Dominica XIV post Pentecosten - Spiritual Life (Introduction)

Latin Mass 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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LESSON: God needs mature soldiers

From the moment that we were born, we have been at war. From the moment of our Baptism, the side that we would fight on was chosen. From the moment of our Confirmation, we enlisted as soldiers in God’s army, which of course is why we call ourselves the Church Militant.
But here’s the problem, most of us are not the best soldiers we can be. Our battle is a spiritual one, we fight the principalities and powers, and so just as those in the army constantly train to become better and better soldiers, always seeking to be stronger, faster, more accurate, we need to constantly train to become better spiritual soldiers, seeking to be spiritually stronger, holier, and more devout.
I’m sure many of us have had the experience of encountering a fellow Catholic who stopped learning about their faith the moment they graduated from elementary school, perhaps we were that person at some point in our lives. Thus, even though they have long since become adults, their faith is still that of a 13-year-old child. What’s often worse, is those that think their elementary school faith is all that there is, and that they know everything there is to know about the Catholic faith. Christ called us to have a childlike faith, not a childish faith.
Well, there’s a corollary to this in the spiritual life. Most Catholics, in fact some estimates put it at 99% of Catholics, are still in spiritual childhood, even though they themselves have long since become adults.
What do I mean? If you have ever done any reading on the subject of the spiritual life, you know that classically it is divided into three degrees or stages. These stages go by many names. You will sometimes seem them called the “Purgative, Illuminative, and Unitive” stages. Other places you will see them referred to as the “Way of Beginners, the Way of Proficients, and the Way of the Perfect”. But for our purposes, we will use the labels, “Spiritual Childhood, Spiritual Adolescence, and Spiritual Adulthood”.
This means that 99% of Catholics never even reach Spiritual Adolescence, and it also means that most Catholics are often fighting a losing battle against the principalities and powers of darkness because our army is still in diapers.
I think we can do better, which is why I am inaugurating this five-part sermon series on the Spiritual Life which will take us through September and into October looking at the means needed to advance from Spiritual Childhood towards Spiritual Adulthood.

ILLUSTRATION: Identifying our place in the spiritual life

You may be wondering at this point, where am I in the spiritual life? I think I’m doing pretty well, I take my faith seriously, maybe I’m in that one percent. Well, there are a few ways that we can identify where we fall on the spiritual path.
First, ask yourself, have I been practicing the discipline of Mental Prayer for at least 30 minutes per day, for at least the past several years? If the answer is “no”, then I am most likely still in Spiritual Childhood.
Second, ask yourself, have I overcome all habitual sin in my life? Now note carefully what I said, “all habitual sin”. All meaning both mortal and venial sin. If I’m not examining myself daily for both mortal and venial sin then I am most likely still in Spiritual Childhood.
And what about habitual, in that case ask yourself how many times you have committed any given sin in the past 12 months. Once, well that’s just likely a slip up, twice I’m still probably okay, three times, now I’m getting into murky waters. If I have committed any sin more than four times in the last year, then am still very likely in Spiritual Childhood.
Of course, the better way is to look to my practice of the central virtue to the Spiritual Life. St. Teresa of Avila tells us that virtue is Charity. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us it is Humility. Of course, these virtues are two sides of the same coin, so we can take them together.
Therefore, the question I can ask myself is, “how do I react when things don’t go my way, or someone does something that irks me?”
For the Spiritual Adult, this situation will never happen, because their will is as perfectly united to the Will of God as is possible in this life. Have you ever wondered how many of the Martyrs were able to not only endure their torments, but even enjoy them? Think for example of St. Lawrence who famously joked with his tormentors while being roasted alive. Because God had allowed for Lawrence to suffer such a torment, Lawrence himself willed with his whole being to be their enduring those torments as well.
Now, if my reaction is not quite that advanced, but if my immediate response is joy at being able to suffer because it allow me to unite myself more closely to Christ, then I am probably well advanced into Spiritual Adolescence.
If my immediate reaction to things not going my way, or to some irksome person is to feel irritation but still to be glad that I have had the opportunity to suffer, then I am probably in the late stages of Spiritual Childhood, or the early stages of Spiritual Adolescence. But if my immediate reaction (and I mean immediate, not after I’ve had the chance to reflect on the situation), is irritation, anger, or stubbornly insisting on getting my own way, well then I probably haven’t made much progress in the Spiritual Life.

APPLICATION: Growing in the Spiritual Life

Right now, we’re all probably thinking one of two thoughts, either, “wow, I guess I’m doing better in the Spiritual Life than I thought”, or perhaps more likely, “wow, I guess I’m doing a lot worse in the Spiritual Life than I thought”. We might even be tempted to think that it’s all just too difficult, and perhaps I’m not meant for the heights of holiness.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ instructed all Christians “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” So yes, we are all called to the heights of holiness, and we all can achieve those heights. In fact we have to achieve them in order to enter the Heavenly Kingdom, so we can set to work getting there in this life, or we can do it in Purgatory (and trust me, you don’t want to wait to do it in Purgatory).
That is why I have decided to give this sermon series.
Spiritual theologians divide the means for growing in holiness into “internal means” and “external means”. The list of internal means is quite long, and sadly, we simply don’t have the time to address all of them in this series, so we will be focusing on the external means as there are only four. Don’t worry though, because all of the internal means are things that you would address in the first external means, Spiritual Direction.
We will take a look at the topic of spiritual direction next week, it’s necessity, and how to find a spiritual director. The second external means that we will examine is the creation of a plan of life, an indispensable method for getting our spiritual life on the right track. The third is spiritual reading, and finally we will look at an often forgotten aspect of the spiritual life, the sanctification of social relations.
If we take our spiritual lives with the seriousness that they deserve, then we can become the disciples and soldiers of Christ that we are meant to be, fighting the good fight in this life, and enjoying the reward of the blessed in the next.
The Holy Bible, Translated from the Latin Vulgate. (2009). (Mt 5:48). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
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