Summary: A twice-daily spiritual examination can bring to yus the joy of Christ's revelation in his closeness to us.

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Joy to the World

We rejoice at our enlightenment, the coming of the Light to the world! The darkness that results from our lack of understanding is diminished. We come to see more and more of what has been a cloud of unknowing, the title of a 14th-century book on mysticism.

This unknowing is not ignorant unawareness of the facts in our material world. It is unawareness of the condition of our relationship with God, how we can get to know and love God better. Even though far above us in perfection, God is still a personal being, not just a force or an impersonal abstraction. Both God and humans have intellect and will, but humans need to perfect their souls, whereas God is perfection, the goal toward Whom we aim.

It is appropriate during Advent to seek what is holding us back from a closer relationship with God. Such a search can be done within our meditation and contemplation, when we note the good urges we have had, urgings that have been left unacted upon, or as yet only partially so.

Satan I am sure wants us to leave unexamined these urgings, or if we do examine them to set them aside out of fear of implementing them. We may have looked at the question “What else can I do?” and made a few suggestions, but have left unasked and unanswered the question “What do I do first to implement this good idea, one that would make me a better servant of Christ?” Equally important is the question of how to muster enough courage to actually do what needs to be done to follow through on our initial efforts.

It seems easier to break up a task into as many subtasks as possible, psychologists tells us. The problem is leaving the job at the subtask level. Scheduling some time can be a good idea, but maybe it is better to “just do it.”

It’s better to stop making making excuses. “If I call, the one I want to speak to won’t be in. We’ll be playing “’telephone tag.”’ Maybe the secretary I speak to will be hard to connect with, giving me the idea I’m intruding on the boss’s time.

Maybe it will be better to send a letter.” Maybe it will, but then get started on the letter, and be sure to follow up.

The Jesuits have a practice that fits in with this idea of developing new good ideas, a different way of time analysis from just looking at we have done and labeling it as good or not so good as ln an examination of conscience at the end of the day, as good a practice as that is. Go to the Center for Ignatian spirituality: where you’ll find the techniques for twice-daily examination of your spiritual life spelled out. At noon and at the end of the day take stock of your progress or lack of it. The examen, as the Jesuits call it, then becomes part of our prayer life. That’s the message I would leave with you today.

Maybe the thought comes to us that we need to persevere more; that we give up too easily on tasks that would be pleasing to God. There’s a true story about an elephant, an elephant that is being trained to stay in a small area without a fence. At first a heavy chain is used to keep him not far from a huge tree. Then the chains used become lighter and lighter, until with a narrow rope the elephant is kept from wandering. Of course, the elephant could escape easily, but he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t persevere in trying to escape, so he thinks it is always equally difficult. So do we, after a few failures, unless we persevere.

Sometimes we give up on our children’s spiritual welfare. Attempts to bring them back to the church are rebuffed, so after a while we tend to give up, rather than change strategies. However, if we see our children as being in God’s hands, and that our own mission and obligation is to persevere in the faith, then we develop the gift of perseverance, always realizing that our children, too, are God’s gifts.

There is, then, a difference between abandoning a good deed or project, and abandoning a poor strategy. Pray for the wisdom to know the difference. Failure can be an indication that an approach, a way of doing something or seeing something, is not appropriate, not that a deed is not worthwhile.

Usually there is something good about everything we do and that happens to us. What happens to us is God’s permissive will. There must be the potential for something good to come of it, or it wouldn’t have been permitted. There is always a good lesson that can be learned from a bad outcome. So we make adjustments and move on, not just quit and abandon the project.

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