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What are Our Real Aims in Life?
Most of us aim to achieve love, joy and peace in our life. So how do we do that?
i) For Love
Mother Teresa says: “Love, in order to survive, must be nourished by sacrifices, especially the sacrifice of self.” (A Life for God, 135)
“Whatever our religion, we know that if we really want to love, we must learn to forgive before anything else.” (One heart full of love, 113)
“We must make our homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly.” (“A Gift for God”, 18)
"It is easy to smile at people outside your own home. It is so easy to take care of the people that you don't know well. It is difficult to be thoughtful and kind and to smile and be loving to your own in the house day after day, especially when we are tired and in a bad temper or bad mood. We all have these moments and that is the time that Christ comes to us in distressing disguise." (The Joy in Loving, 65)
ii) For Joy
Mother Teresa says, “Joy is not simply a matter of temperament. In the service of God and souls, it is always hard to be joyful--—all the more reason why we should try to acquire it and make it grow in our hearts. (A Life for God, 72)
Father Henri Nouwen says, “The joy that compassion brings is one of the best-kept secrets of humanity. It is the secret known to only a very few people, a secret that has to be rediscovered over and over again.” (Here and Now, 102)
iii) For Peace
Mother Teresa says:
“The fruit of silence is PRAYER
The fruit of prayer is FAITH
The fruit of faith is LOVE
The fruit of love is SERVICE
The fruit of service is PEACE” (A Simple Path, xxxvii)
What do all these spiritual writings say to me? What is God telling me? What is this service that is being advocated? Our understanding of service is usually very limited. Normally we think of service to help the poor only. But service should also include service to family and others.
See how Mother Teresa explains about services:
“When you are cooking, washing clothes, working hard in the office, do all with joy. That will be your love for God in action!” (A Life for God, 205)
“In your family, if it is your vocation to have a family, love one another as husband and wife and have a family. The service you perform and the work you accomplish are your love for God put into practice.” (One Heart Full of Love, 43)
“If in the work you have difficulties and you accept them with joy, with a big smile—--in this, as in any other good thing—--they will see your good works and glorify the Father.” (A Life for God, 73)
If I believe what Mother Teresa says about the fruit of service is the path to peace then it means that in whatever work I do or whatever service I perform, at home or in the office, I do my best and do it out of love for God and with joy and a big smile. As a result, I will myself to perform all my services or work with “patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NJB)
For example: Doesn’t this service mean being patient in allowing, accommodating and accepting the other person’s ideas, values, personalities and mannerisms? Shouldn’t I have self-control over my tongue instead of criticising my children with how many times must I tell you so? Shouldn’t I be kind to my children especially when they fail? Doesn’t this service mean that we have to be kind and keep quiet even when we know that we have been unfairly accused or blamed? Shouldn’t I be kind to pass over his offences towards me? Don’t I have to show my faith in my children by perpetually encouraging them even when they fail many times? Shouldn’t I take the time and effort to heal the wounds of division? Shouldn’t I be the first to apologise, forgive and reconcile? Don’t I have to be good and excuse his intentional insensitivity towards me? When I am insulted shouldn’t I be gentle and answer back with kind words?
Who can do all these? If we are to do it with our own effort, we will be doomed to failure, even with a lifetime of effort. But with God’s help nothing is impossible because God gives us the Holy Spirit to generate and nurture this spiritual fruit in us (see above Galatians 5:22-23 NJB). When we focus on this fruit, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us will slowly in turn transform us, provided we strongly believe in Jesus and constantly abide in Him. This deep faith in Jesus that “with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27) will make the critical difference for us.
How then can we obtain God’s help? Before we can attain God’s help we have first to have God dwelling within us or by our side. How do we do that? Christians believe that once a person is baptised, God gives His Holy Spirit to the individual. The Holy Spirit resides within the heart of the individual and He is the Counsellor, Helper and Comforter to the individual. For us to be fully aware that we are filled with the Holy Spirit we have to live a spiritual life. To live a spiritual life is to abide in Jesus and to live in the presence of God. A spiritual life is the life of the Holy Spirit of God within us.
But how do we go about living a spiritual life? It is impossible to live a spiritual life without discipline. Discipline asks us to set aside a time and place for God and God alone. It asks us to create a space for God in our lives. To live a spiritual life, we must cultivate the disciplines of:
a. Spiritual Reading
b. Solitude and
a) Spiritual Reading
First, we don’t want our mind to become the garbage can of the world. We don’t want our mind to be filled with things that confuse us, depress us, arouse us, repulse us, or attract us whether we think it is good for us or not. Clearly we want God and not the world to become the Lord of our mind. So is there a book we are presently reading, a book that we have selected because it nurtures our mind and brings us closer to God? Our thoughts and feelings would be deeply affected if we are always to carry with us a book that puts our minds again and again in the direction we want to go.
We need to know that the purpose of our spiritual reading is not to master knowledge or information, but to let God’s Spirit master us. Spiritual reading is reading with an inner attentiveness to the movement of God’s Spirit in our outer and inner lives. With that attentiveness, we will allow God to read us and to explain to us what we are truly about. In our spiritual reading we need to constantly pause and reflect and to keep asking ourselves: “What is God trying to tell me? What does it all mean? How am I called to live in the midst of all this? How does God speak to me here? How does God call me to a more generous love? What is God calling me to do . . . to change . . . to heal?”
Without solitude it is practically impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God and God alone. When we decide to stay in solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations start jumping about in our minds like monkey on a banana tree. Once we start spending time alone, we discover how chaotic our minds are. We start thinking about thousands of other things---what we should do, whom we are mad at. We will soon find that solitude is not immediately satisfying. In the beginning, during the first few days, weeks, or even months, we may have the feeling that we are simply wasting our time. But if we do not run away, we will also meet there the One who says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will guide you through the valley of darkness.” Solitude is a way to get a little control over our inner life. And it’s not an easy discipline.
Henri Nouwen says: “In solitude, we meet God. In solitude, we leave behind our many activities, concerns, plans and projects, opinions and convictions, and enter into the presence of our living God, naked, vulnerable, open and receptive. And there we see that He alone is God, that He alone is care, that He alone is forgivingness. . . .I am not saying this to suggest that there is an easy solution to our ambivalent relationship with God. Solitude is not a solution. It is a direction.” (Clowning in Rome, 28)
“Let me give a more concrete description of how the discipline of solitude may be practiced. It is a great advantage to have a room or a corner of a room---or a large closet!---reserved for the discipline of solitude. Such a “ready” place helps us set our hearts on the Kingdom without time-consuming preparations. Some people like to decorate such a place with an icon, a candle, or a simple plant. But the important thing is that the place of solitude remains a simple, uncluttered place. There we dwell in the presence of the Lord. Our temptation is to do something useful: to read something stimulating, to think about something interesting, or to experience something unusual. But our moment of solitude is precisely a moment in which we want to be in the presence of our Lord with empty hands, naked, vulnerable, useless, without much to show, prove, or defend. That is how we slowly learn to listen to God’s small voice. But what to do with our many distractions? Should we fight these distractions and hope that thus we will become more attentive to God’s voice? This does not seem the way to come to prayer. Creating an empty space where we can listen to God’s Spirit is not easy when we are putting all out energy into fighting distractions. By fighting distractions in such a direct way, we end up paying more attention to them than they deserve. We have, however, the words of Scripture to which to pay attention. A psalms, a parable, a biblical story, a saying of Jesus, or a word of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, or John can help us to focus our attention on God’s presence. Thus we deprive those ‘many other things’ of their power over us. When we place words from the Scriptures in the center of our solitude, such words---whether a short expression, a few sentences, or a longer text---can function as the point to which we return when we have wandered off in different directions. They form a safe anchoring place in a stormy sea. At the end of such period of quiet dwelling with God we may, through intercessory prayer, lead all the people who are part of our lives, friends as well as enemies, into His healing presence. And why not conclude with the words that Jesus Himself taught us: the Our Father?
This is only one specific form in which the discipline of solitude may be practiced. Endless variations are possible. Walks in nature, the repetition of short prayers such as the Jesus prayer, simple forms of chanting, certain movements or postures---these and many other elements can become a helpful part of the discipline of solitude. But we have to decide which particular form of this discipline best fits us, to which we can remain faithful. It is better to have a daily practice of ten minutes solitude than to have a whole hour once in a while. It is better to become familiar with one pasture than to keep experimenting with different ones. Simplicity and regularity are the best guides in finding our way. They allow us to make the discipline of solitude as much part of our daily lives as eating and sleeping. When that happens, our noisy worries will slowly lose their power over us and the renewing activity of God’s Spirit will slowly make its presence known.
Although the discipline of solitude asks us to set aside time and space, what finally matters is that our hearts become like quiet cells where God can dwell, wherever we go and whatever we do. The more we train ourselves to spend time with God and Him alone, the more we will discover that God is with us at all times and in all places. Then we will be able to recognise Him even in the midst of a busy and active life. Once the solitude of time and space has become a solitude of the heart, we will never have to leave that solitude. We will be able to live the spiritual life in any place and any time. Thus the discipline of solitude enables us to live active lives in the world, while remaining always in the presence of the living God.” (Making all things New, 75-80)
Mother Teresa says:
“We too are called to withdraw at certain intervals into deeper silence and aloneness with God, together as a community as well as personally, to be alone with him, not with our books, thoughts, and memories but completely stripped of everything, to dwell lovingly in his presence: silent, empty, expectant, and motionless.” (A Life for God, 23)
“Silence gives us a new outlook on everything. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us. Jesus is always waiting for us in silence. In that silence, he will listen to us, there he will speak to our soul, and there we will hear his voice.” (A Life for God, 22)
It is impossible to live a spiritual life without the discipline of prayer. As prayer is the food of spiritual life, neglect of prayer starves the spiritual life.
Mother Teresa says: “Does your mind and your heart go to Jesus as soon as you get up in the morning? This is prayer, that you turn your mind and heart to God. In your times of difficulties, in sorrows, in sufferings, in temptations, and in all things, where did your mind and heart turn first of all? How did you pray? Did you take the trouble to turn to Jesus and pray, or did you seek other consolations?” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 95)
“It is difficult to pray if you don’t know how to pray, but we must help ourselves to pray. The first means to use is silence. We cannot put ourselves directly in the presence of God if we do not practice internal and external silence. Therefore we shall take as a special point silence of mind, eyes, and tongue.” (A Life for God, 21)
“Where can I learn to pray? Jesus taught us: “Pray like this: Our Father.... Thy will be done.... Forgive us as we forgive.” It is so simple yet so beautiful. If we pray the “Our Father” and live it, we will be holy. Everything is there: God, myself, my neighbor. If I forgive, then I can be holy and can pray... All this comes from a humble heart, and if we have this we will know how to love God, to love self and neighbor.
This is not complicated, and yet we complicate our lives so much, by so many additions. Just one thing counts: to be humble, to pray. The more you pray, the better you will pray. How do you pray? You should go to God like a little child. A child has no difficulty expressing his little mind in simple words which say so much. Jesus said to Nicodemus: ‘Become as a little child.’ If we pray the gospel, we will allow Christ to grow in us.” (Contemplative at the Heart of the World, 96)
“Pray. Ask for the necessary grace. Pray to be able to understand how much Jesus loves us, so that you can love others. And pray for the sisters, that we won’t spoil God’s work. Pray that we allow Jesus to use each of us as he wishes and wherever he wishes.” (A Life for God 21)
“We want so much to pray properly and then we fail. We get discouraged and give up prayer. God allows the failure but he does not want the discouragement. He wants us to be more childlike, more humble, more grateful in prayer, and not to try to pray alone, as we all belong to the mystical body of Christ, which is praying always. There is always prayer; there is no such thing as “I pray,” but Jesus in me and Jesus with me prays; therefore the body of Christ prays.” (A Life for God, 14)
“If you find it difficult to pray, ask him again and again, ‘Jesus, come into my heart pray in me and with me, that I may learn from thee how to pray.’ If you pray more you will pray better. Take the help of all your senses to pray.” (A Life for God, 15)
“If we neglect prayer and if the branch is not connected with the vine, it will die. That connecting of the branch to the vine is prayer. If that connection is there then love is there, then joy is there, and we will be the sunshine of God’s love, the hope of eternal happiness, the flame of burning love. Why? Because we are one with Jesus. If you sincerely want to learn to pray: keep silence.” (A Life for God, 31)
“If you don’t pray, your presence will have no power, your words will have no power. If you pray, you will be able to overcome all the tricks of the devil. Don’t believe all the thoughts that he puts into your mind.” (A Life for God, 19)
“If we want to be able to love, we must pray! Prayer will give us a clean heart, and a clean heart can see God. If we see God, immediately God’s love works in us. And we need to love not with words, but with deeds!” (A Life for God, 16)
In conclusion, if we aim to have a more loving, joyous and peaceful life we must live a disciplined, spiritual life and we need the Holy Spirit as the Counsellor, Helper and Comforter dwelling within our hearts to guide and help us.
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