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Strengthening out spiritual lives takes time, effort and commitment

      Suppose you want to run a marathon. Do you get up that morning and say to your spouse, “Hey, hon, I think I’ll try running 26.2 miles today”?

      No, you train for the marathon. You start out running distances shorter than 26.2 miles, and you gradually work your way up to the marathon distance. You eat a special diet. You do exercises that stretch your muscles. You exercise with weights. You learn different breathing techniques. You focus your mind on the task. So, you don’t tryto run a marathon; you train to run a marathon. And that takes time.

      Shouldn’t our spiritual life be the same?

      We get up one morning and say, “I’m going to try to be more spiritual today.” So on Sunday we open up the Good Book and read. We try to get in, say, a chapter. Later that morning we go to Mass. While there, we try listening to the homily. As father or the deacon drones on, we try not to stare daggers at the young couple whose three-year old is whining, or worse yet, screeching that high-pitched scream. At the Sign of Peace we tell ourselves we are really going to try to mean it when we say to that total stranger, “Peace” (more about the Sign of Peace below).

      While in line to receive Holy Comm we try not to go over the list of things we have to accomplish the minute we leave the parking lot right after Mass, but vow we will mindful of what’s going on when we consume God.

      And speaking of busting out of that parking lot when Mass is over, we tell ourselves we’re not got to become enraged when old man Owens, yet again, cuts us off in that Oldsmobile he drives.

      Come Monday morning, and it’s back to work. The spiritual life all comes crashing down. But we console ourselves by telling ourselves, “Well, I tried.”

      Jesus says, “No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

      Folks, you and I have to train to be spiritual. Not try; train. How?

      Just as the person who trains for a marathon does not start out running 26.2 miles the very first day of training, so we need to train for the spiritual life in small steps, in small chunks.

      Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick one thing and train for that. For example, reading Scripture. Don’t open up the Gospel of John, along with it five different commentaries, in an attempt to become the new wizard of Johannine studies. Instead, open up the Bible to the Gospel of John. Before reading, pray that the Holy Spirit will open your heart and mind and soul to what God will be saying to you as you read God’s word. Don’t begin with a predetermined number of chapters or verses in mind to be read. Simply read slowly and aloud. When a word or phrase strikes you, stop. And listen to God. He is speaking to you through those words you just read. Keep doing that until you feel you have completed your prayer. Mark the spot where you stopped, and pick up at that point the next time.

      Now, this is where the training comes in. Makes time for this prayer, and do so religiously (no pun intended). Keep at it. Cut out from your daily routine those activities that will keep you from doing this prayer. People deny themselves all kinds of things in training for a marathon.  You need to train, too, but train only for one spiritual thing at a time. Once something like reading Scripture becomes a part of you, train for something else in your spiritual life.

      You have no better time to start this practice than now. Advent and Christmas are perfect for this. The songs! The decorations! The smells of wonderful food and spices! Baby Jesus, angels, shepherds, stars, Wise Men, Mary, Joseph, cattle lowing! What an atmosphere in which to praise God!

      And now for the Sign of Peace story. Back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, I was at a Sunday Mass in a church down in Louisville, Kentucky. At the Sign of Peace, I turned to these total strangers standing around me, extended my hand, shook the hands that were extended to me and said, “Peace.” I turned to this one woman, who was by herself and who was standing to my right. She appeared to me to be in her late 70s. I extended my hand to her and said, “Peace be with you.” She looked at me, did not extend her hand to shake mine and said, “I don’t do that peace $@!&.”

      It’s about training, people.

        Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .






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