Learning new things takes time. I spent a lot of time crashing into the water as I tried to learn how to water ski. Attempt after attempt seemed to result in less and less graceful ways of wiping out. Once I figured out what I was doing wrong and I was able to glide along the top of the water instead of crashing into it, water skiing actually became fun as opposed to frustrating.
Living on a farm and learning to drive a tractor as an adolescent was an arduous task. "Let out the clutch slowly," my dad would say. As the tractor jerked, and the hay bales on the wagon were jolted around, I knew it was bad news for me if the bales had to be picked up a second time. As I got older and was the one bucking the bales I clearly understood the angst. Eventually, the workings of the clutch became second nature.
As an adult I learned to drive a tractor-trailer (semi). Making it go forward was difficult enough. Backing it into tight parking spots required another level of expertise. It was so refreshing to get to the point where I was no longer scared to back it up. I knew where it was going and I knew how much room I needed to get it into the desired spot. The bigger the challenge the more I enjoyed the task at hand. Delivering a 105 foot long utility pole into the downtown streets of St. Louis was one of the bigger challenges. Backing an oil tanker into an electrical substation could also be a bit unnerving. If the station was still "hot" the driver had to worry about the electrical current arcing over and zapping the trailer or truck. Thankfully, I never experienced that event personally. Seeing the results on someone else's vehicle was enough to heighten my awareness level.
Why am I spending time describing these various learning scenarios? I want to compare and contrast learning some of these types of things and our spiritual life. Do you pray? If so, how did you learn how to pray? Is it second nature to you now or do you still feel a little awkward and apprehensive about "doing it right?" Have you learned about the faith to the degree that it is now second nature to you? Does your day consist of making decisions automatically with the principles and teachings of the Church forefront in your mind? Is being Catholic (Christian) second nature to you?
Being a follower of Jesus Christ requires persistence. We don't simply accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and then walk perfectly in His ways. We still have free will. It necessitates prayer, study, and repeated good actions to develop the habits needed for a vibrant Christian life. We may fall frequently. Do we have the courage and tenacity to get back up and begin again. Remember, we aren't just called to be mediocre followers of Christ. We are called to be great saints.
We can find all kinds of things in which to blame our failures and shortcomings. I have tried it. When I couldn't get up on the water skis I blamed the skis, the rope, and the person running the boat. Bottom line is that I was still spending more time in the water than gliding on top of the water. Having a fancy swing or a plain swing wouldn't have made any difference when I was trying to learn how to pump my legs correctly. I needed guidance and practice. The same is true for the spiritual journey. I need guidance and practice. I also need to be accountable. A good spiritual director can play an awesome role in the journey.
In closing, I simply ask you the following:
1. Are you "practicing" the faith? This includes daily prayer and at least weekly Mass attendance.
2. Are you continuing to study the faith on a regular basis? Do you know what the Church teaches and how it applies to your day-to-day life?
3. Are you putting your faith into "practice"? Faith without works is dead.
Let the journey toward sainthood continue!