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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to live a spiritual life in modern times

I'm currently reading a book called "A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything:  A Spirituality for Real Life" by Fr. James Martin, SJ.  I've never attended a Jesuit educational institution nor know anything about the Jesuit Order but there are 3 things which made me pick up the book  - 

1. It's a New York Times bestseller - I thought maybe it contains spiritual tips and practical applications for modern times

2. I've had the chance visit the family castle of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Spain a few years back and it made me curious to find out more about his life and conversion 

3. Pope Francis is a Jesuit and maybe a peek into the Order will give me an idea of the source of his fountain of humility

Anyway, I'm glad I got the book because reading it opened my eyes to a lot of things about religion and spirituality especially in these modern times when there are so much distractions, blurring of values and justifications for gray areas of once black-and-white topics. 

Here are some excerpts from the book which I grouped together based on my key learnings - practical insights and useful applications for a spiritual life in the modern world. 

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Why we need to moderate work

Today, work is part of everyone's vocation in life.  But if, over time, you find yourself sacrificing everything else to that one end, you might discover that work has become a kind of "god" for you.

While you need to earn a living, you have to be careful not to let your career become a "disordered affection" that prevents you from being free to meet new people, spending time with those you love, viewing people as ends rather than means.

Overworking is a danger because first, we grow distant from God, the foundation of our lives; second, we grow frustrated when things do not go as planned since we can overlook our reliance on God; third, we spend less time with friends and families and begin to feel isolated; and fourth, we begin to believe that we are what we do, so at the end of our lives when we have little to do, we feel worthless.

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What real religion means 

It's not "Fear not; trust in God and He will see that none of the things that you fear will happen to you" 

but rather

"Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of."

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How much God loves us

The author cites an Islamic tradition which depicts God as seeking us more than we seek Him.  It's a divine saying revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad:  

"And if (my servant) draws nearer to me by a handsbreadth, I draw nearer by an armslength; and if he draws nearer to me by armslength, I draw nearer to him by a fathom; and if he comes to me walking, I come to him running.

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When you're not sure if you're ready to start a new life or ready to face God 

God meets you where you are.  You don't have to wait until life settles down, or you've found the perfect place or job, or you recover from that long illness.  You don't have to wait until you've overcome your sinful patterns, or you're more religious or you can pray better.  You don't have to wait for any of that because God is ready now.


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Why we need silence in our lives

You may have to disconnect in order to connect - disconnect with the world of noise to connect with silence, where God speaks to you in a different way.  You cannot change our noisy world, but you can disconnect from time to time, to give yourself the gift of silence.

Being silent is one of the best ways to listen to God, not because God is not speaking to you during your noisy day but because silence makes it easier for you to listen to your heart.

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason:  listening is more important than talking.

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What simple living means in modern times 

Living simply means that one needs less and takes less from the world, and is therefore more able to give to those who live in poverty.  

The invitation to live a simple life does not mean giving up everything you have.... Not all of us could live like the saints but total immersion into our consumerist culture which tells us that we can only be happy if we have more is a dead end.

Invitation to a simple life doesn't mean you have to feel bad about yourself. But from time to time, it's good to feel the sting of conscience.  St. Ignatius said the voice of conscience sometimes feels like the drop of water falling onto a stone, a sharp feeling that awakens your reality.  If you feel guilty about how much stuff you have, perhaps this is an invitation from God to give some of it away, to live more simply.  

Invitation to a simple life is an invitation to freedom, not guilt.  The turn to a simple lifestyle frees us, reminds us of our reliance on God, makes us more grateful, and leads us to desire "upward mobility" for everyone, not just for a few. 

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What we can learn from the less fortunate about life

Entering in the lives of the poor encourages simple living.  You see how the poor are able to manage with so little.  How they sometimes live with greater freedom.  How they are often more generous with what they have.  And how they are often more grateful for life than the wealthy.  

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What spiritual poverty means in the modern times

Spiritual poverty means freedom from the need for constant motion, constant work, and constant activity.  It encourages you to say no from time to time, since you know that you can't do everything, please everyone, show up at every gathering, telephone every friend, and counsel every person in need.  It means accepting that you cannot do everything at home, in your workplace, or in your church.  It saves you from being a "human doing" instead of a "human being".

Ironically, our generous desire to do everything, care for everyone, and make everyone happy can lead to our becoming less attentive and more distracted, which does no one any good.  Saying no to one thing means saying yes to another thing.  Saying no means to one more responsibility you cannot possibly assume means saying yes to greater attentiveness to what is already before you.  

Poverty of spirit is not a road to sadness but it's a path to freedom.  It is the simple acceptance of reality.  Reminding you of your fundamental reliance to God, it is a stance that enables you to be more grateful for the blessings that come from God, because you know how precious they are.  

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Why we should be kind to everyone

Be kind to everyone because you never know what problems they have at home.

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Why we should not shut our hearts against anyone - no matter what 

Openness will not cure every relationship, but it can provide an opening for change, and it certainly won't make things any worse.  It can make healthy relationships healthier and unhealthy relationships less unhealthy.  

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What to do when you can't help someone fix his / her life

We all have friends and family members who find themselves in trouble, who disappoint us with self-destructive behavior, or who seem incapable or unwilling to change, despite the best efforts of those who love them.  These periods may last for a few weeks, a few years, or a lifetime.  In these situations we are called to be special friends and to not only encourage them to lead healthy lives but also to extend to them our special love. 

When we feel overwhelmed by a friend's problems or frustrated we can't fix or solve things for him/her, this is when we are often called not to do but to be.  To remember that we are not all-powerful. Paradoxically, admitting our own powerlessness can free us from the need to fix everything and allow us to be truly present to the other person, and to listen. 

We also have to learn when to maintain discreet silence. Sometimes, our friends and family members don't need our advice.  Or at least not right at that moment. We have to learn when to bring something up, or file it away for a better time - a time when it would be good for the other to hear it, not (when) for us to say it.

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I'm so happy I chanced upon the book (which I didn't even know existed) until I passed by it randomly on a bookshelf! I think it was meant to be my Holy Week reading. Haha... I'll try to post more learnings from the book soon.

I got my copy of "A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything" from NBS Bestsellers at Podium, Pasig City.    It's 400+ pages but very easy-to-read, and the author gives a lot of practical applications and examples for ordinary mortals (like us) interspersed with inspiring and funny Jesuit anecdotes.  It sells for Php395.  

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