Looking back at what we seen about spiritual formation (here) and my life as a member of the Church (here), it should be clear that spiritual formation isn’t same as my prayer life (here). Yes, I should pray—and pray daily. I should read Scripture daily since “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ, as St Jerome reminds us. Likewise, it is important that I receive Holy Communion often and with proper preparation. “Unless you eat My Body and drink My Blood, you will have no life within you” (see John 6:53) but I must examine myself first since “he who eat and drinks unworthily condemns himself” (see 1 Corinthians 11:29). This is why it is so important that I go to confession; “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). Finally, a sound spiritual life requires that I take part in the other liturgical services of the Church and “not neglect the assembly” of the saints (see Hebrews 10:25).
Service to others—especially the poor—is also essential. “[F]aith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). After dismissing faith without works as the faith of demons (v. 19) the Apostle James says that works perfect our faith (v.22). But just like I can confuse spiritual formation with prayer, I can likewise simply as a kind of “baptized” professional education. Clergy, lay ministers and those who are professionally engaged in the care of others are especially prone to this. Like Martha we become “worried about many things” forgetting that “there is only one thing that is needful” (see Lk 10:38-42).
Prayer and philanthropy are the fruits of a consonant Christian formation. The more I become who I am in Christ, the more I will spontaneously reach out beyond myself to God in prayer, and my neighbor in charity. And because what I do is prompted by the Holy Spirit there will be a flexibility, a peacefulness and a gentleness to my prayer and to the assistance I offer to others. This will be especially the case when the situation is grave and I feel pushed beyond my limits.
And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how or what you re to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
Prayer and philanthropy are not just the fruit of a proper formation. They an essential part of my spiritual formation; they help me come to understand better who I am in Christ. Prayer and works of service also shape my character, they reveal hidden facets of my personality and challenge me to be the person God calls me to be. Maybe my favorite examples of this are two parts of the Divine Liturgy that we’ll look at this in my next post on formation.