Our soul is a living thing. We really don't think of it that way, but it's true. It's your soul that's going to live for eternity, not your body. It's your soul that's going to go before God in judgement and learn its destiny. And just like our bodies, our souls need to be exercised. I know it would be great if we could pray a few prayers and say that our soul is ready for Heaven, but we know that's not the case. We need to exercise it with spiritual training.
So, I'm going to suggest a few things that, if practiced, should be of tremendous benefit to your soul. I can promise you this, it's a lot more fun and fulfilling than having to drag your butt to the gym three times a week. Now, what you should do is find what works for you. Maybe the things I suggest don't suit you well, and that's okay. If that's the case, you'll have to find the things that do work for you. Everyone has their own way of training and learning. You have to make your spiritual studies your own, or it won't work. You'll get bored or frustrated, and when that happens you lose all interest and that's a bad thing. Perhaps only a couple of the things I suggest will appeal to you. Great! Use those and find whatever else you can to help develop your spiritual life and relationship with God.
The first thing I suggest is reading. Now, I know reading isn't everyone's thing, but if you take it slowly, you may find that you've forged your way through an entire book. There's actually some weird sense of accomplishment that can go along with reading an entire book. I'm going to list a few books that can help you start/continue your spiritual journey. And yes, there is a shameless plug here, I am the co-author of the last book listed.
The first is "The Imitation of Christ" I've probably read this book a dozen times, and each time I read it I get something new from it. I also have it on audiobook and listen to it in my car. In my opinion, it's spiritual perfection. Pope Pius XII said, "it's the greatest book next to the Bible."
I'm a big fan of St. John Vianney. "Sermons of the Cure of Ars," is one of the best books I've ever read. This guy, who was not very intelligent, had a commanding understanding of spirituality and how to serve God. More importantly, he understood how to avoid Hell. People from all over would come and listen to him preach. The Pope, Cardinals and Bishops would come to absorb his wisdom. He was a bit severe though. If you think I'm strict, wait until you read his teachings.
If you want to have a true understanding of what our Lord went through during His Passion read, "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ" by St. Catherine Emmerich. The movie, "The Passion of the Christ" was based on this book. St. Emmerich was gifted visions of many things. Among them, a detailed account of the entire Passion, from the Last Supper to The Resurrection. She had many other visions as well and there are quite a few books on them. This one happens to be my favorite and it'll keep your attention to the end. This is another one in my iPod that I listen to in the car.
Finally, I'm going to throw my own book in there. "Good People Go To Hell, Bad People Go To Heaven." I know I know, but I've been told it's pretty good. That was my mother though so she may be bias. I co-wrote it with the guidance of my spiritual director. He's pretty smart when it comes to the faith and definitely understands what we need to do to save our souls.
These are four books that can start you on an amazing reading expedition. If you're looking for some more good books send me an email. I'll be happy to pass some suggestions along to you.
The next thing I want to emphasize is prayer. "Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to open God's heart." Padre Pio said this. I can't stress enough how important it is to have a successful prayer life. You couldn't possibly develop a relationship with somebody if you didn't talk to them. The same principal applies to God. How can you have a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus if you don't talk to Him. He's there, He's listening, we just have to take the first step. I know a lot of people who love to pray certain prayers like the rosary or novenas, and those are great. I never let a day pass without saying at least one rosary. But it can be hard to develop a personal relationship with someone you don't speak personally with. Sometimes people look at me like I should be in a straight jacket. They see me talking to nobody, and when they ask who I'm having this full on conversation with, I say Jesus, who else? Of course they look at me like I'm even crazier than they originally thought, but that doesn't bother me. I know that if I don't speak intimately with Jesus about every part of my life, I'll be rejecting His help. If God came to you and offered His help, I'm quite sure you'd take Him up on the offer. If you turn to our Lord with the personal things of your life, He's going to offer His help. Guaranteed! Don't ever stop praying your rosary. Keep soldiering forth with those novenas and special prayers to the Saints. Those things, combined with personal intimacy with Jesus, will give you a prayer life even Moses would be proud of. Pray, pray and pray some more.
Do you have a Saint? A lot of people dismiss the importance of the Saints. I have a friend who's a Baptist. He tells me how crazy we are, as Catholics, to even acknowledge anyone other than Jesus. He said, not The Virgin Mary or any of these other people you call saints are important. It's all about Jesus and that's what we should be focused on, no one else matters. I said, and this is according to John Smyth? He said, who? We'll get into that later. I don't know about you, but if somebody was to honor my mother, I'd probably go out of my way to help them out. Think about some of the Saints. Some bore the stigmata, some had incredible visions, while others could actually perform miracles. That's serious stuff! If you think the Saints have nothing to offer, you probably don't understand Catholicism very well. Start doing some research on Catholic Saints. It's a simple Google search away. Try and find a Saint you can relate to. Just as you're going to build a personal relationship with Jesus, you can begin to build a relationship with a Saint that you have things in common with. Each Saint has their own personality and unique way they served God during their life. If you take some time to learn about them, you'll probably find one that you connect with. When this happens, a personal friendship is born. You can pray to them and I can tell you from experience, they can work miracles for you. I'd have to say that finding a Saint that you can relate and pray to, is one of the most important things you can do in your spiritual life. Don't delay it one more day. You're going to be shocked at what they're capable of doing for you from Heaven.
We should be working everyday at exercising our good virtues and trying to eliminate what's opposite those good virtues. Patience, humility and charity are a few of the good virtues that are so beneficial to our soul. We're faced everyday with situations that present opportunities for us to be patient, to extend an act of charity and to swallow our pride in an effort to be more like Jesus and exhibit humility. The opposite of these good virtues are what get us in trouble time after time. Our pride swells, we get angry and very often say or do something that we regret. Instead of submitting our will to someone else, we go out of our way to make sure that what we want gets done. These things are the very opposite of how our Lord lived and died. If we are to be in the image and likeness of God, then we need to practice every day of our lives the virtues that Jesus showed us He had. To swallow our pride and take the lowest place. To submit our will to another. To concede, even if we're in the right, to someone who probably doesn't deserve it. Practicing and using patience, humility and charity, are going to be very powerful weapons when you find yourself before the Judgement Seat of God. On the other hand, pride, impatience and greed are going to be just as powerful, except they're not going to work in your favor.
All of the things we've talked about on the page are simple first steps to developing and strengthening your spiritual life. We can't just sit idly by and hope that we've been good enough to make our way to Heaven. Many have thought that before and have been tragically deceived. Jesus made it quite clear to us that there's work to be done while here on Earth. Our job; to know, love and serve God. That's our purpose here and it takes effort to do these three things. Start small. Just like any exercise regiment, you have to start slowly and build it up. If you're at least trying, then you're on your way to serving God the way He wants you to serve Him. Don't give up. It can seem hopeless at times, but just as it's been said many times before, he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.