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Ongoing Formation of the Heart

Three thresholds to consider to become more completely his

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Deacon Joseph MichalakBeyond initial conversions, vocational discernments and major decisions, our hearts must cross several thresholds. Sometimes gradually, almost imperceptibly, only in light of hindsight might we see such. Sometimes with immediacy, even violently, at watershed moments in our life in Christ does it happen. Regardless, the effect is the same: some aspect of our life comes more completely under the lordship of Christ. He shapes our hearts for greater loyalty, obedience and self-gift to the Father. His suzerainty is extended, and I become more completely his. Often, I am more fruitful. More importantly, intimacy with him deepens.

I’d like to highlight three thresholds with regard to 1) personal preferences, 2) my place of ministry or service and 3) my experience of prayer.

Personal preferences. These are good aspects of life over which I exercise legitimate liberty: which books I want to read for spiritual reading, theological study, professional or pastoral improvement, personal interest or rest; which hobbies or activities I engage for refreshment; which relationships I want to cultivate; which sports or entertainment I seek; how I spend time and order my day; how I use the specific talents, gifts, interests given me by my Father. Often this liberty is increased for those past the young-children season, the semi-retired and those mellowed by the years. Often, this liberty is directed by prudential decisions. But supernatural prudence, guided by love for the Master, then begins to say, “Father, you decide.” A threshold in the heart has been crossed.

My place of ministry and service. By “place” I do not mean primarily the parish or non-parish assignment I may have, or even where I may live geographically. By place I mean: whether or not the ministry I am now doing personally satisfies me at some psychological level; whether or not my service appears fruitful by human measure or corresponds to my gifts; whether or not I am well-known or in obscurity; whether or not I enjoy the esteem of men or even of my bishop or pastor. But when I allow him to choose my place, when joyful obedience with gratitude born of love becomes the only real measure, a threshold in the heart has been crossed.

My experience of prayer. As a wise and infinitely loving Father, God frequently — we might even say nearly always — gives us a taste for him in the early stages of our spiritual life. “Early stages” might extend for years, and that felt experience — joy in knowing I am loved, delight for his Word, overall ease in prayer (even with all the vicissitudes of days and seasons), desire for more of God and his Church — in general characterizes life. Our Father knows that the best way to increase love for him is to give us the experience of him such that “God’s love and love for God” crowd out other illusory or creaturely loves and reorders all our loves. But then, in his infinite wisdom, and precisely because he loves us so much and desires yet greater union with us, when he judges the time is right he removes our inner experience of him so that we might begin to love him more than the experience of him. It is then, in this darkness, that we more truly operate by faith, hope and love, and our friendship with him deepens in ways we do not even perceive. Suffering brings intimacy. A threshold in the heart has been crossed.

Might I suggest praying with Ignatius of Loyola’s First Principle and Foundation? Dare we pray, “Father, bring me across the threshold into your house!”

DEACON JOSEPH MICHALAK is the director of the Institute for Diaconate Formation, the Seminaries of Saint Paul in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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