Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Am I being daunting again? Proposed exercises for flabby souls

I've been just a little suprised by some of the feedback I've gotten about yesterday's posting: so many have said that my proposal for living a Catholic life is "hard," is "difficult to implement," is "utterly unrealistic." Maybe I'm just hopelessly naive, but I've always thought it was addictive. The more you do, the more you want, and eventually the more you need.

Maybe the problem is that folk think everything has to happen immediately, or they don't know where to start. But Catholic living is more like weight training: one doesn't start with the big barbell, one starts with the little 2 lb handweights and some sit-ups; after some months of work, doing a little more at a time while one's getting strong, one can consider using the big barbell.

So, I'm going to propose a starter set of spiritual exercises for the out-of-shape, a place to begin. [My commenters: feel free to comment with improvements]

First: Pray before doing anything else in the morning. Thank God for another day and give it to Him to use. My grandparents had the "morning offering" prayer taped to the bathroom mirror so they wouldn't forget even if they weren't quite awake yet. A prayer like the morning offering, and maybe the Benedictus canticle and, on Fridays, Psalm 51, will start a day off on the right foot.

Second: Do at least one of the "things Catholics do" every day. Here is the list.
Feed the hungry.
Give drink to the thirsty.
Clothe the naked.
Visit the imprisoned.
Shelter the homeless.
Visit the sick.
Bury the dead.
Admonish the sinner (but themselves first).
Instruct the ignorant.
Counsel the doubtful.
Comfort the sorrowful.
Bear wrongs patiently.
Forgive all injuries.
Pray for both the living and the dead.
The first seven listed are called the "corporal works of mercy" and the other seven the "spiritual works of mercy." I'm going to suggest starting with the "corporal" list, they're simpler and more straightforward. (And if you're spiritually out of shape, you're probably not ready for some of the other ones yet.) What you do does not need to be a great act, even the little things count.

Third: Make prayer a part of getting ready for bed, also. Go over your day with God looking over your shoulder: what was right, what wasn't, where you need help and grace, what you're sorry for. A good Act of Contrition, or maybe Psalm 130, with possibly the Magnificat canticle and a Marian hymn or prayer, and tuck yourself in in peace.

Fourth: If you haven't been to Confession in a long time, go! Most priests will be happy to help you if it's been so long you've forgotten how. Larger downtown parishes run by religious orders tend to have more generous confession times, if that's a problem. And if your life's so screwey that you can't be absolved, go anyway, maybe you're wrong; and if there's really Church law tangles to be untangled, the sooner started, the sooner done.

Try the "exercises for out-of-shape souls" for a month or two, and see what happens. Building spiritual muscles the slow and easy way....
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