In novitiates, seminaries, and other similar boot camps of meticulous initial instruction, they all are trained in the discipline that makes true disciples, "students" who zealously seek to learn from and follow the Master.
Today we conclude our 32-part series on the Plan of Life, the series of spiritual practices that help us to unite our day and whole life to the Lord and to cooperate with him as he seeks to transform us more and more into his holy likeness.
Since January, we have covered a lot. We've considered the Heroic Moment, the Morning Offering, Docility to the Holy Spirit, Uniting our Work to God, Living on Sacred Scripture, Spiritual Reading, the General Examination, the Particular Exam, Daily Mental Prayer, Daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, Spiritual Communions, Frequent Confession, Penance and Reparation, Almsgiving, Fasting, the Importance of Holy Week, the Angelus and Regina Caeli, the Rosary, the Memorare, Saturday devotions to our Lady, Sacred Study, Order, Acts of Faith, Hope and Love, Presence of God, Remembering our Divine Filiation, Thanksgiving, Aspirations, and Christian Cheerfulness and Joy.
I have tried to explain how each of these practices assists us to keep a continual, fruitful dialogue of life with God.
I began the series as a means by which we could live well the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis inaugurated on the First Sunday of Advent and will conclude next February on the Feast of the Presentation.
One of the aspects of the consecrated life of religious sisters, priests and brothers, of consecrated hermits, virgins and widows, of members of Secular Institutes, Societies of Apostolic Life and the many new manifestations of the Holy Spirit that have arisen in recent decades in the Church, is that they all follow some form of rule of life. In novitiates, seminaries, and other similar boot camps of meticulous initial instruction, they all are trained in the discipline that makes true disciples, "students" who zealously seek to learn from and follow the Master. They all receive a comprehensive formation in Christian virtue and are coached in how to identify and eradicate with God's grace their human and spiritual defects. They are all tutored in how to be faithful in "little things" so that they might remain true in great things.
Once upon a time this formation in the Christian life, this spiritual training to help people come to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of love, was to some degree provided in Catholic schools by men and women religious who adapted their own formation to the situation of their students. It was fortified by faith-filled parents and grandparents who thought that their primary task in life was to pass on the faith to newer generations, not as a series of catechetical questions and answers but as much treasured way of life.
But now, for many reasons, that spiritual training in the building blocks of holiness is no longer being imparted as frequently and fully as it once was.
Sunday homilies are nowhere near good enough and long enough to counteract the secular conditioning received osmotically via television, music and other cultural institutions.
24 to 30 hours of Christian catechetical instruction a year cannot compete with the anti-evangelical propaganda children are getting in many public schools and from many of their friends.
So many families are struggling with different levels of brokenness and dysfunction that parents are often at wits end just trying to keep things together and get everyone to eat as a family, making living even the elementary aspects of a familial Plan of Life like joint prayer can seem miraculous. Many parents today also recognize that they haven't received an adequate spiritual formation themselves, making it doubly difficult to know what and how to pass on to their children to form them along the path of sanctity.
This is one of the reasons, I believe, why the Holy Spirit has raised up so many new institutions and movements in recent times to offer concrete spiritual training to lay people, children and families, to respond to this huge spiritual need.
I've tried through this series likewise to fill in a gap that I know from my pastoral work exists widely. I've received a lot of feedback through email. Many seniors were delighted to share their experiences of having practiced aspects of the Plan of Life since Catholic school and were grateful that the Church was still talking about them. Many catechists, parents and high school students wrote to say that some aspects like the Heroic Moment, the Particular Exam or Frequent Confession were absolutely novel and that they felt emboldened to to try to live them.
That brings me to the last point I want to say in this series, which is perhaps the most important lesson I've learned about the Plan of Life from seeking to live one now for more than 25 years.
When I was first exposed to the idea of a Plan of Life and its component parts in college, I took to it with the enthusiasm I had for anything new that would help me grow. But once I had "learned" it intellectually, I wanted to move on to something I didn't know. When my spiritual directors regularly returned to something as basic as praying the Rosary or making aspirations, I quickly became bored. What I didn't realize in my spiritual immaturity was that knowing something is only an introduction; living it and living it ever more fruitfully as a part of a continuous encounter with God is the real challenge.
Just as a baseball player will never become a major league all star just simply by knowing what to do but rather through practicing and mastering almost effortlessly the basics of fielding and hitting, so a spiritual athlete will never be set on the road toward the eternal Hall of Fame until he or she similarly trains and with God's help masters almost as second nature the fundamental aspects of the Christian life.
That's what the Plan of Life is about, entering into Christian Spring Training, covering the spiritual basics, in wise emulation of what is imitable in those who live their baptismal consecration so inspiringly well in various forms of consecrated life.
Let's give Jesus the last word in this series. During the Last Supper, he said, "If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it" (Jn 13:17). May the Lord give us his help so that, having understood the importance and the parts of a Plan of Life, we may put them into action and experience the blessing he promises in this life and forever.
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.