Please register to access this FREE content.
“You know Spirituality 101, don’t you?” Asked the priest.
I had just finished my confession to a wise monk at St. Benedict’s Abbey, and he hadn’t given me my penance yet.
“Um … no?” I said. “What do you mean?”
What followed was advice so concise and powerful that I brought it up in several conversations afterwards. I discovered that students at Benedictine College were well aware of the advice — some had heard it more than once.
Good, I thought. It’s worth hearing over and over again. A student helped me reconstruct it, but I won’t get it perfectly. It starts like a 12-step program and some of it was in question-and-answer format. It goes like this.
First: Realize you are powerless over sin, said the monk.
St. Paul says so in Romans 7 (15-25), when he says, “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Evil is bigger than we are. The devil is smarter than we are. Evil is so overwhelming that God the Father had to send his son to suffer the agony of crucifixion — to free us from evil. And when Christ died on the cross, the devil thought he had won the battle. But he didn’t take into account Christ’s divinity and Jesus rising from the dead, to not only overcome evil, but also to overcome death, and win resurrection, and life everlasting.
Secondly, everything is gift, everything is grace.
Paul says You can’t even say the name of Jesus without the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). Not only are we powerless over sin, but we are completely dependent upon God to do anything good!
And what is the first sin? The devil told Eve: eat this fruit and you’ll be as smart as God is. Eve ate the apple, Adam ate the apple. That’s the original sin: Pride. The tendency to assume that we’re self-sufficient. That we don’t need God.
What is the opposite virtue to pride? Humility. St Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Augustine among many others say that humility is the primary virtue. Without humility we only have our ego. The ego is good for the natural, but for the supernatural we need God. Humility acknowledges that we’re not God, we’re not all powerful, all wise, or all good. Humility acknowledges our need for God, frees us to reach out to God for his help.
So, who’s in charge of your life, you or God? Who is more powerful, wise, or good? God is. So what do we have to let go of? Control, so we can allow God help us. To do that we have a relationship with Jesus.
And how does God help us? The same God who created you out of love and redeemed you out of love, also wants to sanctify you out of love. How does he do this? Through the Holy Spirit, who puts thoughts in our head and feelings into our heart, communicating his will to us in this fashion, so that we can do the good, avoid the evil, and, essentially, help people who need our help. Practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy [Mt. 25: 31-46]. We we’re doing that, we helping Jesus, and he rewards us big time his own divine love: Whenever you do something for Jesus, he pays you back big time!
Third: What does he pay you with? The monk answered for me: It’s love.
God’s currency is love. the Holy Spirit, the one great reality, who gives us an increase in self-confidence, and makes us feel so good that we look for other ways to continue to help people who need our help. You grow in faith, you’re willing to take risks, you’re willing to reach out to people. You come alive, basically. And then you’re really living the faith!
You’re also happier. If you’re sad, if you’re angry, if you’re struggling, too focused on yourself, go help someone! Doesn’t it make you feel good to help others? So do it, he said.
Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of your brothers, you do to me.” That’s true. You really discover that in prison ministry, the monk said.
When we help someone out who needs our help, we receive grace, which is God’s love.
Who and what is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is love, the love between the Father and the Son, and that is what you receive from God.
And now for your penance: What would be helpful for you to do or to pray for your penance?