One feature that is common to most of the major world religions is an intuition that the interior life of the human person is fundamentally disordered. In contrast to many modern philosophies which seem to view human desire as a sure guide to happiness, the experience of many of the more traditional philosophies and religions is that the interior life is in need of reform. Furthermore, what many of these philosophies and religions propose is a program of discipline and prayer/meditation.
The idea is rather strait forward. The human heart, or the human’s interior life, is in need of education. Like other aspects of education, this involves some form of asceticism and moderation which often include forms of denying oneself. Christianity doesn’t deny this elementary experience of humanity, but rather fulfills it in the light of revelation.
In the Christian faith, this interior education has a different focus from other traditions. One of the key features of the Christian faith is that the human person is not the primary agent in the process of spiritual maturation. Growing in Christian perfection is not about what I am doing in order to draw closer to God, but rather what God is doing through me. The primary agent in my salvation is God, and the question becomes how do I respond to his action in my life.
The second key feature of Christian maturation is that growth in holiness is a growth in unconditional love. Our attachments to sin and the disorders of the heart prevent us from loving with the fullness to which we are called. Our vocation is to love others as the Father loves us. This unconditional love is shown most explicitly in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Thus our love is not meant to be a nice sentiment or a pleasant feeling, but rather is a form of self-offering. Our love must resemble Christ’s love in the manner in which we pour out our lives for God and neighbor.
In order that we might participate in the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, we must submit ourselves to a “Spiritual regiment.” This discipline is nothing new. The beauty of spiritual wisdom is that it existed before us, and will continue after us. Although times change, the important things remain the same. This discipline consists of the sacraments, most especially Confession and the Eucharist, as well as daily prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This way of living is not a burden, but rather the means by which we experience the liberation that comes through Jesus Christ. This liberation gives us the freedom to love with spontaneity and a genuineness which fulfills our lives and brings us peace and joy.