God created each soul for Himself. He desires that each one of us love Him above all and love the others as He loves them. This is why Jesus commanded all of us to make disciples of all nations without fear or exception. Indeed, apostolate is the most unambiguous sign of love for the others for in carrying it out, we desire no less than the greatest good for them.
For ordinary people, personal apostolate takes place right where we are. It gently and efficaciously permeates our dealings with members of our family, friends, colleagues. Truly yet mysteriously, it not only benefits those we are praying for and dealing with but also ripples outward to all souls through God's grace.
We do a coherent apostolate by example every time we exert the effort to practice every human and supernatural virtue. It becomes even more effective if done with rectitude of intention—that is, seeking the good only to please God.
Opportunities for apostolate come up naturally every day. For example, we can turn conversations or communication with others into apostolate by word to enlighten minds and console hearts. The digital world provides a novel and fecund means of carrying out this kind of apostolic work. But all forms of apostolic activity must be based on an intense life of prayer and sacrifice, if it is to be fruitful. This has been the constant testimony of the saints.
St. Josemaría Escrivá described apostolate as the overflow of the interior life. It is the absolute inner working of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the apostle that becomes a light to those in darkness and consolation to the weary. Its gentlest motions can move even the most hardened of hearts. This divine impetus may seize on any facet of our ordinary life in order to awaken the desire for holiness in others. The Holy Spirit inspires the apostolic soul to know, desire, and love Christ more each day in order to learn to love souls as Christ does. He teaches the apostle to turn to Holy Mary, the saints, and the angels in fulfilling the task of evangelization and re-evangelization. The entire work of sanctification, which encompasses apostolic action, is the handiwork of the Holy Spirit. The optimism and tenacity behind all personal apostolate is rooted in the divine mandate and inspired by God’s promise of abundant and lasting spiritual fruits to those whom he calls to the work of co-redemption.
Man was created in the image of God. Like the angels, man resembles God in his capacity to know and to love. Jesus teaches us to love God with all our mind. By having an abiding presence of God, we stand a good chance of not giving in to temptation.
We want to imitate Jesus' filial dealing with His Father and experience the transformation that comes with the practice of spiritual childhood. It is thus important for us to learn how to keep a continual dialogue with God, making use of words and affections to express our total dependence on him and our complete trust in his goodness and providence.
We also know that God—in fact, the Blessed Trinity—dwells in the soul of a person in the state of grace. This thought provides not only more compelling reason for keeping ourselves in a state of friendship with God, but also a sense of closeness and intimacy that further fires up our desire to commune and converse with God who is truly present in our soul and who thus turns us into real living tabernacles!
So, even while immersed in the most ordinary affairs of everyday life, we can keep an inner conversation with God going through aspirations or brief acts of adoration, thanksgiving, atonement, or petition. We can also give each day a special theme to help us stay in God’s presence. St Josemaria Escriva dedicated Mondays to dealing with the holy souls in purgatory, Tuesdays to the guardian angels, Wednesdays to St. Joseph, Thursdays to the Holy Eucharist, Fridays to Christ's Passion, Saturdays to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Sundays to the Blessed Trinity.
When we earnestly struggle to live presence of God, God rewards our effort by giving us an inner serenity and joy, as well as a more optimistic and supernatural outlook. We begin to think like Christ and end up seeking to do God’s will and loving whatever God wants us to do for him. We are transformed into another Christ.
Mary's life seemed humdrum but the way she lived it showed holiness par excellence. Whether praying or working, she did so with full attention, supernatural outlook, and presence of God. But she also knew how to celebrate life and friendship, had great practical sense, and was ever so quick to discern the needs of others. In the wedding feast at Cana, she was the first to notice that the wine was running out. She put the matter in her Son’s hand, gently persuading him to work his first public miracle and saving the day for the bride and bridegroom. Her readiness to fulfill the divine will and her habitual union with God in mind and heart in her ordinary life turned her into an efficacious channel of graces for herself and for everyone else she prayed for.
In her simplicity and selflessness, Mary gives us an example we can follow. Like Mary, we can convert our day and the fulfillment of our duties into a continual encounter and dialogue with God. The not-so-secret formula lies in having a plan of life built around specific norms of piety that we can habitually and faithfully fulfill. For example, every day we can set aside time for mental prayer, Holy Mass, Holy Communion, Holy Rosary, spiritual reading, and examination of conscience. We can have regular recourse to sacramental confession and attend monthly recollections and yearly retreats. We can also say aspirations and spiritual communions many times during the day to keep presence of God.
In addition, we can make it a point to find time for deepening our Catholic doctrinal formation through appropriate readings or by attending classes on catechism, philosophy, or theology. This way, we get to know the truths of our faith better and are thus able to explain them well to others, while at the same time strengthening our moral principles and sharpen our moral judgment, as well as growing in supernatural outlook and in our conviction that we are children of God.
An equally helpful practice is going to spiritual direction with a priest who can encourage us to live the human and Christian virtues necessary for sanctifying our work, family life, and social relations.
In all this, our goal is to be more and more like Christ, thinking with his mind and loving with his heart.
Life is often hard sledding, especially if we take our family, professional, and social responsibilities seriously and even more so if we seek holiness in our ordinary life. Sanctifying our daily work and duties calls for good use of time and doing what needs to be done as well as one can, with upright intention, true spirit of service, and the desire to please God and do his will. It also calls for continuing professional, intellectual, and cultural formation, without which it will be difficult to do one’s work with competence, prudence, and consciousness of the common good. It is likewise necessary to practice detachment from material goods and grow in the Christian spirit of sacrifice, without neglecting one’s health and duty to rest. God will reward our generosity in all these things with a deep sense of joy and peace and often with temporal or material blessings as well, making us realize that heaven begins here on earth when we seek holiness in our daily life.
St. Thomas says that if we take care of order, order will take care of us. Having a plan of life means allowing prayer to enlighten our mind, order our affections, and set us on our way to fulfilling our obligations. It is directed to helping us love God above all, serve the others as Christ taught us, and reach our heavenly home. The plan of life is made up of traditional Catholic practices that people from all walks of life can practice daily to keep a constant dialogue with God.
The morning offering is the prayer we offer as soon as we get up in the morning. In it we offer to God everything that we are, have, and will do for God and for the good of all souls.
We devote one hour to mental prayer, divided in two half-hours. One part takes place in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The practice of mental prayer engages the mind, strengthens faith, converts the heart, and fortifies the will.
The graces that flow from attending Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion are essential if we want to live a holy life in the middle of the world. As a detail or refinement, we stay for 10 minutes after Holy Mass in thanksgiving and in deference for the moments in which the Sacred Host is still largely whole within us.
Devoting 15 minutes to spiritual reading will expand our knowledge of God, man, and the world. We need this knowledge to inspire the mind and inflame the heart in our lifelong battle for holiness. This time can be divided between reading the New Testament and some suitable spiritual book recommended in spiritual direction.
We honor Mary and her Son in saying the Holy Rosary, an indispensable help in our battle for holiness and apostolate. We recite the Angelus to celebrate with Mary and contemplate with her the mystery of the Incarnation; in the Easter season, we recite the Regina Coeli instead and share in Mary’s joy over her Son’s Resurrection. Both are expressions of our gratitude to the Blessed Trinity for the gift of Our Savior and of Mary. Before we retire at night, we also recite three Hail Marys, asking for the grace of holy purity for ourselves and for all.
During the day, we make it a point to visit the Blessed Sacrament in a church or chapel where it is kept, going out of our way if needed, to give Jesus a bit of company, as well as express thanksgiving, reparation, and adoration.
The particular examination of conscience consists first in identifying a virtue we want to develop or strengthen and then spending a few moments in the middle of the day to check our progress. It is helpful to get some insights regarding this matter in spiritual direction. The general examination of conscience takes place at the end of the day. We spend a few minutes reviewing the day under God's loving gaze and then making an act of contrition, formulating a simple resolution or two, and giving thanks for everything that happened during the day.
In-between these norms, we have the always norms. Through them, we briefly express our adoration, petition, contrition, and thanksgiving through loving awareness of and a brief prayer to God, Our Lady, St. Joseph, our guardian angel, the souls in purgatory, or some saint.
Spiritual Direction is a means of helping us effectively and serenely orchestrate well-defined goals of responsible family stewardship, professional excellence, and a robust Catholic discipleship. It is a technique of guided and systematic self-discovery, together with the formulation of personal goals that focus on the virtues, both human and supernatural. The discovery, practice and growth of these virtues are crucial as they are the ordinary means we have of achieving every ideal that we can ever dream of in this life and in the next. Problems sort themselves out. Truth be told, absolutely no regrets. Indeed, it is an existential game-changer, but it comes with a price tag.
“Success” in this method presupposes complete openness and discipline. It begins with looking for a coach who is, in fact, a man's man. He should be compassionate, prayerful, focused, modest, staunch; he should be a competent professional who keeps his family first. He should also go to spiritual direction himself. Truthfulness guarantees that we keep our coach always on the same page as our struggle. Candidness opens the way to spot-on personal goals. Speaking about these goals with our coach helps us practice accountability and will be the primary motive for the exercise of discipline in making sure that these goals are carried out. Part of this discipline begins with committing to a regular meeting or chat. Usually, these conversations take 10 -15 minutes once a week or at least once a month.
As soon as we decide to begin spiritual direction, the demanding practice of the virtues required of friendship, work, focus on what is important, taking action, initiative, constancy, professionalism, and chastity become important. With our spiritual director’s help, we establish the time we must set aside for prayer, family, rest and recreation. It entails devoting time for Catholic doctrinal, philosophical, and theological study to enlighten ourselves and allow God's truth and love to sweep us off our feet. This, in turn, favors the development of a conscience that is tender yet demanding. Consequently, this coherent knowledge sparks a certain fire in the heart that makes the practice of virtue, like Christian apostolate, almost second nature to us; our interpersonal dealings begin to fill with understanding, forgiveness, and affection. It also creates a mysterious, innate loathing for evil not borne out of fear but rather out of a keen desire to avoid offending God as a result of having blown away by the experience of His unconditional love.
Sooner than later, we will be amazed to find ourselves habitually giving of ourselves. We may never achieve total human perfection. However, this reality does not diminish at all the gratification that follows from our ever getting closer to it. We are not surprised to find that in this venture, as in so many other worthy endeavors, the name of the game is no pain, no gain. No matter how small, the experience of our achievements is deeply exhilarating. Human effort and sincere prayer put all these towering goals well within reach. The experience of keeping a tight grip on our self-determined priorities redounds to a deep sense of fulfillment, meaning, and confidence. Growth in the life of prayer leads to learning how to slowly replace the malady of disturbing and wasteful internal chatter with the serene awareness of God's presence; it fills our heart with the certainty of God's affection and the consequent experience of an abiding joy of living, leaving us with no regrets, except perhaps that of not having tried even earlier and harder!
By sinning, Adam and Eve abandoned God's friendship and His ways and chose instead to be left to their own devices. They lost sanctifying grace, which entitled them to be God's children and live in His heavenly home for eternity; they forfeited untold supernatural gifts from the Holy Spirit that gave them clarity of reason and integrity of heart. The consequent obfuscation of reason fostered duplicity of heart and a wounded human nature greatly debilitated by pride, the lust of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh. Deprived of God, man finds himself very often chasing after rainbows.
Post-truth is the international word of the year in 2016. We live in an era where what matters is not fact but emotions. Time and again, man has fallen into the trap of making himself the arbiter of truth and goodness, giving way to the notion that everybody must be right and it is just inadmissible to say someone is wrong. This explains the loss of the sense of sin in wide swaths of modern society.
Conscience may be muffled and ignored. Fortunately, no matter how enfeebled its voice gets, it never becomes totally extinguished. It is an untiring and loving invitation of God to all men to come back home, much like the prayer of the father of the Prodigal Son. The voice of God in each man's heart is always a ray of hope, a blessing. It is a pledge that God's love and forgiveness trumps all evil. It is no coincidence that a good conscience is described as tender because of the unmistakable clarity of mind and affection of the heart that is felt when God speaks to us. The devil, aptly called the Accuser, is often behind a scrupulous conscience, because he is the Father of Lies who denies any evildoing in a hardened conscience.
Sin is a deliberate action that goes against the dictates of a good conscience. It may be one of omission or commission; mortal or venial. Mortal sins deprive the soul of sanctifying grace and supernatural life, while venial sins weaken the soul in its most important battle for holiness. Mortal sin is so grievous that to die even with one such impenitent serious sin is enough to bring about eternal punishment in hell, the most horrible tragedy that could befall man. Confession is the sacrament that forgives all mortal and venial sins without exception. It is a proof of God's mercy, power, and abiding presence. God gave us this sacrament to reassure us of receiving His forgiveness without leaving any shadow of doubt, filling us instead with joy and peace; indeed, it is a touching detail of God's paternal providence and refinement.
Confession begins with a diligent examination of conscience that covers the time since our last good confession. This is followed by contrition and a firm decision to overcome the sins we resolve to confess. We proceed with going to the sacrament to confess our sins to the priest, receiving the absolution and performing the penance or satisfaction imposed at its conclusion.
Although the Catholic Church bids us to go to confession at least once a year, regular confession anywhere from once a week to once a month is highly recommended, even if we do not have mortal sins to confess. It is an excellent battle-ax with which to conquer in the battleground of virtue, as well as a shield against the adversaries of holiness. It is a spiritual aid that helps us develop a tender conscience and humility, both necessary for a refined love of God and neighbor.
The Gospels tell us how Jesus spent special times of prayer, sacrifice and solitude during his ministry. Following his example, many Catholics throughout the centuries have experienced the spiritual renewal that comes from participating in yearly spiritual retreats. The retreat creates the space and time for solitude needed for a special time of prayer, a loving dialogue between a Father and his children. The Holy Mass and Communion, meditations, Way of the Cross, spiritual reading, talks and the Holy Rosary are some of the integral parts of a retreat.
The closed retreat is an excellent opportunity to discover or rediscover what contemplation or loving dialogue with God is all about. Staying in front of the tabernacle with our thoughts directed to God who is physically present there captures its essence. It may be a simple, nonverbal awareness of God's presence or an actual mental articulation of some praise, thanks, plea, or amends. We can talk to God about anything. God responds with unmistakable, if not surprising, lights for the mind and consolation for the heart.
Plumbing the depths of Jesus' revelation that God is our Father and that we are his children in contemplation is certainly worth its while. Regardless of our response, God loves us eternally and unconditionally. He will give us all the help we need to bear the fruits he wants us to yield, provided we give him our consent. At the very least, we can ask him to give us the grace of openness to such a salutary desire.
We should not lose heart if our mind may feel distant in the presence of such an incredible Father right in front of us. This lack of connection may occur when the mind wanders, gets self-absorbed, daydreams, and spins self-centered thoughts.
The retreat is an opportunity to come back home and experience the affectionate embrace of our Father God for the first time or once again. We will always receive more than we need. God expects His children simply to ask, to seek, and to knock. Divine filiation means divesting ourselves of all pretension or presumption, especially about our self-sufficiency. It means leaving the immutable past behind, facing an uncertain future with holy abandonment, and engaging the present and only real moment with all our mind, soul, and strength.
In the retreat, being recollected is all-important. By keeping both external and internal silence, we turn the periods of prayer, whether vocal or mental, into a personal and intimate conversation with God. Contemplation makes God's life ours, flooding our otherwise mundane and dreary existence with new light and fresh meaning. We sense the need to simplify our life, give it a clear focus and purpose, and make it spiritually and apostolically fruitful—with God’s grace and help.
Our inner dialogue with God during the retreat gets grounded in reality with the help of a sincere, courageous, and thorough examination of conscience. This is especially helpful for fostering our desire for forgiveness and spiritual healing and for preparing ourselves for sacramental confession. Nothing restores peace and joy in our soul as tenderly as the words of absolution do. We will receive even more light by seeking the advice of the retreat master in spiritual direction. Finally, so as not to remain at the level of good but general intentions, we will formulate a few concrete resolutions—about prayer, some virtue we need to develop, or apostolate—to work on during the year, until our next retreat.
Eye-catching ads all around us are dogged reminders of the lure of looking good and getting fit. Often, it's a pipe dream. Yes, our bearing and health matter. But if the wish is the father to the thought, we can fall into the trap of living out our fantasies through self-absorption and overindulgence. The door then opens to a dreadful disappointment with ourselves and others.
What these ads miss altogether is the greater importance of being good and getting tough. Integrity and character call to mind a whole new set of human and supernatural values. When we look beneath the purely external, we begin to understand man's innate dignity and the qualities that truly ennoble him. We begin to see the reasons for a healthy self-acceptance and of respect of everyone. True attractiveness comes within reach. The grace of God, together with getting the right help, can turn these ideals into real goals.
The monthly recollection tries to address this great need. These two-hour sessions can help us achieve changes that transform our life. However, we must be willing to do our part. We must make the effort to break free from a busy schedule and overcome physical tiredness or mental distraction.
The monthly recollection follows a systematic format that covers the essential aspects of human, Catholic doctrinal, religious, and ascetical formation. Our mind and heart get engaged with God because we are helped in three ways: First, there is external silence. We refrain from unnecessary conversations. Second, our attention is drawn to constant themes of the activity: prayer, virtues, and apostolate. Third, we are reminded to make a few practicable resolutions.
The activity schedule includes spiritual reading, meditations, a talk, and examination of conscience. Spiritual reading provides much-needed learning about God, man, and the world and stirs in us thoughts and desires necessary to sustain a lifetime struggle for holiness. St. Jerome says that when we pray, we talk to God, but when we read, God speaks to us. The meditation, led by a priest, is meant to help us do mental prayer or a personal dialogue with God. The talk offers practical considerations and advice for Christian living. The examination of conscience, done in God’s presence and with the help of guide questions, is a great aid for developing a refined conscience and forming concrete resolutions.
If we want to benefit fully from the monthly recollection, we need to make even just a few but specific and actionable resolutions. As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The struggle for holiness is neither a mad rush nor an exercise that leads to paralysis by analysis. The formulation of resolutions is intended to help us focus on what we need to improve or change and thus on what is worthwhile. So as not to bite off more than we can chew, we will limit ourselves to a few but concrete resolutions (for example, one specific goal for the next month for each of three key areas: prayer, the practice of virtues, and apostolate). We will also make it a point to keep track of these resolutions and review them often, daily if possible, in our prayer.
Our ultimate goal is to be another Christ, to be like Christ himself: to have his mind and to live and work as he did or as he would.
Nike's tag line--"Just do it”—has become iconic. It packs a wallop. It has taken Generations X, Y and Z by storm. Right now, it is twisting Generation Snowflake around its little finger. Power and choice have become the be-all and end-all of many people. For them, if it feels good, it’s good. Media, the Internet, and pop culture all too often take potshots at Christianity, either taking umbrage at anything that smacks of Catholic dogma or simply laughing it off as boneheaded and medieval thinking.
Yet, those who know genuine Catholic doctrine are certain that it puts God's timeless Truth or Revelation in our hands and teaches what we should rightly know about God, man, and the world. It urges us to seek true greatness through humility, happiness through holiness, and inner wealth through detachment from material goods.
Either we fall in love with God or we fall in love with ourselves or with mere creatures. It is thus important to educate our reason and conscience. Otherwise, we unwittingly embrace falsehood and fall prey to the enemies of our soul—the world, the flesh, and the devil—making out of our life a fool's errand.
In other words, we should be, first of all, men of good judgment. But that comes only through earnest and continuing study, especially of Catholic doctrine. The greatest enemy of the faith is religious ignorance, which opens the door to various forms of moral and social ills. It is not uncommon to find people who are experts in their professional fields but who hardly know the most basic points of Catholic faith and morals.
There are 84 million Catholics in the Philippines, about the same number in the United States. Yet. only 37% of Filipino Catholics go to Sunday Mass. Indeed, many need to be re-evangelized.
To help turn this unfortunate situation around, Bagtikan Cultural Center offers weekly Catholic doctrine classes for young professional men at Philam Tower at the Makati Business District. These one-hour classes form a series of 40 topics covering the Creed, the sacraments, the Decalogue, and morals. Supervised supplementary readings on philosophy and theology are also available to interested participants. The upcoming topics are posted online; those who want to have a clear preview can go to Summaries of Catholic Teaching.