Friday, November 08, 2002

The Spiritual Fitness Program: Clarifications, Explanations

Thanks to all the folk who have let me know that they appreciated the original proposal, or are actually trying it out. I've discovered something that needs clarifying, because I made a presumption I should not have. Then, I'll explain a little about why I suggested certain things and just what the goal of it all is.

When I proposed the "spiritual exercises for the out-of-shape," I presumed that the basics of "church law" were happening already: going to Mass on Sundays and following the rules on fasting and abstaining; but as I was writing about going to confession, it dawned on me that I really ought to say it, just in case --- if you're not going to Mass on Sunday, or you're making a point of going out for steak dinner on Lenten Fridays, cut it out! Go to Sunday Mass, and eat fish fry! It may seem odd or really minor, but it truly does make a difference.

Now, for just why I proposed what I did, above and beyond "morning offering and night examination of conscience is how Catholics have always done it" --- which is true.

The long-term goal is to become totally in love with the God who never stops loving us. How can we let our love grow for God if we don't bother to spend any time with Him? By doing the exercises I proposed, what we are doing is establishing a habit of spending time with God. Eventually, we want "offering our day to God" to be just as natural a part of morning as washing face, brushing hair, and starting the coffee pot, and "looking over the day with God" to be as routine as checking that the door's locked and putting on the pajamas. That's why I said to do it for a couple of months; so the habit would form.

In the morning, in addition to the morning offering, I suggested praying the Benedictus, and at night the Magnificat. This is a tiny way of being connected with the whole Church that prays. In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Benedictus is prayed every morning in Morning Prayer ("Lauds") and the Magnificat every night in Evening Prayer ("Vespers"). For us to pray them also helps us to be united with everybody else in all the Lord's Church in our prayer. It's also very traditional to close the day with a Marian prayer; thepart of the Hours called Night Prayer or Compline ends with a Marian hymn. Plus, it just feels so good to have Our Lady and all the saints looking out for us as we sleep.

Psalm 51 on Friday morning is another tiny reminder of a great truth. Friday is a special day. Our Lord Jesus gave up His life, at our hands, for our salvation, on a Friday. Every Friday can be an occasion to remember that great gift especially. [Here in Milwaukee, the ways of Catholics to remember Friday has sprouted a local secular tradition and industry --- the Friday Fish Fry]

Just like we are forming a habit of spending time with God, we are also in need of a habit of behaving like a Catholic, which is why I proposed a merciful act every day. It is my hope that by the end of two months and the sixtieth day and sixtieth act of mercy, we will have developed a taste for acting mercifully, and be, at least sometimes, doing the merciful thing without planning it or having to think about it. This is a big step toward acting like a Catholic, a state the theologians call "orthopraxy," which is just as important as believing rightly, "orthodoxy."

And, going to Confession (and getting to Mass on Sunday): We have been given the sacraments for a very good reason.(we need them!) and therefore we ought to be taking full advantage of them and the graces they contain for us. Why spurn such great gifts? Grab them instead! This is one part of life where being greedy can work as a goodness.

Now that you know _why_ you're doing what you're doing, you'll keep it up and get those good Catholic habits well-established.

Then, we can proceed to "Spiritual Fitness for Advanced Beginners," which I hope to post sometime tomorrow.

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