Now, with the mood properly set, how about the always difficult task of sustaining religious enthusiasm? Don't worry, we all drop the ball, just like we all get the blues. Even those under religious vows find it difficult. Tony G. at All Things Catholic writes:
How often do all of us start something “in joy” and then get to the tough part and fall away?
We all know this: playing an instrument, trying to get that home improvement project done, losing weight (see below), or praying (see also below), etc. What starts with a bang often ends with a whimper...if even that! More:
The spiritual life is exactly like this. How many times have you come home from a youth conference all set to conquer the world and live out your faith? And how long does that last? Many times it will last a few weeks, maybe less, and then you realize again that the world is a big place and being Catholic is hard. You may just give up and stop trying to live your faith, until the next conference comes around.
"...being Catholic is hard" -- NO KIDDING. That and a lot of other things....so...
Katrina Fernandez, the Crescat, blogs about another complex yet all too real difficulty: battling complacency and laziness to find time to work out and/or pray. Hey, they're both exercise! Fernandez makes some crucial points in this one, too. The Crescat:
There’s so much moral superiority attached to fitness. As if being thin and athletic is the highest moral good. Obesity is an outward visible sign of our sinfulness and that’s why fat people are loathed so much. When someone sees a fat person they see sloth, gluttony, greed, and lust. They see insatiable appetites and lack of self restraint.
It’s easy to feel morally superior about our short comings when standing next to fat person.
As one who' faced his own weight battles, she is onto something there. We seem wired to compare ourselves to others, constantly checking our spiritual/mental/physical status against them. Do I look/pray better and own better stuff? Triathletes do this all time, particularly with bikes. "How do you like that Cervello?" And boy howdy, do academics ever do this! all.the.time. Have I published as much? Do my professional colleagues--scientists, historians, theologians, et al.--respect my obviously superior list of professional accomplishments? And here's where Fernandez just nails it: we start by looking at somebody worse off than we are "thank God I'm not that schlep."
But she's not done:
We often put a lot of emphasis on being ourselves and individualism. We are supposed to love ourselves and accept ourselves for who we are. Being “true to oneself” has become the pinnacle of self achievement. So I’m fat, who are you to judge? So I live unhealthily and do all manner of self destructive behavior. I don’t pray regularly and miss mass. Who are you to judge? This is who I am, man. Love it or leave it.
I call bullshit.
Contrary to popular opinion this isn’t self love, it’s self loathing. This attitude doesn’t lend itself to personal growth but personal stagnation. It’s a coward’s cop out. A coward never tries to achieve personal betterment.
Every day is a struggle where the biggest achievement is simply putting one foot in front of the other. I think I have a moral responsibility to at least try.
Read it all here.
Together these two posts make a helpful, but necessarily repetitive, point: every day we must get up, say our prayers, and go forth. Yes, for you Augustinians (among whom I count myself) and Pelagians (not me!), it involves grace. But any notion of grace that enables you to sit there doing nothing as you wallow in the gracious gracefullness of being graced is, as Fernandez argues, basically personal stagnation--of both the spiritual and physical kind. Anthony G.:
The really heart of the spiritual life is living every day with a love for God. Even when you can’t feel him, or you just do not want to sit down and pray that day. Saying a prayer every morning and just giving every day to God, that is the spiritual life! And when you do, you start to get that good feeling again. Just like becoming a successful Cello player, with dedication you can become a Saint. And being a Saint, well, being a Saint sounds pretty awesome to me!
Becoming and being a saint is awesome, or at least it seems so.I do think humility and unselfconscientiousness (how about that word??!?!), i.e., not becoming too wrapped up in your own spiritual well-being--what Fernandez blogs about regarding physical weight loss--are especially important in spiritual exercise. After all, St. Ignatius Loyola's advice includes this healthy check-and-balance repeatedly.
Hence spiritual diabetes -- we consume and consume, yet we're never filled....AND the endless consumption of spiritual simple sugars provides little nutritional value while it yo-yos our spiritual state before crashing suddenly and completely. Years of this, just like Type II diabetes, can lead to degradation, loss of mobility and activity, and even blindness, before death.
And combating it is not easy--not at all--and yet what else can we do?