This Tuesday, December 16, begins our 40-days of prayer and sacrifice as we intercede for our loved ones who have lost the gift of faith. Recall that we are offering these days leading up to the celebration of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25.
Some have been asking me to offer suggestions for sacrifices during these 40-days. I believe there are some good thoughts on this here.
However, do you want to make a truly authentic expression of your desire to sacrifice in a way most pleasing to God? Then I challenge you to make the resolution (Will It) to mark these 40-days as the “Spiritual Boot Camp” for your training in holiness. What do I mean by this?
The Psalmist wrote: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).
What is the purpose of a boot camp anyway? The first and foremost reason is to teach recruits to obey … it is a conditioning that leads to a disposition. A virtue is more than one act, it is more than repeated action, it is a disposition to do the good with ease, promptitude, and joy.
The reconstruction, as the Psalmist writes, and every boot camp master sergeant knows, requires a breaking down of old bad habits and replacing these with good and righteous habits. “A broken and contrite heart” translates to a hardened heart that becomes so crushed that it has no more desire to fight against this transformation – this spirit finally submits; finally obeys.
Coming to this disposition is not easy. It begins with a firm resolution to grow in holiness and virtue. Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the most brilliant men who ever lived, was once asked the secret to being a saint. He immediately replied with a two-word answer that has now become a marketing proverb: “Will it.” And it is this heroic virtue – this growing in holiness – along with God’s grace, that empowers us to do what we know is right, to just do it.
Like any boot camp, it must consist of strict discipline. Absolutely everything, from the moment you wake up to the time you lay back down at night, must be minutely regulated. This is a testament to the level of your resolve.
At first, as recruits will attest, it will seem arduous as you build to that point where much of your newly formed practices of virtue and habits of holiness become that disposition to do these with ease, promptitude, and joy. Fight through this groping period – make the sacrifice – offer it up for your loved ones who have lost the gift of faith.
Here is a previous post that will aid you in designing your own personal spiritual boot camp for your training in holiness, especially the section entitled, “A Simple Way of Life.”
I would also suggest one of the following books to keep close to you throughout these 40-days. “The Virtue Driven Life” by Fr. Benedict Groeschel or “Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue” by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin.
The Ultimate Challenge is this: Now is the time to enter a whole new level of seriousness in our desire to grow in holiness. Recall how John Paul the Great encouraged us to understand that, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”
If we TRULY want to implore God to pour out his gift of faith on our loved ones, we must be willing to sacrifice God’s Way, not ours. As we intercede for our loved ones, offer your broken and contrite spirit – your submission to His desire for you to grow in holiness. THIS is truly the sacrifice God will recognize as your authentic desire to find His favor; to seek a conversion of heart for our loved ones whose hearts have become so very hardened.