As we approach the day celebrating the birth of Christ, it can be a pretty good spiritual meditation to trace the role of effort in our lives. Effort can be viewed as an energy that takes its birth from commitment. This energy has to be there to allow for our goal to manifest. For example, many of our young people play in some sport. Effort is needed by our young people to play any sport well. Both non-professional and professional athletes are themselves committed to a strong effort to play their sport well. Recently I heard a piano recital from a early teen who played marvelously. It took years of practice to get to this level. This is true for any accomplished musician.
This Christmas we will all hear once again of the effort involved in the birth of Christ. The Holy Family had to travel, and then find a place to sleep. They found a stable, and it was here Jesus was born. Shepherds had to travel to find the Christ child. It took effort to find Him. The three wise men utilized effort, a much greater effort, to find Christ for they had to travel a much greater distance. They also had to deceive Herod’s men. Certainly it took some effort to be that clever.
The above points just have to be a “no brainer” to anyone reading it, and it has to be such because the role of effort in our lives is just so clear to us. Admitting this to ourselves, the next logical task is to see the role of effort in our spiritual lives. A spiritual life is a multi-faceted journey! What are the facets? Let’s see. Mass attendance, daily private prayer- with the time dedicated to it extending over time, private prayer that ought to include meditation at some point, again over time seeing the importance of getting a spiritual director, and full participation in the Sacraments available to us. In addition- yes, there is more- we might include keeping a spiritual journal where we write our own reflections on our lives, incorporating the insights that such reflections offer. We might join any of the many organizations that can further nurture our spiritual endeavors.
The problem is not in recognizing the role of effort. Perhaps it lies in prioritizing what we choose to give effort. The natural tendency of the beginner in the spiritual life is to prioritize the more earthly goals, what was called in times past the way of the flesh. It is natural to do so as such needs are obviously more immediate to our awareness. But that is why spiritual reflection is so important, not to mention the role of prayer. The smallest effort here inevitably expands our awareness, the result of which is that we begin to notice what is more important in our lives- really more important. As we move deeper into God, our awareness then reveals to us that it is not a matter of giving up something important in our everyday life. Rather, we are shown how to integrate our spiritual practices in our everyday life. This effort in turn allows us to see God now in all that we do. What a wonderful stage to reach! But we must be patient with ourselves. We have to basically give ourselves permission to grow naturally and slowly. In the end, we find that we arrive. And when we arrive, we find ourselves grateful to God who in the end was the One to inspire us to make the effort needed to begin so that we could arrive.
Peace, Fr. Walter