27 | The number one enemy of spiritual life

HOPE is a theme of our podcast. HOPE. We keep coming back to it. Because we need a LOT of it. We need a lot of it because life is either challenging us, or even kicking us when we are down, and because we are leaning into new challenges that S-T-R-E-T-C-H us. Life is short and needs lots of hope if we want to accept it and embrace it. 

Supernatural hope does not disappoint. It certainly does CHALLENGE. The world seems a tad crazy, bad, and sad. Cultivating and receiving hope is not so easy. 

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

Psalm 121


Receiving. Now there’s an interesting concept. Catholics like to talk about receiving grace. We tend to think of receiving grace as a very passive sort of thing. I’m sitting there, prayerful, and the grace simply shows up. That surely must happen, sometimes. Receiving, however, is not merely passive. 

There’s a continuum from being purely passive to being very active: from NO pursuit to ALL OUT pursuit. Watching the ball game and waiting for your buddy to bring back the popcorn from the concession stand: that’s pure passivity. Exploding off the line of scrimmage, hitting and shoving the player right in front of you, breaking off and sprinting on a slant downfield, looking stretching, leaping, fighting the defender to RECEIVE the ball… that’s ALL-OUT pursuit. 

Spiritual life is tricky sometimes and distinguishing making an effort to receive from making efforts to save ourselves by ourselves (that’s Pelagianism or please correct me if I got the wrong heresy name) is not always so easy. We can, at least, discard the idea of receiving as being purely passive. 


Hope is a virtue particularly appropriate to midlife because, in this season, it’s actually very easy to get discouraged and to lack hope for a lot of different reasons. For example, we might be looking back over our life and thinking, “Oh boy, I, I wish I had made some different decisions.” Or we are dealing with parental guilt (there’s a lot of that, most of which is pointless). Or we feel that the best of life is behind us because of our health, our outlook, our assessment of our future…And we can be just plain tired. 

Fr. Jacques Phillippe in The Way of Trust and Love, a book drawing on the spirituality of Thérèse of Lisieux, describes DISCOURAGEMENT as THE MAIN DANGER in spiritual life. 

I don’t think that would have been my first guess as the MAIN danger. 

Of course, we take this quote in context, knowing that there are many other things that are critical and necessary, like goodwill. 


Philippe’s book about Thérèse is entitled The Way of Trust and Love. One of the themes of Thérèse’s spirituality that Philippe picks up on is ACCEPTING our interior poverty. ACCEPTANCE is not complacency or making friends with our inner weaknesses. ACCEPTANCE lets us have PEACE as we realize how “little” we are – and you devotees of Thérèse’s little way immediately know that it’s a theme for her. 

We have to accept what God has for us and what God allows to happen. We EVEN have to accept that the world is a good place despite all the “bad” in it. Life IS good. We would never choose much of what happens to us however God allows it to happen. Accepting what IS happening to us and around us is a big step in the battle of RECEIVING the gift of PEACE that God repeatedly promises to us. 

RECEIVING this gift of peace, which is a grace (freely given by God, not earned), requires us to make some EFFORT to receive it. An aspect of this effort is ACCEPTANCE. 

Some of the hardest things to accept are our own weaknesses, and our own spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is the norm. We are weak. We just are. When we accept that situation, and remain “little”, as Thérèse might say, we are a loooooong way towards receiving the peace God has promised to persons of goodwill. 


Karen and I consistently see the need for people to practice self-compassion. It’s a discipline that will help you have ACCEPTANCE of yourself, those around you, the things that happen to you, and what’s happening in the world. Remember, acceptance is not resignation. It’s allowing what God permits to happen, to happen, and to be. 

Let’s talk more about self-compassion next week.

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