Laity Learning Spiritual Disciplines from Religious Orders

The following article appeared in the September 2020 edition of Faith: West Tennessee, the magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. Click here for information on subscribing to FWT.

We all are called to holiness, and we know that holiness requires growth and strength in spiritual practices like prayer, study, and works of mercy. Yet, as lay people living in the world, working jobs, paying bills, and raising families, it is easy to let spiritual growth and strength fall down the list of priorities. Instead of letting holiness “just happen,” we must develop a plan.

Here, I want to provide wisdom from a few saints and religious orders whose spiritualities have impacted my life and my effort to answer the universal call to holiness. If we incorporate some of their recommendations and practices into our days, we will be able to begin walking the arduous journey to holiness with more energy and stamina than ever before.

The first nugget of wisdom comes from St. Benedict. From the Benedictines, lay people can learn the value of a consistent schedule. The very foundation of spiritual growth and strength is consistency. Benedictines would tell every one of us: “Make a schedule and stick to it, religiously!” It is much easier to incorporate healthy habits and spiritual practices when we do them at the same time each day or each week. We humans are creatures of habit, and we need that in our spiritual lives as much as our secular lives.

The second nugget comes from St. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun in the sixteenth century. Teresa’s goal, for her sisters and for the whole Church, was to bring them to a deep, intimate union with God through prayer. Her teachings have helped to bring countless people to that place in their spiritual lives. As part of our daily regimens, we need time for meditative prayer, which leads us to the heights of union with God.

One place that I have found particularly ripe for such prayer is in front of the Blessed Sacrament, in Eucharistic Adoration. St. Teresa & the Carmelites would surely agree. We are blessed in our diocese: we have four chapels of perpetual Eucharistic Adoration (three in Shelby County)! Get to one of those chapels! Jesus waits for you there, and He wants to bring you to the heights of His glory!

Finally, I want to look at the spirituality of St. Dominic and his order. The full, official name of the Dominicans is the Order of Preachers. Preachers desire to connect with a broad audience and help them to live the joy of the Gospel in the world. The laity know what’s happening in the world as we go about our daily lives. Now, we just need St. Dominic and his friars to remind us that it can always be joyful, even if it’s difficult.

We must also realize that preaching doesn’t only happen in homilies and in front of classrooms (the work that the good Dominican sisters do for our diocese). Brother Carlos Aspiroz Costa, who was a successor of St. Dominic as leader of the order, says that “hands are a projection of what is in our heart.” We can preach with our actions, too, revealing the joy of the Gospel.

In conclusion, we laity must find a consistent schedule to make us strong. We laity must let meditative and contemplative prayer bring us into deep union with the Lord. After that, we laity will naturally be ready to go out and share the good news through the corporal works of mercy. This is the sure way we laity can answer the universal call to holiness. Here’s hoping that all of you find truth, goodness, and beauty as you get to it!

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