I just completed a three-day retreat. I’ve been on dozens of retreats over the years and have always been told “don’t anticipate, participate,” meaning don’t get lost in comparisons of what you experienced or remember from past retreats. Just live in the moment and let the Holy Spirit guide you at the present time, for God’s present purpose in your life. It’s a good principle to follow but I think one comparison is important as you participate in the work of the Holy Spirit: we need to reflect on our spiritual growth and measure our spiritual progress.
Each time we open ourselves to new experiences we allow the Holy Spirit to stretch us and to sometimes take us to places we have never been before in our spiritual life. We can get caught up in the Spirit while on retreat, but if we don’t do anything with the grace we are given, we are cheating ourselves, we are cheating our community, and we are cheating God. The challenge is to not allow what we have felt burning in our hearts to be extinguished. As St. Paul writes to Timothy, we must “fight a good fight” and persevere in our in our spiritual journey (see 1 Timothy 1:18-19). We have to keep chipping away at our goal to live a life of holiness.
I love this story attributed to Michelangelo (the sculptor, not the Ninja Turtle): When asked how he can take a mass of stone and carve a statue from it. His response was “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. All you have to do is to chip away whatever is not the statue.” Oh, that life were so simple. If we could easily see the part of ourselves that is good, holy and true, and then remove all of the parts of our lives that aren’t as virtuous. It takes a long time to carve a statue. It takes a lifetime to grow in holiness. Like the statue carver, we must keep “chipping away” every day to become the person God wants us to be.
The spiritual practice of conducting a daily Examination of Conscience and Consciousness is a great way of helping measure spiritual progress. This type of daily review helps us be accountable before God for how we have lived our lives and how we are living in relation to God. There are several great Web sites that provide detailed instructions on how to practice this type of spiritual review. Use one of the Web Search Engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and search on the term “Examination of Conscience” or “Examination of Consciousness” and you will find many resources. A particular favorite of mine is posted by the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province and includes a bookmark-style PDF file you can download to review each day.
One chip at a time, one day at a time, we can allow God to remove all of the “things” in our lives that keep us from living a holy life. Every day is an opportunity to grow in holiness.
Have a great and holy day!
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