(Check out the Homily Page (menu above) for this week’s homily on starting a spiritual journey)
Preparing For Lent (Ash Wed., Feb. 10) we do well to put ourselves in the mood for a pilgrimage. Lent is after all a pilgrimage with our Jewish ancestors in the Sinai, learning anew how to worship in sincerity and truth. It’s a journey with our Lord who fasted, prayed and did combat with the devil before embarking on his own public ministry. So we do well to know something about pilgrimage.
Countless authors have compared Christian life to a spiritual journey; one of them is St. Gregory of Nyssa who gives us three phases to watch for as we understand our own journey. When speaking of phases, though, it’s important to recall that rarely do they occur in linear fashion (A,B,C). Usually they’re all sort of happening at once depending on what part of life we’re examining. Also, just because we move past point A doesn’t mean we won’t at some point revisit it. Those caveats in mind, what is St. Gregory’s phase I?
First, the illuminative: God breaks into our day revealing something special about our relationship with him. Gregory uses the example of Moses who, encountering the burning bush (Exodus 3), begins a dialog with God that will bring light and definition to his life.
Likewise, this Sunday’s readings offer us three moments of light. Nehemiah and Ezra, after reconstructing the Temple, re-read the Mosaic Law God’s People. This Revelation reminds them how they are to live, but also reminds them how much they are loved by the God who has saved them. They are not alone! Second, St. Paul reveals to us the beautiful truth that we are one body in Christ. Our unity is a blessing unto itself, but even more so because it is a unity in the Son of God… a union of adoption that elevates us, makes us recipients of his paternal Love. What a gift to be in Christ’s body, the Church! Finally there is the Gospel, in which Christ reveals to us that a day of great joy has dawned. The Messiah has come to give a New Law of Grace… like Moses… to incorporate us no longer as the chosen Israel, but as part of his very Self. This is truly Good News!
What is the goal of this phase? In the light of God’s revelation we want – essentially – to get to know him and the workings of his light as it illumines our path. We want that ‘lighting’ process to become habitual. We do this by practicing virtuous living until discernment and acting on his promptings becomes second nature. We call this goal habituated grace. Because this goal is achieved by practicing virtue this first phase is also identified with the ethical life.
Some Questions for meditation this week: How aware am I of the Father’s Love for me? Can I list some concrete examples? Where is he opening up a path before me? In terms of vocation? In terms of day-to-day getting by? Where has he opened such paths, where has he been lighting my way in the past?
An exercise: Scan your personal history for such illuminative moments… scan your present experience for such moments… and just enjoy them! Get to know them. What you’re getting to know is the way God loves you in particular… and the way that he guides you uniquely among all human beings. The more familiar we get with the illuminative way, the easier it is to discern it each day. This keeps us moving on the path to greater holiness and happiness… and ultimately to heaven. And that gives us hope!