In his book, “Asking the Fathers,” Fr. Aelred Squire (a member of the Dominican Order and later a Camadolese monk) maintained that there are two basic elements in the spiritual life: a purgation of the heart and docility to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Our double task is to have purity of heart (single-mindedness) and a willingness to cooperate with the stirrings of the Holy
We see this double vocation in our readings for this Sunday. In the Gospel, Simon Peter admits that he is a sinful man. When he encounters the power of Jesus, Peter becomes keenly aware that he is in the presence of light itself and in those beams his own unworthiness and darkness is overwhelming. After Jesus assures Peter that fear should be banished. Peter then hears and heeds the request to follow the Lord.
Every time we celebrate Mass, we experience the two basic elements of the spiritual life. We begin with a penitential rite and face our need for purgation. There are qualities in our minds and hearts that need redemption, be they prejudices, attitudes of greed or lust, self-contempt, or false pride. Honesty and humility call for candid appraisal of our faults and sins. Then we turn to God’s word wherein the Spirit begins to direct us in the path of the kingdom, the pathways of truth and charity, justice and freedom. We are to listen carefully to what is being asked of us in the unique circumstances of our life and to respond boldly and quickly to whatever the Lord is calling us to be or to do.
Isaiah the prophet understood spirituality in its depth and breath. Isaiah admits that he is a man of unclean lips (and thus, an unclean heart) and that he is living in a culture of impurity. A seraphim then touched the prophet’s lips (and surely his heart) and the wickedness was removed, his sins purged. The second stage of spirituality quickly followed. Having been cleansed, Isaiah puts himself at the disposal of whatever the Lord wants: “Here I am, send me!” Such docility is a primary goal of every spirituality.
When purgation happens and fidelity to the Spirit’s movements is given, then the earth is filled with the glory of God. Then, too, the three-fold “holy, holy, holy” resounds because God’s light, love and life is made manifest and present. How would it be possible to remain silent in such a situation?
St. Paul confirms the two elements of the spiritual life. In writing to the Corinthians he is explicit about the fact that Christ died for our sins. All of us stand in need of redemption and the purification of our hearts. Then, through the power of the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit is given to us through the forgiveness of sin and the gift of peace.
Questions for reflection
1. What is your understanding of the elements of the spiritual life?
2. What qualities in your heart need purification?
3. How does the Holy Spirit call you to a life of great love and service?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.