A belated Happy New Year to all our Fire of the Spirit blog readers! May your year be filled with blessings, and the peace and love of the Holy Family! While this post is a rather late for the new year, it is never too late to make some good spiritual resolutions, so here are Padre Pio’s 5 Rules for Spiritual Growth.
1. Weekly Confession
“A room needs to be dusted once a week, even if nobody is in there.” – Padre Pio
Confession is often an underrated Sacrament, yet repentance and conversion of heart are required for holiness, as we see stressed in the Gospels over and over: Christ “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” – Luke 5:32. We need to recognize our sinfulness in order to change and grow holy, otherwise we will stay in the same rut getting nowhere. We must make good use of the means God has given us for the forgiveness of our sins. Frequent confession gives us the grace to fight sin and conquer ourselves (and in the case of mortal sin it restores sanctifying grace to the soul). Confession is also an excellent means of self-knowledge (which the Saints say is the first step to humility, a virtue necessary for the flourishing of all others), and a very good incentive to work hard to purge ourselves of those venial sins we are always confessing. Even if you don’t get to confession every week, at least frequenting the confessional once a month, or every fortnight will be a huge aid to holiness.
2. Daily Communion
“Unless you are positive that you are in mortal sin, you ought to take Communion every day.” – Padre Pio
Our desire as Catholics is to one day be inseparably united with God in Heaven, and in Holy Communion, Our Lord comes to dwell in us, giving us a foretaste of our eternal joy, and strengthening us to reach our Heavenly destination with the gift of Himself: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” – John 6:56. Frequent communion will make us more and more like the One to whom we wish to be forever united. When receiving the Most Blessed Sacrament, it is important to prepare well, by recognizing our own unworthiness, and Who it is we are about to receive, coming to Communion not out of habit or routine, but out of a genuine desire to be united with Christ.
If you cannot get to Mass on a weekday, you can make a Spiritual Communion, simply by desiring union with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and this can be done as many times as you like throughout the day. You may like to use these words of St. Francis, or something similar from your own heart:
“I believe that You, O Jesus, are in the most holy Sacrament. I love You and desire You. Come into my heart. I embrace You. Never leave me. May the burning and most sweet power of Your love, O Lord Jesus Christ, I beseech You, absorb my mind that I may die through love of Your love, who were graciously pleased to die through love of my love.”
3. Spiritual Reading
Spiritual reading causes us to throw away the worldly maxims that cloud our minds and replace them with the wisdom of the saints. It sets our hearts on fire for the love and service of God, and at the same time places at our fingertips very practical means of doing so. I cannot stress enough just how much this wonderful practice will do for you – I know it has been one of Our Lord’s major means of drawing me closer to Him. So set aside a good amount of time for spiritual reading each day; soon you may find yourself doing it in every spare moment! Here is a list of wonderful books you may wish to start with:
The Scriptures. As St. Jerome said: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The first step to imitate Christ is to read and meditate on His life – we need to know what to imitate after all.
The Lives of the Saints. The saints not only inspire and encourage us by their examples, but show us also how to live the Gospel.
Spiritual Classics, especially those written by the Saints, including:
- The Imitation of Christ – Thomas a Kempis
- Introduction to a Devout Life – St. Francis de Sales
- Practice of the Love of God – St. Alphonsus Liguori
- The Story of a Soul – St. Therese of Lisieux
- True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary – St. Louis de Montfort
- Abandonment to Divine Providence – Jean-Pierre de Caussade
- And a wealth of other free Catholic spiritual writings can be found at this online list.
“Meditation,” Padre Pio said, “is the key to progress in the knowledge of self as well as the knowledge of God, and through it we achieve the goal of the spiritual life, which is the transformation of the soul in Christ.”
To meditate is to reflect upon God and the mysteries of our faith, with the intention of forming resolutions relating what was reflected upon to our own lives, so that our prayer may become action.
St. Alphonsus Liguori writes that meditation is necessary: “in order that we may have light to go on the journey to eternity. Eternal truths are spiritual things that are not seen with the eyes of the body, but only by the reflection of the mind. He that does not meditate, does not see them; and thus he advances with difficulty along the way of salvation. And, further, he who does not meditate, does not know his own failings, and thus, says St. Bernard he does not detest them; so also, he does not see the perils of his state, and therefore does not think of avoiding them.” (The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, page 89).
You may like to mediate on:
- The mysteries of the Rosary, to learn to imitate the virtues of Our Lord and His Mother – as St. John Paul II put it in the prayer recited at the end of the Rosary: “that by meditating upon the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise…”
- The Four Last Things: Heaven, Hell, Death, and Judgement. This meditation puts our lives into perspective.
- The Passion and Death of Christ, a practice highly recommended by the saints, especially towards evening, as it is a great aid to obtaining Perfect Contrition (more on this in the next rule).
- Meditation books can also be found at the list linked to earlier, including the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
5. Examination of Conscience
Padre Pio urged two periods of meditation daily, as well as two periods of self-examination: in the morning, “to prepare for battle,” and in the evening, “to purify your soul from every earthly affection that might have attached itself to you during the day.”
A daily examination of conscience enables us to see where we need to improve our lives and is an excellent preparation for the Sacrament of Confession, helping us to avoid those mental blanks.
A particular examen accompanies the general examen, and in it one focuses on rooting out a particular vice. I very highly recommend reading the Treatise on Examination of Conscience from the Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues, which explains St. Ignatius’s approach to both examens…you will really appreciate the ingenuity of it!
In the Examination of Conscience, our focus should be on making an act of Perfect Contrition, that is, the detestation of our sins because they have offended God. For this end it is extremely helpful to meditate on the Passion of Christ. For more on perfect contrition, I recommend reading this short work: Perfect Contrition, the Golden Key to Heaven.
And there you have it: Padre Pio’s 5 Rules for Spiritual Growth. May Our Lord remain with you and draw you ever closer to him in 2019!
Photo from aleteia.org