Saturday, December 9, 2006

Questons About the Spiritual LIfe

I'm working on a new book that will be written by Father Benedict Groeschel--where he will answer questions about the Spiritual life, covering such topics as:

  • What is the spiritual life?
  • You mean the spiritual life isn't just something monks and nuns worry about?
  • You mean the Mass and Sacraments are supposed to help me grow in the spiritual life?
  • Is there a patern of growth in the spiritual life similar to the patern of growth we find in the physical life, i.e. infancy, childhood, adolesence, adulthood,etc.?
  • How should I live out my life if I'm growing spiritually?

I'd like to develop a good series of questions that people have out there (and this means you, whoever you are reading this). Please either send me your questions about the spiritual life or leave them in the comments here. Also leave your name and where you live (, state) and if I use your question, we'll put you in the acknowledgements at the end of the book.

Update: 12/10: Keep the questions coming, they are good and very helpful--they'll make the book really, really useful to thousands of people... here is another area that I'd like to add based on the questions I've received already:
  • Obstacles to growing in the Spiritual Life


  1. How does a person know if he is growing in the spiritual life?

    How does a person know where to begin if he has not yet established a daily prayer life?

    How do private devotions like the rosary, novenas, enthronement of the Sacred Heart, etc., help in the spiritual life?

    What should Our Lady's role be in our spiritual life?

    Amy - Oklahoma City

  2. What are some good guidelines for living a spirit of poverty when trying to advance in the spiritual life? What are some good questions to ask myself about the proper use of goods when I, for instance, want to go clothes shopping or get an iPod? It's so hard to keep a balance b/n overscrupulousness and living the way "the world" does!

  3. How can I tell that I am growing spiritually?

    How can I find a spiritual director?

    What is the goal of growing spiritually?

  4. What are ways to help develop a Catholic spiritual life in children? We live in the South, and Catholics are a minority. My children's friends are good Christians, but the Bible studies and youth groups they participate in when they are with their friends are evangelical. The only, very small Catholic youth group is social in nature. Thank you

  5. Here are a few questions I would pose for such a book. I hope they're useful. (Mark in Ann Arbor)

    * What are some danger signs that your spiritual growth is going in the wrong direction -- i.e. you are "growing" spiritually through prayer and you are spending time in prayer/contemplation/etc. but you're going about it in the wrong way or contrary to the way the Holy Spirit would have you go?

    * Many people I know do try to "squeeze in a prayer" every day or incorporate some kind of self-generated prayer list of petitions they pray on a fairly regular basis. What are better, more consistent *methods* of developing a spiritual life that work in the utterly-crazy-busy world of modern working families?

    * Are there any gleaned methods or efforts from the Protestant or eastern Orthodox side of Christianity that are useful or even helpful that Catholics would be fine using?

    * There seems to be such an unbelievably wide array of different "accepted" Catholic spiritual disciplines and approaches out there (ex: John of the Cross vs. Brother Lawrence as extremes) -- is there a way to do a grid perhaps showing what kind of personality types (introvert vs. extravert) or lifestyle situations (single vs married, working family vs retired persons) might work best together?

    Thank you Fr. Benedict and Michael!

  6. I would love to know how one goes about integrating the various "disciplins" or "techiniques" of the spiritual life, especially how to use the Cardinal and Theological virtues to counter the seven deadly sins, and to integrate personal prayer with the Liturgy of hours and the mass.

    It would also be nice to have some concrete advise on how to integrate the calander with prayer to more fully understand the mystery of salvation

  7. Which are the differences between Christian spiritualiy and "new Age" spirituality?

  8. Can you ever be spiritual enough?

    Does spirituality consist more in external actions or internal movements/emotions/intentions?

    Can you be spiritual without being religious?

    Do you have to believe in God to be spiritual? Any specific God? Does everyone have a spiritual life?

    Is there a difference between one's spiritual life and what St. Francis de Sales means by 'the devout life'?

    Does one need a spiritual director?

  9. How does being "spiritual" differ from being "religious"? How can we respond to people who refuse to claim a religious identity, yet insist that they are "spiritual"?

    Michelle - Gahanna, OH

  10. What role does Confession play in spiritual development?

    If one has developed to a point where mortal sin is infrequent, should they still use confession? If so, how?

    In this last one, I know the answer myself, but many do not take confession as a means to build virtue and why we should be so focused on building virtue.

    If one does not pray at least 15 minutes daily, yet spends two hours daily on television or computer, that person has just found a good thing to discuss in confession for the good of their spiritual development.

  11. How should scripture and the liturgy help form me spiritually?

    Does spiritual growth entail less temptation, or can we expect to wrestle with the same tempations throught our lives?

    What role does conscience play in spiritual development?

    How does one realistically develop ascetical discipline?

  12. I think that you can feel it inside you when you grow. Even the fact that you feel the growth is a proof of that...

  13. I think we need a good discussion on scruples--where it comes from and how to get through it. IMHO the "normal" mild cases are when a Christian with an imperfectly formed conscience has a sudden acquaintance with the gift of the Fear of the Lord--and doesn't know what to do. I think that the trick is mostly just to relax and let it pass.

    Looks bad, though--scares a lot of priests.

    Relatedly, if I remember correctly, in his book about the young priest who died, Fr. G. mentioned that the young man was unusual because, although deeply religious, he had no self-loathing at all. I thought it was a striking statement, and would be interested in hearing more about this.

    I would also be interested in seeing (although this might be a separate book) Fr. Groeschel's understanding of the process of recovery from a difficult vocational trial, especially the experience of being dismissed from a seminary or formation program. One meets a lot of rather crippled people these days--what are they going through? What can be done to help?

  14. Maybe address time constraint issues for professional men and how they can incorporate prayer into the limited time they have.

    Or how their work is/could be, as they are faithful in it, a continuation of prayer/spiritual life.....not thinking they can't be "holy" because they are lay persons.

  15. JeanneS in Tampa Bay, FloridaDecember 9, 2006 at 6:13 PM

    Why aren't there more married saints?

    Another question: Why isn't there a retreat program for couples who experience infertility for a very long time? Why don't more people understand that often infertility is NOt our fault? Does not the catechism say something about this?

    Why are more people more understanding about this? Most people I have met give you the funny look, especially when both of us are older than average?

    Why is there more emphasis on big families? Don't they know that it is expensive to adopt? Why don't they contribute and not judge?

    With all the assistance of Catholic television and radio why don't people really know God loves them?

    Why can't they just understand that more than most who cannot physically produce or multiply are just that way and more than often NOT BY CHOICE?

  16. How can I grow in the spiritual life if my parish is incredibly liberal and my Bishop is also?

  17. How does one attain love and find persistence in love over time?

  18. Here are a few that others have sent to me directly...

    From St. Paul, MN:

    Here are some questions that I've been wondering:

    What are the different sorts of Catholic spirituality? What characterizes
    each of them? How can one tell what his/her own spirituality is?

    I had to deal with these questions when I was first looking for a spiritual
    director. I asked my pastor how I could/should go about finding a director,
    and he responded by asking me what my spirituality was. Did he mean
    Franciscan or Carmelite? Did he mean charismatic or "traditional?" And what
    do such categories actually signify?

    From Montgomery, AL:

    If you're praying for an increase of virtue, and you're willing the
    actions that display that virtue, but mentally you're still struggling
    with *wanting* to do the vicious thing, are you a) sinful and b) is
    there anything more you can do.

    Example: If you struggle with patience, and you know this, and pray
    for an increase in patience and don't pester people to do something
    you've asked them to do, but still in your head you want to nag or
    vent to someone else or whatever, but you don't do it, what's your
    situation, and how do you grow?

  19. Even if it's not in the book, I'd like to know the good father's opinion, as I am quite deaf and I often wonder what I should do with myself during Mass.

    With the Mass being the central part of the spiritual life of any Catholic, what can those who cannot hear focus on when attending?

  20. I think a book on the spiritual life should discuss the fact that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all spirituality. An example: My husband's Cursillo weekend was a life-changing experience for him. My weekend was pretty much an "offer it up for three days" experience. People were saying, weeks after their weekend, "My feet still haven't touched the ground." I began to wonder if I was spiritually stunted or something. I eventually got the boost I needed from Eucharistic Adoration. But I only really began to notice the effects after I had done it for 5-plus years.

  21. How do I know whether God is calling me to greater perfection or whether the sacrifices I intend to make will make me unhappy and thus make me abandon even the things I "achieved" in spiritual life? I wouldn't want to be worse off then when I started, but I know that there can be no stagnation in spiritual life, just growth or decline?
    How much is too much or too soon?

    Another topic: should I talk to my confessor who is also my spiritual director about my inclinations to sin or only about my sins in the confession?

    Tomislav, Croatia

  22. I once read an article about different types of spirituality prayer and how they are suited to different personality types (using the Myers/Briggs personality index--like INFP). While I am not a big believer in Myers-Briggs (I think some folks go over-board, and it ends up being treated like your like a horoscope) I thought there were some good insights in the article. Unfortunately, I've never been able to find the article again. I'd be interested if Fr. Groeschel had anything to say about different types of prayer or spirituality for different types of people.

  23. I once read an article about different types of spirituality prayer and how they are suited to different personality types (using the Myers/Briggs personality index--like INFP). While I am not a big believer in Myers-Briggs (I think some folks go over-board, and it ends up being treated like your like a horoscope) I thought there were some good insights in the article. Unfortunately, I've never been able to find the article again. I'd be interested if Fr. Groeschel had anything to say about different types of prayer or spirituality for different types of people.

  24. - Is the spiritual life a goal orientation as in a physical health regime or an education plan?
    - If physical creation is pronounced good, why must spiritual practice include physical asceticism?
    - Outside of Liturgy what role does a parish priest play, if any, on one’s spiritual practice?
    - What are the hallmarks of consolation?
    - What are the hallmarks of desolation?

  25. How do I discern between God's will and my will? How can I tell when my will is in line with God's?

    How can I discern between my own selfish and/or prideful desires and the desires God has placed in my heart?

    How does one enter into the practice of daily examination of conscience and frequent confession without becoming scrupulous? How does one discern between a refined sensitivity of the soul and scrupulosity?

  26. I am a mother of a grown child who has mental retardation.
    God willing, I will care for him the rest of my life. There have been many tears, frustrations and joys along this journey. How do I grow spiritually with this gift that I have been given?

  27. Are there different levels to the spiritual life? Does one have to go through the dark night of the soul in order to attain a higher level of spirituality?

  28. What lesson should we learn when we realize that we are very much NOT attracted to, or even repelled by, certain devotions, like the Rosary? Does it mean that we are being defiant and stubborn and must therefore drive ourselves through the devotion, in trust and humility? Or is it "okay" to avoid certain devotions? (This question asked outside of having any spiritual direction.)

  29. I saw Christ on the cross in a dramatic vision prior to a physical healing from an incurable disease. Do others in the Church have such visions nowadays? Here's the background:
    No Mask

  30. What is a good way of dealing with the sexual attractions that accompany the spiritual life? Sometimes there is a priest who seems attractive, and I know that there is a part of that that is normal male-female stuff, part of it is he is the top dog around. But part of it seems to be a misfiring or displacement of love for God. So how do you keep the love-for-God part and not fall into romantic notions or especially relationships?

    (And how do you talk to a spiritual director about things like this without making him freak out?)

  31. After reading all the other questions, I want to read this book! Here are my questions:
    Where and how can a layperson find competent spiritual direction?
    Confession issues: How can we become more motivated to go to confession? What kinds of psychological and spiritual obstacles keep us away from confession, and what can we do about them?
    What can we do when we feel "stuck" in our spiritual life--when we seem to be in a rut?

  32. Is a person's spirituality/prayer style determined/influenced by his personality type? How does one determine what his personality type is? Is there a good book on this?

  33. One of Father's strengths is interweaving a healthy spirituality AND healthy psychology...the tendency in the 21st century Church so far is to make it an "either/or" dichotomy. That said, I'm wondering 2 things:
    1) could he please address the "I'm Spiritual but not Religious" fantasy world where a person can easily spend their entire lives in this culture?
    2) could he speak to how a true walk with Jesus in this life is tied into the Beatitudes?
    (Memphis, TN)

  34. From a reader who emailed me directly:

    How do I distinguish between paying proper attention to my spiritual state
    and merely engaging in narcissistic self-absorption?

    Not always but often, spiritual discipline and growth involve actions
    visible to others, and it's my experience that others often take these
    actions as an implied rebuke and become, as it were, pre-emptively
    defensive. Is there any way to pursue the external aspects of the spiritual
    life without antagonizing those around you?

  35. Very important and very basic:
    What is the indispensible role of the Holy Spirit in each spiritual life?

  36. For me the burning question is: what is the relationship between love and truth? How can one live as a Christian and try to truly practice charity and also be faithful to the Church's teaching on many "difficult" subjects such as homosexuality and contraception.

  37. 1. Can you become distracted by an emphesis on "spiritual growth" vs. serving God?

  38. I can't seem to get over the conundrum of free will and grace. I've been taught that all of our actions, even those which feel like completely our own initiative are actually God's initiative. He gives us the grace in order to do a good work. But then it becomes hard to understand how people go to Hell.

    Free will means we have a choice, which, since we're humans, affords no comfort given our unparalleled ability to muck things up. Predestination means that maybe God doesn't give the grace of final perseverance to some, which is scary in what that suggests about God. We believe that God predestines no one to Hell, but to not give a grace is a very subtle distinction from actively willing someone to Hell.

  39. I didn't read carefully about your wanting geographical references.

    You might want people to put in their age, too, there may be a trend in the type of spiritual question they have.

    Therese Z, Chicago, Illinois, 50

  40. Why is it that in the past several decades people seem to be so comforted by the psychological approach/rationale to sin that it seems to have resulted in a lessened pricking of the conscience that used to make one realize that the sacrament of confession is necessary? I have sensed that many of the priests in this era have a pseudo training in psychology and use it rather as a way to seem less judgmental and personally loved, resulting in very confused individuals. Padre Pio often, rather, used the "shock" effect to awaken the submerged sense of sin in merely curious or not serious penitents. And why is there an almost complete rejection of connecting Satan and real attached evil to things like addictions - at least as some kind of explanation; especially when one is known to have dabbled in the occult or with unsavory individuals? There are priests who simply okay just about everything and justify it by saying that Christ conquered all such evil with His sacrifice so one won't be effected by such stuff! Hasn't the real spiritual life been greatly harmed and almost diminished by such modern approaches? How can one approach any personal relationship with God if he's still unconsciously loaded down with the effects of still lingering attachments that have been blessed by his spiritual authorities??

  41. I know about Paul's advice to "pray always," but I wonder whether there are intermediate steps that Fr. Groeschel recommends to lay people who want to follow that but haven't yet figured out how, or grown sufficiently mindful of God's presence? Is there a "prayer boot camp," or is that a miserable metaphor for how to approach the Father, Son, and Spirit?

    Patrick O'Hannigan
    San Diego, CA

  42. I think it would be a good topic to discuss how the authority of the church can help one along spiritually especially with the interpretation and its understanding of scripture.

    As a recent convert, from the Baptist tradition, looking at scripture, through the eyes of the church and the liturgy, has helped me grow spiritually as opposed to opening the Bible and having it be up to my own self-interpretation.

    Shannon, Omaha, NE.

  43. How does one in the married state with four school-age children balance Jesus demands of doing all for the Kingdom and selling all that we have with prudent care for the temporal needs of the family?

    What part does obedience play in spiritual direction? Once one chooses a spiritual director, should he always do what the director says?

    John - small town, Massachusetts

  44. My question is: How does one grow in the spiritual life when your mind is never clear but always churning? I cannot turn off my mind it keeps thinking no matter what I do.

    If your faith is primarily based on and governed by intellect, how do you get to a one on one relationship with the Lord?

    Is the Holy Spirit the member of the Holy Trinity we should address when seeking to grow spiritually? What are the roles of the Father and the Son in this context?

    Jim Leavenworth, Kansas.

  45. If we will be judged on "how much we loved" how can we become more loving if we don't "feel" loving?

    Is love merely an act of the will?

    If so, how can we train our will to love?

  46. What role can ecclesial movements play in the helping a person live out his spiritual life?

  47. What is a "program of life" and how can I use one to deepen my spiritual life?

    If I have a spiritual guide, how should I prepare for my meetings with my guide?

    How do I "go deeper" in confession to really get at the root of my sins?

    What role do "interior mortifications" have in the spiritiual life? Can one progress in the spiritual life without mortifications?

    What is the value of "compunction" in the spiritual life?

  48. I second Chris K's question I was going to post one just like it. Here's the main point I'm interested in.

    "How can one approach any personal relationship with God if he's still unconsciously loaded down with the effects of still lingering attachments that have been blessed by his spiritual authorities??"

    I haven't ever been described as scrupulous but if a person never fully becomes 'detached' how can one grow spiritually? It seems to go against everything I've read that one can grow if still attached to even the most simple thing.

  49. I would like Fr to help me overcome my fear of confessing my sins to a priest. I confess twice a year and would like to more frequently - but oh the dread.

  50. I want to love to go to Confession and approach it with joy instead of dread. Help!

  51. This isn't so much a question - rather a topic Benedict should cover;
    "Common Mystic Prayer" a book by a Capuchin, Fr. Gabriel Diefenbach - now out of print.
    It deals with the common mysticism available to everyone - it's an excellent book.
    One example is the opportunity at Communion for mystic prayer - because we are in the immediate presence of Christ - it in itself is a mystic encounter.
    I hope this makes sense.
    Minneapolis MN

  52. How can one avoid being discouraged by besetting sins?

    Gregg, Denver

  53. Following from the above infertility issue...

    We hear the phrase "take up one's cross." What does this look like in real life? What does someone who's accepted his cross do?

    For someone who is struggling to accept his cross, where does he start?

    How do we deal with crosses that seem at "cross-purposes" to our state in life? For example, those of us who suffer from infertility. Why does God lead us to the married state, teach us that children are a blessing and instruct us to be open to the gift of children, give us a natural longing for children -- and then deny us children? And then rub our face in it with all the materials for Catholic married and family life seemingly written for parents of dozens of children?

    Hannah, Metro DC

  54. How do you grow in the spiritual life when it seems the rest of your life is falling apart?

  55. Could you give a good explanation for unanswered prayer? Not the sort of immature prayer like a prayer for this or that object. Rather, prayers for truly good things -- like specific virtues, or a spouse for you sister, or for children, or for the conversion of people close to you? Thanks!

  56. If parish life is the center of Catholic spirituality and you are not supposed to "shop around" every week for the mass you like (and if you live in a diocese where your parish is predetermined by geography) how do you deal with a really unorthodox, or maybe just unappealing parish? For example, it may not be unorthodox to kneel, but what if standing feels wrong to you? What if the music is "new-agey"?

  57. How do you overcome fear in your prayer life? We all fear change and growth on some level, and that fear can really interfere with spiritual development. How can we balance the healthy "fear of the Lord" with a knowledge of God's mercy, so that we are able to go where God wills us?

    Jen in Georgia, USA, 36

  58. - Re-visit / update Francis de Sales' justly famous words about mother shouldn't try to be spritual like a nun, boy shouldn't try to be spiritual like monk, diocesan priest is not a hermit, etc. etc.

    - How really follow, in practical terms, the frequent appeal of the Church that devotions and spiritual quests should flow from (and to) the liturgy, be in tune with seasons of the liturgy, draw from assigned texts and feasts etc.

    - how get us away from seeing Catholicism as being good parishioner (only) us see that "parishioner" is only part...the spiritual task of being laity in world (witess, integrity in calling, etc.).

    - particular attention to some areas where there seems to be less treatment of "spiritual life". A few examples:

    > teen trying / needing to find own identity and needing to "rebel" or explore frontiers

    > mid-life crisis

    > during menopause

    > in senior-citizen loneliness

    > as priest in one-priest parish

    > going through grieving (many books on widows, fewer on spiritual growth while going through divorce, abandonment, sudden termination at work, loss of child)

    Tom Ryan, Orleans MA

  59. I would that Fr. Groeschel, while he is still graciously granted to us by God, write two books, one to evangelicals in general, and one to evangelical trained clergy.

    He truly understands evangelicals and how to communicate across the jargon divide far better than even converts to Catholicism by evangelical clergy. I do not believe that anyone else could do this as well.

  60. I get annoyed by people "speaking in tongues," who claim to be "slain by the Holy Spirit," and those who insist on having the so-called "Baptism by the Holy Spirit." Am I, in anyway, offending God for feeling this way toward the charismatics?

    If it's true that the Holy Spirit has been so generous with glossolalia, why isn't He as generous with the gift of levitation? Why aren't there any charismatics who levitate like St. John of Cupertino?

  61. How can you trust that your feelings are from God and not your own desires. For instance, I felt called to the married (with children) vocation when I was 12 and prepared for my family my whole life. I am now 48 with a man never interested in me despite prayer, purity and preparation. People have told me that it is my own fault I didn't attract anyone or that I read my own desires as God's will, but I can tell you that as sure as I know that God is I AM and Jesus said "Come Follow Me" I know that I had this vocation and I know that God put the desire in my heart. Now I don't trust my spiritual instincts and think they are my own wishes and desires.

  62. After the "first fervor," it's easy to make compromises in every way: not being as faithful to prayer, not forgiving immediately, making plans without prayer, use of time.

    If one finds h-self in this position, what is the first thing to try and recover?

  63. How do you overcome distractions in prayer? Are distractions in prayer sinful? What is the remedy if distractions seem to be very severe, persistent, or even chronic?

  64. This is a great idea. Here are a few:

    1. Explain why a true spiritual life must always lead to evangelization. (St. Thomas said something to the effect that contemplation must flow over to the apostolic life. It's a good point to develop.)

    2. How does a person know if a time of spiritual darkness and dryness is a trial permitted by God or more the result of infidelity to grace?

    3. Explain how and why Jesus is always the center of the spiritual life. For example, Jesus as the Way, Truth and Life.

    4. Please explain what spiritual apathy or acedia (the "noonday devil") is and what are the best remedies to overcome it. What should a person do when it lasts a long time? When you are in a vocation like religious life, how do you keep up your dedication year after year without "growing weary of doing good" (as St. Paul says).

    5. This last question is something I've been puzzling over for a long time. How can priests and the Catholic faithful learn to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation in such a way that they can truly receive God's forgiveness and be healed? Certainly the sins are always forgiven, but sometimes the spiritual fruit of the sacrament doesn't seem to really take place.
    To put this in context, a few years ago I attended a pastoral care ministry conference hosted by Leanne Payne, whom Fr. G. has recommended. It was wonderful to see how they really know how to do healing prayer. L. Payne has great stories in her book Restoring the Christian Soul. They really know how to do healing prayer. But they're not Catholic and they're doing it better than we are. We have the sacrament--why isn't the healing aspect of the sacrament better utilized? To some extent it is in the charismatic movement. But Payne knows how to pray with people in such a way that she leads them to not only receive forgiveness for their own sins but to actually forgive others in such a way that it really takes place, and they are freed of the emotional blocks that come from lack of forgiveness. Why don't priests know how to do that with people in confession? If you read her book you'll see what I mean. It's amazing what she has done inlleading people to healing and forgiveness without the sacrament; it should be so much more fruitful in the Catholic Church. I don't mean it isn't fruitful at all, but we could be doing SO much better with it.
    Sorry that's long but it's a burning question for me that I've never received a good answer to.

    Sr Lorraine, Boston, MA

  65. How should one's sprituality play a role when one's spouse has not had a "conversion". One spouse has rededicated, or dedicated his life to God and the other spouse has not had this grace.

    Also, how does one remain faithful to the truth in relatioships with family//friends, who have not embraced their faith. One does not want to be self-righteousd or divisive. Yet, one wants to be a loyal to Christ.

    marie, age 41 rhode island

  66. I teach religious ed to second graders. One of the "prayers" in our book is something supposedly "contemplative" that involves red string. The script has children thinking "red string, red string take me to my heart home"
    The string turns into an airplane that takes you to the Nativity where Mary gives you baby Jesus to hold close to your heart.

    What do you think about this? Is it a good way to help children learn to pray?

  67. The practice of "guided meditations" is thankfully less common nowadays than in the recent past, but it still comes up from time to time. I think this is a very unhealthy way to pray, especially when it involves "meeting Jesus." It's a very intense experience and full of pleasure, such that I think people take "what Jesus is saying to me" at those moments very seriously. But is that Jesus, or the superego, or some other aspect of the personality?

  68. This book will be very, very helpful-

    Perhaps Fr. Groeshel could discuss the concept of JOY and the spiritual life.
    Specifically, what exactly is Christian joy, how does one work toward it, what are the obstacles in achieving it; Chesterton called joy "the great secret of Christians". Also, joy as distinguished from mere happiness.
    Thank you;


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