The Spiritual Disciplines compiled by Tony Massimini, PhD
St. Paul compared spiritual development to a race toward a goal (Phi 3:14). Runner must train to develop and strengthen their energy for a successful run. The spiritual disciplines (also called dynamics) are the various ways we develop the energy that God gives us to reach our goal of spiritual maturity. Here is a list of disciplines for us to meditate on and apply to our daily lives in Christ.
1. Love, Compassion, Charity and Mercy God is love, and so love is the heart and soul of all the spiritual disciplines and of our entire life. Our Christ-ed life on earth is our ever evolving journey toward wholeness-in-love, toward ourselves, others, nature, the whole world and universe.
Love embraces our total self; it includes our thoughts, our emotions and our deep, active, willing commitment to help others in every possible way, for their own sake. Love moves us to work for the highest good and happiness of others. Compassion moves us to love so that we feel strongly the needs and pain of others and help them in their needs and pain.
Charity moves us to love even at a cost to ourselves
Here we can include Mercy, which is our imitation of God’s loving benevolence, forgiveness and compassion. Spiritual works of mercy include aiding our neighbor in spiritual and bodily necessities, instructing, consoling, comforting, forgiving, and bearing wrongs patiently. Corporal works of mercy include feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.
2. Order: Like creation itself, our movement toward wholeness-in-love engages us in an ever-evolving, age-appropriate movement from chaos to cosmos, from disorder to order. (Order for a 2 year old is not the same as order for an adult.)
We nourish and elevate ourselves and our society and culture when we accept our spiritual responsibility to organize and harmonize ourselves, our families and communities, our education, our work, politics, economics, science, art, etc., so that we and our society function efficiently and effectively, avoiding wasteful disorder on one hand, and obsessive strictness on the other hand.
3. Justice: “To each his/her own.” We all have a God-given right to life, freedom, food, shelter, safety, education, employment, health care–in general, the pursuit of happiness.Here we also include the Beatitude by which we hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt. 5:6), namely, living in conformity with God’s will. Also, setting the standard high and living up to it.Order includes Social Justice, working for the common good, with a preferential option for the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion in the face of injustice (CCC 2302-2). Jesus told us not to be angry (Mt. 21-2) because in his culture, anger carried with it the intention to murder the person you were angry at. Justified anger must always be used to correct and heal injustice, never to destroy. St. Thomas Aquinas said that we should always keep humility one step out in front of our anger.
4. Respect: Closely related to Justice, it means, “taking a second look, (Latin: re: again, specto: look) Our first look at someone can mean, “What’s in this for me?” Our second look can then mean, “What can I do for the other?” Fear of the Lord is related to respect. It can mean a childish relationship with God with fear of offending a parent for fear of punishment. This then matures into a respect for God, so that we would not even think of offending God.
A spirituality that emphasizes sin, repentance and hell, to the near exclusion of the Easter and Pentecost blessings of renewed life and spiritual progress, joy and hope, tends to keep people God-fearing and spiritually immature. Spiritual development moves us from asking, “It is a sin to do this?” and saying, “See how we fall short,” to asking, “How can we best love God in doing this?” and “Here’s how to apply our faith in this matter or situation.” In this way, we go from making decisions between good and evil to making decisions between good and better.
5. Peace: Peace follows upon order, justice and respect. It is not merely the absence of conflict but the positive reaching out to help one another become who we truly are, who God intends us to be and become (CCC 2304) Blessed are the peace-makers, i.e., the reconcilers of disputes between individuals, groups, e.g, the right and the poor, religions, political views, ethnic groups, nations, etc. We must work to overcome all threats to peace, e.g., injustice, economic or social inequalities, etc., (CCC 2317)
6. Thoughtful Silence and Solitude: God speaks in a whisper (cf. 1 Kings 19:9-13). In today’s noisy culture it is difficult to “hear” God. In the mid-20th century, the ex-Catholic, agnostic philosopher, Martin Heidegger said that is God exists, he is known today by his absence. How true is that in today’s culture?
We spend blessed, quite moments with God, e.g., in church, watching a sunset, on retreat, gazing at a sleeping child, etc.
7. Mourning: The Beatitude (Mt. 5:4) teaches us to mourn for injustice–personal, in society, in our culture, in our church. When we act prophetically to elevate our humanity and where necessary to correct and heal injustice in the love and grace of Christ, we can expect to suffer some pain. We are blessed when we suffer for the sake of righteousness (Mt. 5:10-12).
8. Humility: This all-embracing discipline and spiritual dynamic arises from our deep sense of who we are, namely created and graced children of God, who owe everything to God, without whom we would not even exist. (CCC 2559). Our Self-esteem and pride in our own accomplishments are valid only within the discipline of humility. For example, “I accomplished this or that by my own, free effort and abilities, but only because God created me and gave me the talents and abilities to do this; and Jesus died for me and gave me the grace to live in him.” In humility, we empty ourselves of all false pride.
9. Obedience: The freedom to obey God and the truth in all things, to accept reality as it truly is. The freedom not to always have to be, “Number One!” It is related to respect, which we give first to God/truth/reality and then to the dignity and rights of others. It is the will to obey all just laws, leaders and superiors, as long as we are convinced that they are expressing truth and reality, and therefore, the will of God. Therefore, it is also our will to oppose all unjust laws, leaders and superiors when they are not expressing God/realty/truth. Obedience opens us to be poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3) in the positive sense of this spiritual discipline. In the negative sense, the poor of Jesus’ time were so oppressed by the rich that they were depressed and dispirited, i.e., poor in spirit. Jesus felt compassion for them and blessed them in a special way. In the positive sense, poverty of spirit means emptying ourselves of selfishness and greed so that we can see God and others in reality and truth, and thus obey, i.e., do what is necessary to help others become who God wants them to become, e.g., have a deep and active compassion for the financially poor. It means taking up our cross and following Jesus in all things. (Mk. 8:34)
10. Trust: The sense of feeling safe in our interactions with God, others, family, community, school, work, and in all our society and culture.
11. Faith: (CCC 153-184) Faith may be described as our loving, trusting, deep persuasion that God exists and that God is All Loving. It is our “belongingness” with God. Faith includes our reception of the truth that God has revealed to us. The certitude of faith comes directly from God. (CCC 156-7).
Faith and reason do not conflict. Faith is reasonable. However, while we can logically reason to the existence of God, reason alone cannot give us unshakable persuasion and certitude that God exists. People can also logically reason to atheism. But atheism cannot prove that God does not exist. As stated above, the certitude of faith comes from God. (We can reasonable and logically explain our faith to an atheist, and we can help dispose an atheist to receive the faith by our explanations and the example of our lives, but the faith itself and its certitude can come to the atheist only from God. So we should never argue with an atheist. Atheists are atheists because they don’t have what we have, namely, faith.)
Science operates in a different context from faith. Science is our best understanding of how the universe works. It’s certitude rests upon observation and conclusions, and it can and does change, e.g., scientists once thought that the earth was at the center of the universe, that the atom was solid, etc. Faith gives us the gift of appreciating the deepest and truest meaning of the universe. There is no conflict between faith and science.
Science is not set up either to prove that God exists or that God does not exist. Scientists who say they are atheists because of their science are making an unscientific, illogical, unreasonable and meaningless statement.
For example, some scientists, e.g., Richard Dawkins, often unknowingly use the philosophy of materialism or positivism as a structure for their science. In short, these philosophies says that if something (or Someone) cannot be sensed, weighed or measured, it, He/She does not exist. They only accept material evidence. (Some of these scientists will say, “Well, without material evidence,I won’t say it doesn’t exist, but that it just is not important.”) Thus they “conclude” that God does not exist because they started with the premise that God, who is not material, and who cannot be sensed, weighed or measured, does not exist. They simply “prove” what they already believe.
12. Study: The more knowledge and understanding we have–scientifically, poetically, politically, economically, etc., the more clearly, maturely and fully we can respond to God and the more successfully we can live.
Our faith also grows. While it remains essentially the same, we are learning more and more about God and our relationship with God every day.13: Wisdom: Our knowledge and understanding are perfected by wisdom, which is the everyday, practical, common-sense way of living. Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
14. Simplicity: “Say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no.” (Mt. 5:37). Simplicity moves us to live in open, joyful, and direct truthfulness and honesty. Duplicity leads us to “spin” our political and economic views, to exploit the poor for our own good, and to be hypocrites. Simplicity moves us to be clean of heart (Mt. 5:8). It fosters “spiritual poverty” by which we “travel light” through life, not accumulating unnecessary goods, prejudices, etc. Simplicity is related to healthy spontaneity, openness of spirit, kindness, goodness, modesty, mildness, purity and chastity.To be simple does not mean to be naive.
15. Meekness: (Mt. 5:5) Meekness does not mean letting people run all over us. It means facing life and adversity with a calm sense of Godliness and self-respect. St. Thomas Aquinas said that meekness is our reasonable use of anger. Meekness moves us to maintain our dignity as persons and to require others to respect our dignity. Jesus gives us three non-violent examples of maintaining our dignity through meekness. (Mt. 5:39-42).
a. Turn the other cheek. If someone strikes you on your right cheek, they will strike you with the back of their hand, i.e., in a way that insults and degrades you. By turning the other cheek, you say in effect, “Don’t insult and degrade me, respect my dignity.”
b. Offer your cloak. The Jews had a law that a creditor could take all of a debtor’s belongings except his cloak, which the debtor would need in the evening to keep warm. If the debtor offered his cloak, the creditor would have to refuse to take it, thereby placing the debtor at an advantage and permitting him to maintain his dignity.
c. Going the extra mile. A Roman soldier could force a Jew to carry his armor for one mile, and one mile only. If the soldier forced the Jew to carry his armor for a greater distance, he would be punished. By offering to carry the soldier’s armor for more than a mile, the Jew placed the soldier at a disadvantage and thereby maintained his own dignity.
16. Creativity: Creativity is our ability to discern new insights and images out of the galaxies of graced possibilities that live within us, the world and the universe, and to express those possibilities in ways that give us new and joyful appreciation of what it means to be human.
17. Hope: Hope is not wishingfor good things, but confidence that we can achieve goals and move toward our fulfillment, based on real accomplishments and successes that we have already attained, and on real possibilities. Hope is our graced confidence in God’s love, support, encouragement, and his will to save us, based on his revelation and on Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and his sending us his Spirit at Pentecost. (CCC 1817-18)
18. Joy of Life: Joy of life is the celebration of just being alive, of being a child of God, loved and sustained by God (CCC 301). Joy includes the religious emotions of awe and wonder. Joy differs from happiness, when happiness means the satisfaction of getting the things we want, e.g., the American pursuit of happiness. Our true happiness is in God. (CCC 1723).
19. Perseverance: Arising from hope, it is our ability to face our challenges and press forward with courage in times and situations of adversity. It goes with the disciplines of Patience, Fortitude and Temperance.
20. Prudence: Prudence enables us to avoid rashness and do the right thing at the right time. It is the first of the Cardinal Virtues, which include Justice, Fortitude and Patience
21. Service to Others: We all share the same humanity and all have the same human needs. Christ died for everyone. Service is of the essence of the Christian life.
22. Respect for Labor: Even though we “get bread to eat from the sweat of our face,” (Gen. 3:19) our spirituality considers work to be our cooperation in the ongoing, evolving creation and salvation of the world in the grace of Christ. By our personal work we contribute to the realization in history of the divine plan. (Vat. II, Church in the Modern World. 34ff)
23. Fasting and Abstinence: Used properly, this discipline helps us concentrate more clearly on God and pray more effectively. (CCC 1434, 38)
24. Confession and Forgiveness: It is natural to want to tell others our needs and even our shortcomings and faults in order to receive counsel and forgiveness. We confess our sins to God who graciously forgives us and sets us on our way again renewed and re-energized. (CCC 1422-70)
25. Guidance and Counsel: We provide guidance and counsel in many ways, e.g., by listening, by being a good parent, teacher or friend. We provide spiritual guidance to one another by walking together on our spiritual journey. Qualified spiritual counselors provide professional spiritual counseling and guidance.
Spiritual guidance and counsel is not the same as psychotherapy. Psychotherapy “unties knots” in people’s psyches and fosters a healthy psychological life. Spiritual guidance and counsel helps people live life in abundance, in relationship with God, and in relationship with others and nature, within their relationship with God.
26. Gratitude: The spiritually mature are quick to express thanks to all those who help them, to God for giving them their life and gifts, and to Christ for saving us. Gratitude leads to worship.
27. Worship: All the disciplines lead us ultimately to worship God. Worship is our fullest, most joyful, awe and wonder-filled, and most thankful and loving response to God’s creative, healing and world-transforming love for us, with which God creates, loves and saves us. It is our full and supreme response and return of ourselves, others and the whole world to God.