. . . For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man, that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts: that, being rooted and grounded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth: to know also the charity of Christ which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.
(Epistle for the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
I got up early this morning . . . and knew that, recently, I had not been trying very hard.
How much, I wondered as a padded downstairs and started turning on lamps and rolling up blind shades and looking at our sleepy dog poking her head through the gate to our back deck, have I been really, fully, wholeheartedly, devotedly, fixedly, determinedly wanting to be a saint–and all for the pure, ardent love of my Lord, Jesus Christ?
Now . . . I don’t want to be misunderstood in this great, rambling stream of words I’m pouring forth on a First Friday afternoon. I’m a lover of, and a wholehearted believer in, the spiritual wealth to be found in ordinary days, and in an ordinary life. Of the beauty found in the simple, humble normal-ness of a Catholic home and family living; the chores, the meals, the dishes, the conversations, the giggles, the bickerings, the tears, the hugs, the outings, the nighttime rosaries, the memories, and everything in between. In fact, it’s this same love, this homely vision in my heart, that has remained with me through discernment, and which speaks strongly to me of how my vocation will one day lie in the home: in being a blessed wife, mother, and keeper of a “little church” of my own. I’m under no delusions that I need to go off seeking extraordinary, out-of-the-way missions or events in order to approach the path to sanctity. The path starts here.
Thanks to the freedom (schedule-wise) that my current state in life as a single woman at home offers, I try to have regular prayer throughout the day; I try to be faithful in my duties and respectful and obedient to my wonderful parents; charitable and patient with my siblings; loyal and true to my friends; content with what I have and accepting of what I don’t have. Helpful and industrious, not too demanding that things are done my way, and all that. But . . . I am a normal person. (I bet no one saw that coming.) By that, I mean I am often sinful, weak, silly, selfish, obsessed with things that don’t matter, or somewhat confused about things that do.
And . . . it can be incredibly easy to start going through the motions. By this, I don’t necessarily mean falling into mortal sin or doing anything grievously wrong. Rather I mean a slow, subtle, gradual decline from where I am asking the Holy Ghost to pour His divine fire upon my heart, and striving to be zealous and desirous of sainthood in everything I do–especially the ordinary, small, wiping-up-milk things–to where I am simply doing things. Inwardly, I slow down. I grow thoughtless, sluggish, more self-centered, more lukewarm.
I lack fire.
My Heart hath expected reproach and misery: and I looked for one that would grieve together with Me, but there was none: and for one that would comfort Me, and I found none.
(Offertory for the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
Yes, I still pray in the morning, afternoon, and evening. I offer my efforts to God; I try to combat what I think are my vices, to not be too selfish or wasteful with my time, and to not put off scrubbing the shower floor for too long. (Ahem.) I’m not snapping at people or saying hurtful things . . . but I become less willing to maintain a spirit of . . . how to put it? . . . holy joy. Of purpose and resolve. My mind wanders more in prayer. Little things start creeping back in. I start forgetting things like sacrifice, praying for the souls in purgatory and for the conversion of sinners, sanctifying myself through prayer and good works, and I start thinking more about my current hairstyle. It starts becoming more of an unwanted effort to think about holy things; about God and the Saints, the Faith, Heaven and Hell. Oh . . . right. Sainthood. Self-denial. Heaven. Sigh.
Early this morning before anyone else was up, thanks to a stirring of God’s grace, I picked up my father’s copy of The Seven Capital Sins and turned to Sloth . . . the chapter I’d, so far, been planning to read but subconsciously avoiding due to the sneaking suspicion of how often this vice was unknowingly manifesting itself in my day-to-day spiritual life. (How ironically fitting.)
Sloth is a spiritual laziness, although it includes laziness of the body too. It is caused by a certain lack of trust in God and makes us indifferent in the use of the means necessary for our sanctification. It is an aversion to spiritual effort, which leads to the neglect of grace. Its worst effect is to make us put off our return to God after mortal sin . . . . Sloth resides in our mind and will and is the most dangerous of all vices because it makes us refuse to cooperate with grace. Sloth inclines us to habits of sin and leads us to despair of breaking away from their slavery . . . Countless venial sins result from our lukewarmness, tepidity and indifference in God’s service. These in turn further weaken our will, and we find ourselves caught in a net which we have no will to break. We can recognize how sloth affects us by our faint-heartedness in spiritual matters; by our sluggish will; by our procrastination or putting things off until another time; by our dissipation and useless work, which is a sort of feverish activity that distracts us and does not allow time to attend to the needs of our soul; by our seeking bodily ease and comfort; by our idleness, or doing no good at all.
Reading this passage helped me to see my slothful areas clearly: the times when I fall quickly away from asking the Holy Ghost for zeal to be poured into my heart (I hardly ever remember to do this as it is . . .); zeal for holiness, eagerness for sainthood, for consoling and honoring the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Zeal for living the way I ought to live, with the right intentions and with a fervent spirit. For completely surrendering myself to Christ, for love of Him. Love! For being a true child of Mary, not only in deed, but in heart and mind as well. For not doing things simply because they look right, are traditional, and true; but because I love God, profoundly. Period.
Reading about sloth, I nearly felt like a living paraphrase of George Bailey. I want to love again! I want to love again!
I want zeal. I want fire. I want love to permeate my being. God has given me great graces of understanding and knowing more about the Holy Faith ever since encountering the Latin Mass; but all this time, He has wanted me to know more solely because He desires me to love Him more than I ever have done before. While I haven’t completely failed at it, and there have been moments of grace where I felt I was growing in charity . . . I certainly haven’t been victorious either. There have been too many losses.
So . . . it’s time to do battle once again. It’s time to pull on the armor and to sharpen the sword, against sloth, and against all other vices. It’s time to begin praying daily, hourly, for the fire of Divine Charity to pour upon my heart again, so that I’m truly doing the right things, not simply because they’re right and because I should, but because I am motivated by pure love of my Creator. There is a tremendous difference.
Now . . . having faith and doing the right things are, of course, not reliant upon emotion; sometimes they must be done in spite of emotion, or with a complete lack thereof. But spiritual zeal is not an emotion. It comes, not through rousing music or high words, not from having a good day when things go well, people are happy, or hormones aren’t playing up; but through humble prayer to receive it and dogged persistence to hold on to it. It isn’t something we conjure. Spiritual zeal is a divine gift; a grace; an outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Thusly, I need to be asking for it; desiring it; hungering after it so that it can enable me to hunger after God, all the days of my life.
May Thy holy mysteries, O Lord Jesus, impart to us divine fervor; wherein we may taste the sweetness of Thy most loving Heart, and learn to despise what is earthly and love what is heavenly.
(Postcommunion for the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
We all must win this great battle for our souls, with the help of God. We must all live with the knowledge and conviction of why we are alive to begin with. I have a feeling I’m not alone. We are all human; sloth, at least on occasion, seeks to creep in to all of us.
So let’s combat it together. Let’s pray to the Holy Ghost, that we may receive renewed love, zeal, and spiritual fervor as we strive, in our ordinariness, for sanctity–because it’s in our “ordinary” where His holy zeal can burn most brightly. Let’s beg to receive an outpouring of that Fire which consumes our human weakness and fickle emotion and pierces the innermost depths of our hearts with the Presence of Divine Love . . . never to be extinguished by the tumultuous winds of the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
PRAYER TO OVERCOME SLOTH AND LUKEWARMNESS (from The Seven Capital Sins)
O my God, I know well that so negligent a life as mine cannot please Thee. I know that by my lukewarmness I have closed the door to the graces which Thou dost desire to bestow upon me. O my God, do not reject me, as I deserve, but continue to be merciful toward me, and I will make great efforts to amend and to arise from this miserable state. In the future I will be more careful to overcome my passions and to follow Thine inspirations; and never through slothfulness will I omit my duties, but will strive to fulfill them with greater diligence and fidelity. In short, I will from this time forward do all I can to please Thee, and will neglect nothing which I know to be pleasing to Thee.
Since Thou, O my Jesus, hast been so liberal with Thy graces toward me and hast deigned to give Thy Blood and Thy Life for me, I am sorry for having acted with so little generosity toward Thee, Who art worthy of all honor and all love. But, O my Jesus, Thou knowest my weakness. Help me with Thy powerful grace; in Thee I confide.
O Immaculate Virgin Mary, help me to overcome myself and to become a saint.