Navigating the Interior Life
by Daniel Burke - published by Emmaus Road Publishing, 2012
Foreward by Father John McCloskey
How many times have you opened a book that promised to change your life, only to become disillusioned by the end of it (or long before!) upon finding that you did not understand it or agree with it or that you simply were not willing to exert the willpower necessary to follow the author's advice on how to lose weight, improve your memory, speed read, or run for office and become the governor of your state?
The book you now hold in your hands is substantially different, but before I tell you why it might be helpful to share the vantage point from which I offer this observation. By God's mercy and grace, I am a priest of 30 years and have had the great privilege of providing spiritual direction to souls ranging from a supreme court justice nominee, a United States senator, a prominent radio talk show host, priests and women religious of various orders, and good hardworking lay men and women. From where I stand there is nothing more important than the aggressive pursuit of progress in our relationship with God.
Why? Because death is inevitable. Billions of dollars are spent yearly and endlessly to cure diseases, push back the onset of mortal illness, and—in the case of diehard atheists—attempt to prolong life for thousands of years, anticipating a time when humankind will achieve immortality. Even a former President of the United States said, "I want unlimited scientific discovery and I want unlimited applications. We want to live forever and we are getting there" (William Jefferson Clinton).
But those of us who are sincere practicing Catholics know that our most important work in this life is to prepare ourselves for the next one, where we really will be immortal. That means at a minimum remaining in God's friendship (a state of grace, free of mortal sin). More ambitiously, it means so preparing for our face-to-face meeting with Jesus and our own particular judgment that we can hope to be judged fit for heaven immediately, escaping the pains of purgatory. Perhaps, if our efforts to cooperate with God's grace achieve heroic status, we will even gain a front-row seat before the Holy Trinity for eternity. Our second most important work on this planet (or any other humankind may land on in the future) is to help bring as many men and women as possible to heaven with us, through our family life, our friendships, and the sterling example we give.
See how simple it is?
Of course we know it is not that easy. But we also know that the Church provides all the instruments we need to make sure our journey through life ends in heaven: the destination that God our Father, Savior, and Sanctifier desires for us. What are these ordinary means? Principally the seven sacraments, with particular emphasis on Baptism, the Eucharist and Reconciliation, which are of necessity for salvation if available to the person; then personal prayer, with particular emphasis on meditation on Sacred Scripture (particularly the New Testament), where we learn to better know, love, and imitate Our Savior and find models of apostolic zeal in the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of the early Church.
Of course the Church offers us much more than the basics. For example, she offers us the example of the saints throughout the ages and she safeguards our faith with the Church's teaching authority, exercised through the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. Through this authority handed down by Our Lord, faithful Christians from the earliest days of the Church have been able to stay on track, secure in Our Lord's promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. If they are faithful, they know they can await in hope Christ's second coming in glory at the Last Judgment, after which He will lead the saved to a new heaven and new earth.
And then there are the many inspirational gifts of the Catholic culture that produced Western Civilization: the chant, the hymns, cathedrals, feast days, the realist philosophy of the medieval philosophers, the sacredness of marriage and family, the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, the art of Giotto, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Rubens and so many others. The list goes on and for all we know the best may lie ahead, however hard it may be to believe that from the vantage point of what sometimes looks like a cultural Dark Ages. After all, God is full of surprises for His beloved children, whom He redeemed at such a high price. Who knows what form divine inspiration will take before God shuts down the whole operation to mete out His justice and mercy according to the free choices that men and women have been making since they awoke in Eden.
None of the foregoing helps for Catholics, however, are the subject of this book. Instead, the author explores another of the great aids for Catholics, being a modern vade mecum (for your homework, look up that Latin phrase!) on the much neglected yet essential help to holiness known as spiritual direction. In relatively few pages, Mr. Burke has done a masterful job of explaining clearly what spiritual direction is and how you can take advantage of it.
Why is this so important now? Primarily because we are still very much at the beginning of fully applying the core message of the Second Vatican Council, i.e., the universal call to holiness. No, sanctity is not the monopoly of priests and religious, despite the great debt the Church owes to those called to those wonderful vocations. However, in the centuries ahead we are likely to see dozens, even hundreds of lay people canonized by the Church. These will be lay people who have cooperated with God's graces to grow in holiness, without (unlike most examples of lay holiness up to this point) necessarily ending their lives as martyrs.
The great majority of the saints had the help of a spiritual director of some kind on their road to holiness. Call this person a confessor, consultant, guide, or spiritual fitness trainer (my favorite), but we all need expert help us. Why? Most of all, perhaps, to avoid trusting ourselves. After all, has there ever been a saint too proud to ask advice on how to grow in holiness on his journey to eternal life? I think not — and so do you, or you would not be reading this book. I pray that you find the right person or persons to serve as spiritual guides throughout the course of your life. And now I will stop so that you can find out what you need to know from Dan Burke and then pursue this highly recommended help to holiness.