As committed Christians, how exactly do we live a holy life?
We may experience particular moments of grace, such as a deeper conversion to Christ or even a spiritual rebirth. But our growth in holiness is usually gradual.
The reality is that we have been wounded by sin, so it’s wise to cultivate spiritual practices that can help us respond to the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in the circumstances of our everyday lives. Of course, we can learn much from the saints of the Church. The great apostle of Divine Mercy, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), for instance, wrote how God lives in the “pure and humble heart” and that “all sufferings and adversities serve but to reveal the soul’s holiness” (Diary of St. Faustina, 573). As we persevere through such guidance, our lives begin to bear fruit in the Spirit — that’s a guarantee!
Blessed George Matulaitis, the Renovator of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, understood this well.
In one of the first entries in his spiritual diary, he writes: “We must perfect ourselves in the spiritual life by choosing those spiritual exercises which especially impel us toward conscious spiritual living … [and] we must try to help others achieve holiness, for by serving others, by contributing to their greater holiness, we grow holy and soar higher ourselves.”
His words have become the marching orders for Marian Helpers around the world.
Blessed George found the five following spiritual practices particularly helpful as steps to daily growth in holiness. And we can, too.
1. A Pure, Supernatural Intention
We should stop frequently in our daily life to remind ourselves that everything we think, say, and do should come from a desire to please God. It should become a habit with us, Blessed George says, to begin everything we do by stirring up our love for God.
This intention can be revitalized by recalling moments of grace in our lives. It might be a moment of conversion that came through the sacraments or circumstances in our lives. In strengthening his intention, Blessed George was fond of remembering how his own spiritual rebirth came through a bout with serious illness.
In 1904, at the age of 34, he lay near death in the charity ward of Transfiguration Hospital in Warsaw, Poland. In the midst of that crisis, he entered more fully into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, as he experienced special grace from God and help from others while recovering.
Blessed George, in recalling that experience, would turn to these words of Jesus, his Lord, with deeper understanding: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
This is the practice of reviewing each day at its close by prayerfully reflecting on everything that has happened. Our goal is to become sensitive to the moments of grace that God has provided during the day, and for these we give thanks. So, too, we try to discern the patterns of our resistance to grace and our sins. For these, we ask forgiveness and God’s help in changing sinful patterns in our lives.
As a priest and a religious, the examen was part of Blessed George’s daily life. For him, the practice of keeping a spiritual diary was a help. In reflecting on his day, he would ask himself, “Did I do everything for the glory of God and the salvation of souls?”
Many Christians today are finding it helpful to keep a daily or weekly prayer journal as a way of doing this kind of examen.
By meditation, Blessed George meant choosing a passage from Scripture and spending time with it — opening our hearts to soak up its meaning. A particular verse of Scripture may touch us and move us into the quiet of God’s presence. We may also spend part of our meditation time fighting distractions.
But Blessed George understood that it was worth the struggle as a way of shaping the heart to ready it for deeper prayer. Like the Apostle Paul, he found meditating on Scripture effective in identifying with Jesus Christ as his Lord. Thus, he could say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
With today’s hectic pace, many Christians are rediscovering the value of daily meditation as a way of centering their lives on Christ. It might mean taking 15 minutes or more of quiet, undisturbed time every day to meditate on a verse of Scripture.
4. Spiritual Reading
This kind of reading refers to works on the spiritual life other than Scripture itself. These might be classical spiritual texts by the Doctors of the Church, the writings of the Popes, and even books by good contemporary writers.
As a professor and a bishop, Blessed George was steeped in spiritual reading of all sorts. But he preferred the spiritual classics, papal documents, and sound spiritual writers on topics of the day.
In our own time, there has been a resurgence of interest among Catholics in the spiritual classics, such as The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Á Kempis, which was a favorite of Blessed George. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has also sparked a renewed interest in the teachings of the faith.
5. Confession and Spiritual Direction.
Blessed George recommends “a good and conscientious confession, made at least once a month with sincerity and open-heartedness.” Regular meetings with a good spiritual director can also guide us in detecting the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives and then in discerning the best course of response, he pointed out. With the right confessor, it is often possible to combine confession and spiritual direction.
As a seminarian, Blessed George found in the Capuchin priest Honorat Kozminski both a good confessor and spiritual director who planted in him the seeds of his call to renovate and found religious communities later in life. In the confessional, Fr. Honorat — who has also been declared blessed — saw in the young George Matulaitis a man with considerable pastoral gifts who could carry on his own work of establishing and directing religious communities.
For when George was in seminary in the 1890s, Fr. Honorat was responsible for 18 religious communities, and he was sorely in need of help. Czarist Russia had occupied Poland and Lithuania, intent on destroying the Catholic Church, especially its religious communities. So Fr. Honorat — whose movements were restricted — used the privacy of the confessional to enlist the seminarian’s help in secretly directing his communities.
Like Blessed George, many Catholics today are finding that sound spiritual direction can help them discern their gifts and calling in life.
Through persevering in these spiritual practices, Blessed George was drawn more deeply to Christ and found his life bearing abundant fruit as he “soared higher” in the Spirit. Those fruits included the renovation of the Marians who now serve in 19 countries around the world.
~5 Steps Of Holiness By Bl. George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927).
~5 Steps Of Holiness – Advice From A Blessed By Fr. Joseph, MIC.
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