We live in a time of great uncertainty. In fact, a great deal of the instability we see in the news and in our own communities finds its source in the moral and spiritual confusion of our culture. Our civilization needs a spiritual revival.
This spiritual renewal, however, cannot be imposed from above: It has to begin with us. It has to begin in our humble and contrite hearts because the world is never going to change unless there is first a change in the human heart. The world is never going to change for the better unless we are good. More precisely, the world is never going to be good unless we are holy. That was the central message of the Second Vatican Council more than five decades ago, and it’s a lesson that has been lost by many Catholics today.
What is the best way to begin this process of individual spiritual renewal? If you haven’t done so already in the season of Lent, the best way to begin is by making a good examination of conscience and a good Confession. The state of grace, to which we are restored by the grace of the sacrament, is the starting point for any personal renewal — and therefore is the starting point for the renewal of the world.
We find the image of all-consuming fire throughout Scripture. Sometimes this fire represents God’s wrath and the just punishments He metes out, but just as often it represents the infinite love of God. God is Love. God is an All-Consuming Fire. Jesus said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). That fire is the fire of divine love, which should be burning in our hearts. It’s the flame of the Holy Spirit. But like any flame, it must be kindled and then constantly rekindled, because otherwise it will eventually burn out and grow cold. The only way we can keep that fire of divine love burning in our hearts is through the power of prayer. So let us begin this mission at the beginning of our personal relationship with God by talking about the power of prayer.
There’s no way any of us can reach our full spiritual potential as Christian men and women without a strong, deep life of daily personal prayer. True love demands union. True union with God comes only through the life of prayer.
I would be willing to bet that most Catholics could sum up their daily prayer life in half a minute or less. You might be one of them, and there would be nothing unusual about that. You might say a short prayer or two when you get up in the morning, then Grace before meals, then a few short prayers before bedtime. In the spirit of challenging you during this Lenten season, let me tell you: That is not good enough in the sight of Almighty God! God’s love is constantly searching and thirsting and craving for more and more of our love in return! He is not going to fully satisfy your spiritual needs, and you are not going to be entirely pleasing to Him, unless you make the time and the effort to have a strong, deep life of daily personal prayer.
God told the prophet Jeremiah something that He intends for all of us to hear, understand, and never forget: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer. 1:5). Think about that for a moment. Our coming into this world was not an accident but an act of the Will of God. God in His infinite knowledge and wisdom has known each and every one of us from before time began. God created us out of nothing because He wanted us to have life. He wanted us to know the joy of being because ultimately He wants all of us to share perfect eternal happiness with Him in His heavenly kingdom.
It was not by accident, but by the creative Will of God that each one of us came into this world at a certain time, in a certain place, in a certain way, and in a certain family. God did not bring us into this world to abandon us. We know this because in the Gospel He has revealed Himself to us. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is also in the book of the prophet Jeremiah:
I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes. (Jer. 29:11–14)
God has a plan for your life that is going to end in eternal glory — if only you will cooperate with the graces He wants to give you. The Apostle St. Paul said, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). And who are the ones who love God? Four times at the Last Supper Jesus said to the Apostles, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21).
But Jesus also said:
Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)
Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46)
For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt. 22:14)
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:13–14)
The Lord is clear that, contrary to popular belief, it is not quite as easy to get into Heaven as we’ve often been led to believe. This points us to three very basic truths of the spiritual life. First, no one can be saved without conforming his or her life to God’s Will. There is only one way to get to Heaven and that is by loving God, and the only way we can definitively demonstrate that we love God is through our obedience to His holy wisdom and Will. All of us are called to holiness of life. Jesus said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Holiness, which is that alignment of the human will with the Will of Almighty God, is not an option, but a command from Our Savior.
Second, it is impossible for any of us to do God’s Will without the help of God’s grace. Human nature is weak, having been wounded by Original Sin. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). All of us feel the attractive power of sin in our lives in many ways. We cannot make it alone.
Third, God’s grace comes to us first through the sacraments, but most often through the life of prayer. Therefore, no one can be saved without prayer. Prayer is the key to salvation. The whole mystery of human salvation — your whole future, your whole relationship with God — depends entirely on how much and how well you are willing to pray. The saints became saints because they understood the incomparable power of prayer! They knew that prayer has the power to change our lives and the lives of others — and they proved it with their lives.
Art for this post on Lent: Cover and featured image used with permission.