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Are You Growing Holier?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 12, 2011

We want to be holy and we pray and work toward that end. But if we are honest and self-aware, we also realize that we do some picking and choosing among the various paths and regimens of holiness, selecting those which are most congenial to our personalities, and avoiding what we find too taxing or even intolerable. So how do we know whether we are growing in holiness?

A person is typically a poor judge in his own case, and I don’t mean to ignore the potential assistance of a good spiritual director. But most of us, most of the time, must rely pretty heavily on our own understanding both of what it means to be holy and of whether we are progressing along that road. In general, if we constrain our beliefs and our piety within the limits set by the Church, if we pray regularly, and if we truly try to discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will not go far wrong. But sometimes we’d be willing to trade half our kingdom for a checklist.

I think I’ve found one.

In the latest issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Fr. Basil Cole has an article entitled “Formation of novices and seminarians: Nine signs of steady growth”. Fr. Cole, a Dominican scholar and prior whose writings I have found both interesting and helpful, is attempting to set forth a series of indicators of spiritual growth by which someone preparing for the priesthood can be evaluated. But it turns out that his list is a pretty good tool for evaluating all growth in holiness, making suitable adjustments for each person’s situation.

Here are Fr. Cole’s indicators, simplified in the form of nine questions, which suggest the key areas in which we should honestly look for continual growth:

  1. Am I God-centered? This addresses the question of whether we think ourselves the center of the universe, in which case we are likely to be tense, negative and critical. We discern progress here if we come more easily to see the good in others, to accept the dispositions of Providence cheerfully, and to trust in God even in the midst of trials and temptations.
  2. Do I take joy in serving others? There may be times when either our normal duties or interruptions in our routine demand that we occupy ourselves with tasks we do not particularly enjoy, primarily for the benefit of others. We are growing in charity if we find such services easier to perform over time, especially with a sincere desire to be of benefit, and if we gain the ability to remain recollected and prayerful even when doing something we do not naturally enjoy.
  3. Do I hate sin? As time goes on, if we are growing spiritually, we should be increasingly averse not only to great sins but to lesser ones. We should be developing a progressively stronger resolve to avoid anything—including objectively innocent pursuits—which can be an obstacle to our union with God. And of course we should be actively seeking the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are the opposite of the disposition to sin.
  4. Is my conscience delicate? This is closely related, and refers to the need to become ever more sensitive in discerning what is displeasing to God. In the beginning, for example, we may wish to avoid adultery but think nothing of flirting or stealing the odd kiss or two. In time, true growth demands that we more clearly perceive the sinful attitudes at work across the board. Then we will become more watchful over our virtue, even in our thoughts, and we’ll also more easily distinguish among degrees of sin, and between temptation and sin.
  5. Am I humble? To use Fr. Basil’s own words, a sense of humility “means a submission to whatever God desires in the moment, even if it means being unknown or unrecognized.” Pride and vainglory lead us to be calculating in all that we do, in order to increase in stature before the world. But God wants our personal surrender to Himself and to those who, in each moment, represent His will.
  6. Am I faithful in prayer? If we prefer to lose ourselves in a constant whirl of activity, and find that we are uncomfortable being alone with God in the silence of our hearts, we’ll go backwards. Spiritual growth is marked by a growing willingness to put ourselves in the presence of God, even if we suffer from dryness or distractions in prayer.
  7. Do my decisions reflect truth and prudence? As we grow spiritually, we should become more adept at knowing when to seek counsel, yet we should also be increasingly able to advise others, or act quickly and decisively ourselves, in ways that will still seem spiritually right after the fact. We should grow in our capacity to size up each situation properly and apply the right virtue and the right solution to each challenge.
  8. Is my heart undivided? Simply put, this question asks whether we allow various interests and attachments to conflict with our thirst for God or whether we are gradually developing a more ordered appreciation of all good things in, through and for God, in proper relationship to Him. Especially with things we particularly enjoy, we should be praying and working to see them in the light of Christ.
  9. Do I love the Church? To again quote Fr. Basil, “the institutional Church is the unsullied Bride of Christ through which He gives Himself and His graces to a flawed people in need of enlightenment and purification from sin.” Each day, each moment, we should find ourselves loving the Church more and more wholeheartedly, despite her all too evident human flaws. If that is not happening, it is a sure sign we are backsliding.

To me, this seems like an excellent set of indicators for self-evaluation. Each item is a tool for spiritual growth in its own right. And in the end, progress in every area is essential if we are to maximize the potential God has given us for union with Him.

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Geno190 - Apr. 14, 2011 1:32 AM ET USA

    A list of generic, abstract, indicators. Sadly, no reference to the WORD. "By their fruits you shall know them...." Take Gal. 5: 22-26. Ask - the evidence of each fruit in me? - if not there, why not? Mt. 25:32-46. Am I aware concretely of the hungers, thirsts, nakednesses, alienations, bondages, illnesses around me? in me? Do I use my unique Abba/creator given gifts in response to these needs with love? Is the Spirit's fire and wind in me? Concretely. How do I build the Kingdom?

  • Posted by: FredC - Apr. 13, 2011 12:27 PM ET USA

    I do not like examining how holy I am or am becoming. I rely on my spiritual director, not to evaluate my status but to urge me onward. Focus on self can, at least in my case, foster pride.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 13, 2011 9:35 AM ET USA

    May I copy this and distribute within my parish?

  • Posted by: bsp1022 - Apr. 12, 2011 10:47 PM ET USA

    Thanks, Dr. Mirus... A list is sometimes, just the thing to stir insight. For me, devotion to the Eucharist, most easily acquired at daily mass and devotion to the Blessed Mother, taking my cue from John Paul II, are the two surest ways to grow in holiness, but the symptoms of the sincere effort are certainly nicely rendered here by Fr. Cole and yourself.

  • Posted by: dmillnerSanDiego - Apr. 12, 2011 9:31 PM ET USA

    These are great! Here's one that works for me: Does God surprise me? Do I feel that I am discovering God rather than trying to fit Him into conceptual box. If He pops up when I don't expect Him, my trust in Him grows. At times I feel like a hunter, who suddenly discovers that the thing he is hunting, is hunting him. And the suprises are not always pleasant .. at first.

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