Spiritual Olympics

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind
(Matthew 22:37)

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This is the third of our four columns in light of the recently concluded Rio Summer Olympics. The author is unknown, but it can be found at alivepublishing.co.uk.

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Prayerful runner

Rules for Spiritual Fitness

St. Paul taught that we should run in such a way as to win the prize. He meant that there were comparisons between being an athlete and living the Christian life. The Olympics are an opportunity for us all to reflect on the challenge not just to be physically fit but spiritually healthy and fit as well.

The Bible uses sporting analogies to highlight various aspects of the spiritual life. St. Paul especially was inclined to draw on sport to make a point about the kingdom of heaven. For example, he famously wrote to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

Jesus’ followers, like athletes, need to train and keep fit. Olympic athletes do it because they want to win a gold medal: we do it ‘to get a crown that will last forever’. Just as an athlete needs to be physically and mentally fit, so we need to be ‘spiritually fit’. So how do we train and keep fit?

Rule 1: Pray Every Day

How often do you pray? Do you carve out a time and a place to pray? Do you pray in the morning? Do you pray in the evening? Rather personal questions, for sure, but our attitude to prayer is often the key indicator to our spiritual life. St. John Vianney, Patron Saint of Parish Priests, said once, ‘The less I pray, the less I want to pray; the more I pray, the more I want to pray.’

Today, as in every age, time is the great enemy of prayer. Tempus fugit, as we all know too well, and our lives feel dominated by the tyranny of the urgent. The busy-ness of life works against us finding time to pray – we do our best to offer up prayer and turn to God through the day. The truth is, however, that a time dedicated to God, of peace, calm and quiet, ensures that we grow closer to God day by day.

Rule 2: Read Scripture Every Day

How well do you know your Bible? Do you read the Scriptures daily? Have you ever read the Bible all the way through? Is your Bible gathering dust on the shelf? Knowing the Scriptures is crucial if we are to be ‘spiritually fit’ and in good shape.

The Bible reveals the mind of God. The more we read the Sacred Scriptures, the more we learn to think with God. We also learn to hear God speak to us through his Word. Paul taught that we are changed and transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2). This renewal is closely linked with reading and contemplating God’s Word. In the Scriptures we learn from God; we are taught by God and we have an encounter with God.

Rule 3: Examine your Conscience Every Day

How often do you examine your conscience? Do you do this daily? Do you know how to examine your conscience? Aristotle said that an ‘unexamined life is not worth living’. Since its foundation the Church has encouraged us to examine our conscience. Examination of conscience leads to confession, repentance, healing and freedom. Many today have lost the art of self-examination. For sure there are dangers. Too much examination becomes introspection; too little leaves us vulnerable to living shallow lives. G.K. Chesterton once wrote the following letter to The Times newspaper:

Dear Sir,
What is wrong with the human race? I am.
Yours sincerely
G.K. Chesterton

The fault, very often, is not in the stars or in our upbringing or culture but in ourselves. Daily examination of conscience is vital if we are to be spiritually healthy.

Rule 4: Fight the Battle for the Mind Every Day

Every day we have to fight a battle for the mind. We have a free choice to hold on to our positive godly thoughts or to be overwhelmed by our own negative thoughts. In truth, we cannot afford the luxury of negative thoughts but we often do indulge them and nurse them. The Christian life is a daily invitation to engage in an interior fight in which we proclaim and hold on to God’s word. We are called to persevere in resisting the darts and temptations which undermine our faith. We do this by proclaiming the truth: God loves me. God forgives me. God has a plan for my life.

Rule 5: Repent Every Day

We turn to God out of the depths of a humble and contrite heart. We are beggars before God. We need God’s grace. We are sinners, and sinners do what sinners do best, which is sin. Sin is not a problem to God, but a lack of repentance is, because it makes our heart hard and God cannot  forgive an unrepentant heart. Spiritual wellbeing is closely connected with our willingness to say we are sorry, to utter those difficult words: ‘I have sinned against heaven and against God.’ A daily act of contrition or repentance draws us closer to God. God is close to us when we are broken-hearted and repentant.

Rule 6: Grow in our Eucharistic Adoration

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is God’s greatest gift to us and feeds us both in this life and in the life to come. We are called to grow, deepen and mature in awe, wonder and amazement in the Eucharist. We must strive to resist the temptation to allow receiving the Eucharist to become routine to us, causing us to lose sight of the gift of God. The way to grow in adoration of the Eucharist is to spend more time in prayer after receiving the host. Ask the Holy Spirit to deepen in you a love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

Rule 7: Make time for Spiritual Reading

What kind of books do you read? What kind of books do you like? Do you read many books on the spiritual life? We read books which stimulate and excite us but they do not necessarily feed us spiritually. For centuries the practice of Lectio divina (sacred reading) has been encouraged by the Church.

Historically it was priests and religious who had the time and the access to books, but nowadays we can all read spiritual books. Have you read: The Confessions of St. Augustine; The Confession of St Patrick; The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux; The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola; Journey of a Soul by Pope John XXIII; Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II? These books and many others give us great insight and hold out much wisdom in living the Christian life.

Rule 8: Love your Neighbour and your Enemy

God is love. Love is God. We are called to love. Love, in the way Christ called us to love, is challenging. We are to love those we don’t like or get on with. ‘What does it mean to love?’ Perhaps the key is to realize that we are not as loving or forgiving as we think we are. Without God’s grace and help we cannot love – it is impossible. Well, that is not quite true – we do love our nearest and dearest, but even atheists and agnostics love their own. Love is going the extra mile, forgiving, being tolerant of others but also being prepared to witness to the gospel.

Rule 9: Cultivate the Virtue of Hope

Sadly, religious people, sometimes even priests and religious sisters, but certainly many lay people, can easily lose a sense of hope. For them the glass is always half empty – if Spiritual Disciplenot entirely empty, end of story. It is never half full and they struggle to have hope in their lives. Many also give way to a kind of sophisticated despair: this is a certain cynicism which never looks for the good, assumes the worst, gives way to despair and is often just fed up. The spiritually healthy actively set out each day to be hopeful by rooting their lives in the gospel. The gospel is all about the hope of eternal life, the promise of God’s love, the hope of God’s forgiveness. Although it may not be easy to hear and accept to be stuck in a rut of hopelessness and despair means we have lost sight of God’s love. The remedy is to turn back to God, repent, believe the Gospel and be filled with renewed hope.

Rule 10: Be Joyful and Happy

Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi with the simple exhortation: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice’ (Phil. 4:4). It was as if he were saying: ‘Be joyful and happy. Smile and show the world that this joy comes from somewhere deep inside of you.’ Too many believers are as miserable as sin and this is truly sinful. Believers in our Lord Jesus Christ should be the happiest people on earth. Of course, this joyfulness and happiness is not shallow, superficial or facile but the fruit of the Holy Spirit welling up in us. Joy and happiness are infectious. Go and spread the joy of the Holy Spirit today.



Heart, Soul and Mind

Monsignor Royal's weekly column as featured in our bulletin.


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