If you have been involved in Catholic community or have run in circles with people of faith, I am sure you have heard about the importance of the interior life. So often do we hear that we must “pray, pray, and pray some more.” But few times do we learn about what this actually looks like which can, in turn, leave us feeling lost and confused. What is prayer? What is the interior life? How much do I need to do for it to be enough?
I have continuously found myself discouraged at Saint Paul’s writings to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances,” (5: 16-18). I recognize he is correct and the Lord deserves everything and more from us, but I just do not feel like I can offer it to Him. For as much instruction that I am given on: why: I need to pray, it is very rare that I am instructed on: how: I should pray.
The answer to that topic can take a lifetime to understand, and many more qualified saints than I have written their whole lives about it. A few recommendations for spiritual readings would be as follows: A Story of a Soul: (my personal favorite)Confessions, Imitation of Christ. To answer your question, yes simply reading and reflecting on these works is a good start and does count as prayer.
I was once told by a friend that prayer is “the participation in the conversation of the Trinity.” That sounds beautiful but once again there are times that I struggle to understand what that means for me. As previously mentioned, this topic is expansive and I can not answer it, so instead I would like to share some reflections on: what: Catholics mean by the interior life, the foundation of all prayer. These reflections come from my reading of the book: Soul of the Apostolate, by Jean-Baptiste Chautard.
I have found this book to be very beneficial as our mission team has been assigned to read it this year to continue our formation. This book is dense and definitely needs to be discussed with other people as it is very demanding and could potentially lead someone into scrupulosity. I say that as a caution, because I know I am very eager to put into practice what I read and am often not patient enough with myself.
The chief concern of this book is as follows: “What is the interior life? And how is it we increase in, or even potentially damage our relationship with God? ” I have found this book to be very helpful this mission year, and believe the help extends beyond life in active ministry. From this, I would like to share what I have learned about the interior life.
- We do not earn our salvation because we were made by God from nothing.
Because God created man from nothing, we can never offer something to God that He does not already have: There is no transaction from which God gains something He did not have before. This could come across as harsh, as though we were worthless. But actually, what is meant here is that because we were made from nothing, we can be assured that God created us purely because He wanted us. We are not business partners with God, He simply wants us to be ourselves. We will never have to prove ourselves to God. I do struggle with this thought, but when understood properly, it actually takes all the weight off our shoulders.
- The Interior Life is Christ’s life within us.
This is the answer to the big question. The interior life is not us attempting to convince God that we are good enough for Him, it is not some whole for Him to fill with prophecy or visions, but rather it is literally God living within us. We are called to embrace Christ’s life within us, to cooperate with Him. He is not separate from us, but rather He wishes to move as one within us. He wants our hands to be one and the same, to lift that cup of coffee together, to resist sin together, to hug our parents together, etc.
- How does one receive more of Christ’s life within us?
God is always calling us deeper and deeper into His life. The Incarnation of God as Man through the person of Jesus reveals His plan for us. He wants us to share intimately in His divine life. God does not simply tolerate or clean us up, but rather He wishes to enter inside of us. He wishes to enter into every piece of us, sharing more and more of Himself within us. Each action we take that makes us act more like God is an infusion of His life within us:. We become more like Jesus each time we receive the Eucharist, pray a rosary, resist temptation, fast, etc. Jesus is the heart of our inner life and each virtuous action is a transfusion of the Precious Blood into our veins.
- How does one lose the divine life within us?
We know it is possible to lose God’s life within us, to remove His workings from our lives. We acknowledge this reality as sin. We sin in two major ways: Commission and Ommission. Sins of commission are active works contrary to the life of God. To continue with the analogy of Christ’s blood within us, sins of commission are similar to wounds. When we inflict damage to ourselves and others, it results in wounds that leak out the divine life from within us. There are two types of wounds: Venial and Mortal; wounds that weaken you and wounds that kill you.
Secondly, sins of omission are failures to act virtuously in which we choose complacency and apathy. In line with the analogy, these wounds would be those of atrophy. Should someone be injured and unable to move a limb, this lack of movement might, unfortunately, result in amputation. Complacency results in losing the strength to cooperate with Christ.
Conclusion: God is calling all of us to forgiveness and increased life.“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing, ”(Jn 15: 5). God is inviting us into cooperation with Him. He is inviting us to allow more of His life within us, which will transform us to being more fully human. It is an embrace and fulfillment of our identity. We can threaten our identity through wrongful action or complacent inaction. However, God is always calling us back to Him and will always infuse Himself into us through encounters, chief of which are the sacraments, particularly Reconciliation and the Eucharist. This transformation toward, and infusion of divine life is what is meant by “the inner life.”
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