to bed and ignore living like a Christian disciple elsewhere then we are not choosing a life of communion and joy.