A Life of authentic Piety                     (E.J.Tyler)

1.   Man is characteristically religious   

When we think of the history of mankind and of his religions we see that it is the most normal thing of all to pray and to be religious. By contrast a very modern phenomenon and one peculiar to the West and those societies which have been influenced by Western philosophies is that modern man does not pray and professes not to be religious. But apart from this widespread modern aberration it is and has been normal and natural to pray and to be religious. For this reason many have suggested that man ought be referred to not so much as a rational animal but as a religious one. His distinctive characteristic is that he is religious and that he prays to the powers above. He sees his happiness and perfection as connected with God.

   Every person has an innate drive to personal perfection. He wants to be better and greater, more perfect and happier in his life and being, and he wants to avoid being a failure. In what does this perfection, this happiness consist? What is it which if not attained will reduce his life to being a failure? There are various answers given by the ordinary man, by philosophers, and by the great religions. Some will say that material success is what brings a man to his perfection, others will say it is intellectual prowess and enlightenment. The religions of man have proposed various answers - for instance, Buddhism states that man’s perfection will come from putting away all personal desire and attaining full enlightenment.

2. What God has revealed about human perfection  

 What has God revealed about this? God reveals his plan for man’s perfection in what he commands man to do. God is infinitely good and loving, and he sets before man his commandments in order to put him in the direction of what is good and best for him. So then, what does God command man to do? This was the question our Lord was asked on one occasion - which is the first of the commandments? The questioner was asking about the teaching of the Old Testament, and our Lord answered him by stating that the first of all the commandments, the one on which hung the whole Law of God and the teaching of the Prophets too, was this: “Listen, Israel, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength, and the second is like it, that you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In this statement summarising God’s commandments, a summary found in the Old Testament and reaffirmed by the Son of God himself, we are told in what man’s perfection consists and in what the fullness of his religious life and piety consists. It consists in the perfection of love for God and for our fellow man. This is what ought be growing at the heart of our life and our life of piety. Whatever may make up the elements of piety in our daily life, our times of prayer, our reading, our Sacramental life, our spiritual direction, at the heart of it all what has to be growing more and more is love. Perfection involves perfection of love. The life of piety and man’s general religious life is a matter of love, to love more and more, to love perfectly, and of course if he is to love God he must know and serve God. So he is made to know, love and serve God here on earth and he is to strive to do so to perfection. Authentic piety consists in authentic love and all the elements of a life of piety are directed to growing in an authentic love for God.  

3. To God through the humanity of Jesus   

Of course, God is infinite and incomprehensible. It is very difficult simply to aim at knowing and loving God because he is far beyond our minds to comprehend. This is why God has been so gracious to us in becoming man. We are able to know, love and serve God in a particular man because as St Paul puts it, in Christ dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily. The way to God now is through a particular man who himself is God. He is the way to the Father. He is the life and the truth about God. The way to God is now through the humanity of Jesus. By knowing him and loving him we know and love God and since  the path to our perfection lies in the perfection of our love for God, then our perfection lies in loving Jesus to perfection. Our life of piety and our religious life consists in knowing, loving and serving Jesus our Lord. This is the first and the greatest commandment, and the second is like it, to love others as Jesus has loved us. All the spiritual exercises we do, our sacramental life, our reading, our spiritual direction, everything that makes up our religious life, is oriented to our growing love for the person of Jesus and doing all for him. So then, the authentic religious life of the Christian and his general life of piety consists in a life of love. It is love for Jesus, and in him love for the Father and the Holy Spirit, which should be the unifying and all-pervasive element in everything we do. True piety does not consist simply in a life full of various pious practices, even though there must be approved pious practices in such a life. No, true piety will consist in a deeper and deeper love for Jesus. It involves the ambition to be filled with love for Jesus to perfection. Our petition to God ought be for his love and his grace. All else may go.

4. The means of growing in authentic piety

The first thing we must do to grow in a deeply religious life is to desire God greatly. It is amazing what a person of seemingly limited abilities can do if he really wants to gain something. The most important thing attaining a goal is to have a great interest in it. I knew a person who well into his adult years knew nothing about cars even though he constantly used a car. He once went for a job and the practice of the firm that was interviewing him was to send anyone they were interested in along to personnel psychologists to be assessed in terms of intelligence, aptitude, interests and temperament. In his scores it turned out that he had scarcely any interest in mechanical ideas, but he had a high aptitude for them. That is to say, he knew nothing about the mechanics of a car because he had never been interested in it, but were he interested he had all the aptitude that was necessary. The important thing in that case was the lack of a deep interest. So it is with so many things, and so it is above all with the Christian life and the quest for holiness. In the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius the point is made by St Ignatius that we ought cultivate with the grace of God great desires for what God can give us, especially the gift of an ardent desire to follow Christ closely. So let us always pray to God for the very desire to love him to perfection.

5. The desire for God   

The desire for God is our deepest desire even if we do not know this, and it is in effect our desire for full and complete happiness. Our happiness is to be found only in full union with God. That union means union with Jesus, and here on earth that means following in the footsteps of Jesus. But if we are to have a great desire for union with Jesus we have to think about him and to pray  to him, get to know him, spend time with him in order for all this to happen. And so it is that we must resolve on spending regular prime time with God in prayer. There is no replacement for this. It will be impossible to grow in the desire for union with God, a union which ought be constant and never broken, if we are never looking to the sources for this union with God. The principal source is prayer together with the desire to do God’s will in everything, even if we may not know what God’s will for us is. A great modern saint, St Josemaria Escriva, wrote “the path that leads to holiness is the path of prayer, and prayer ought take root in the soul and grow little by little, like the tiny seed which takes root and later develops into a tree with many branches.” Prayer, as St Teresa of Avila expresses it, is an intimate conversation with the one whom we know loves us. A simple way to begin is to start with our favourite vocal prayers, the ones we have been taught, and the ones the Church especially recommends. I think of the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Glory be to the Father, the holy Rosary, the Angelus, the Morning Offering, brief aspirations we may learn and use during the day. We ought make the very best of the prayers we have learnt and which we find ourselves normally using. Especially ought we use the prayers the Church herself recommends and rewards with indulgences such as the ones I have mentioned, and others such as the Stations of the Cross.

6. Living in the presence of God the holy Trinity   

Apart from the vocal prayers that we naturally use in our prayer life, we ought make a real effort to cultivate a sense of the presence of God continually. Being his creatures we live and move and have our being in him and we ought live our daily lives with a lively sense of this. As well as this, if we are in the state of grace the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity dwell within us. We ought live our daily lives with a lively sense of their presence. In other words we ought live out our day in communion with God raising our minds and hearts briefly to him frequently and repeatedly, thus keeping constantly in union with him. This will form the background of a growing love for God in our hearts.
    When I speak of raising the heart frequently to God the holy Trinity, I mean that we ought develop the habit of addressing each of the three divine persons. We ought address our heavenly Father. Our Lord directs us to do this in the prayer he taught us to say, the Our Father. The whole prayer is addressed to God our Father. His own prayer was constantly addressed to the Father. We are also called to speak to Jesus his Son our model, our redeemer and our God. And of course we ought be developing a real devotion to the Holy Spirit. Our religious life ought be very trinitarian. God  revealed himself to be a trinity of persons because he wants us to live in the light of that great and absolute reality.

7. Contemplate Jesus in his Passion   

So we must make use of the very good vocal prayers the Church recommends, and live as constantly a possible in the presence of God the most holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But especially must we live in the contemplation of Christ in his humanity. That is to say, to all intents and purposes, we ought live in the prayerful presence of Jesus as he is portrayed in the Gospels. In particular we ought think of our Lord in his passion and learn our lessons from there. Our Lord said that if any one wishes to be my disciple he must take up his cross every day and follow in my footsteps. Our Lord’s redemptive work was achieved primarily through his passion. It was there that his virtues shone through most brightly and it is there that we ought be contemplating him most of all. The saints speak of the love of the Cross. To the worldly minded person such language seems madness and irrational. Suffering is a complete negative with no redeeming qualities. It cannot, they think, be viewed as a positive, as something to be loved in any sense. But the Christian contemplates Christ, especially Christ on the Cross and learns from him his lesson about the Cross. Christ embraced the Cross, knowing that it was the will of the Father that he suffer. The particular issue which brought on our Lord’s passion and death was his bearing witness to the truth about himself before the Jewish and Roman authorities. But more fundamentally the issue was obedience to the will, the plan and the providence of God. God has his plan, his will, and his providence for each of us. It may involve the suffering occasioned by bearing witness to Jesus and to the Faith, but on the other hand the suffering may be occasioned by any number of other things permitted by God in his merciful and all-wise providence. It could be protracted sickness, financial difficulties and even ruin. It could be the scorn of others or at least their lack of respect. Whatever be the cause the Christian sees that anything God allows that causes suffering may be transformed into a source of great fruit when united with the cross of Christ.

8. Keep to a well worked out plan of life     

If we hope to live a life of authentic piety, we must have a plan that is well ordered to our spiritual goal, and which we keep to. If we hope to attain any goal in life we must take the means to reach there. So too we must take the means to attain holiness of life. We look to the Church and to the teaching of the saints to know what such a plan will include. Firstly, there are the Sacraments, especially the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. The Mass must be the centre of our lives, and Confession must be regular, frequent, and sincere. We must have a daily schedule of prayer, morning and night prayer, numerous brief prayerful aspirations each day sanctifying what we are doing, together with times of formal prayer such as when we say the Angelus and the Rosary. We ought also be careful about spiritual reading, and in some way get spiritual direction or advice to guide us along our way. Then we must strive to sanctify our daily work and all our activities activities. A daily examination of conscience is important. But more than anything we must learn to make love of God the all-pervasive element of each day of our lives. Let us resolve to seek the perfection of love that is the essence of the life God intends for us.