Keep on the right path toward holiness each and every day
by Bishop Paul J. Swain - 10/3/2011
Most Rev. Paul J. Swain - Bishop of Sioux Falls
Have you ever been lost? Occasionally we hear an announcement at the mall about a lost child separated from parents. As adults sometimes we miss a turn while on a trip even with the guidance of GPS. Spiritually we can get lost by separating ourselves from God the Father or turning away from Christ in our moral choices.
To become lost spiritually can happen innocently when we are not paying attention to core values and allow less noble influences to lead us astray. It can happen casually when we are dazzled by the lure of the evil one through celebrity or technological images. It can happen intentionally when we become determined to get out from under the shackles of the faith that we feel constrain us. Ultimately we get lost when we focus down and in on ourselves and not up and out, beyond ourselves.
The Catholic convert Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “The only ultimate disaster that can befall us is to feel ourselves to be at home on earth.” This world and we are passing. When we focus only on the immediate and me, it is then that we become lost.
Discovering that we are lost spiritually can take awhile. To find our way back usually must be done the old fashioned way; we must decide we want to and then work to find the healthier path. It requires conversion, which is turning around and heading in a new direction. God provides the grace when we sincerely seek to find our way to him.
I experienced that in my own life. Successful as a lawyer, engaged in the world, calling my own shots was not enough. Eventually I felt the emptiness, the lack of fulfillment, the yearning for something, really someone more.
Thank God the Good Shepherd continues to seek the lost sheep and rejoices when they are found. It is when we learn that oneness with Christ fills our emptiness and yearning that we recognize just how lost we were. For me it was discovering the mystery of his presence in the Holy Eucharist that opened my mind and heart and resulted in my conversion.
The better way is not to get lost in the first place. May I suggest seven assists that can help keep us on the right path toward holiness.
1. Be proud to be Catholic, not arrogantly but humbly. It is a privilege that should affect our attitude and responses to secular influences. As an adult convert I know what it is like to not be part of the church. There is a strength and rootedness in the one, holy catholic and apostolic church. And there is power in shared witness.
2. Maintain a sense of humor and don’t let others outside or inside the church get us down. The critics are many, hostility toward religion is strong, and the humanness in the Church is only too real. One of my fondest images is that of Pope John Paul I who served less than a month. His face was weathered with wrinkles yet etched with kind eyes and a warm smile. That is the church to me, weathered and wise from experience yet loving and therefore hopeful.
3. Pray regularly. One of the treasures of the church is its variety of healthy spiritualities. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, small prayer groups, silence, Scripture study, the writings of the Church Fathers, and of course Holy Mass are only a few. Regular prayer lifts us above the hurts and pressures of the moment.
4. Learn history and thus gain perspective, of the Church, of the country, of our families, of ourselves. The old adage that the more things change the more they stay the same rings true. History reminds us that rarely are we the first to face the challenges we do and reassures us that they can be faced. Studying the saints is a wonderful way to do so.
5. Maintain a relationship with the Blessed Mother. She responded to God’s will with trust. Be it done to me as He says is hard for us who like to control. The Blessed Mother will intercede to help us live out her model of discipleship as best we can. Mary always leads us to her son.
6. Call on the Holy Spirit. We received the Holy Spirit at baptism and confirmation, as did the Church herself at Pentecost. As a result we are never alone. The Spirit is ever present but we need to call upon Him and take advantage of his gifts, especially courage.
7. Remember that our ultimate purpose is oneness with God forever. Let us not feel at home in the world, but rather live faithful lives each day with the certain hope of a better tomorrow.
Blessed Mother Theresa wrote: “True holiness consists of doing God’s will, with a smile.” When we do, we have a good chance of not getting lost but rather staying on the path that leads to greater holiness and ultimately to eternal life.