What is meant by the term "Interior Life?" In a homily by the Holy Father (Pope John Paul II) about Saint Mary Faustina Kowalska, he writes: "Externally nothing revealed her rich mystical interior life. She zealously performed her tasks and faithfully observed the rule of religious life. She was recollected and at the same time very natural, serene and full of kindness and disinterested love for her neighbor. Although her life was apparently insignificant, monotonous and dull, she hid within herself an extraordinary union with God." I’ve underlined part of the last line because that’s what the Interior life becomes when it is practiced every day. It is an extraordinary harmony with God, with Mary, and it is not only for religious. It is for everyone who desires this close union. Cultivating an Interior Life seems to go hand in hand with being a Franciscan. So let’s begin.
First, we should talk about the relationship we have with God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and with the Holy Spirit. We cannot talk about "Interior Life," which is an intimate filial life with God until we sort out our relationship with God, as it is today.
There is much to gain by having an intimate life with God, but to accomplish that, one must keep in mind that this life is a gift from God, and that it sometimes takes a lifetime to get there. In other words, you must love God dearly, and act accordingly - that means - stopping sin in your lives. Some people stop us right here. "Not sin? Everyone is a sinner! Do you mean to say that if I sin, I cannot love God?" Well, we are saying that if you continue to sin, then you do not love God enough! And yes, now that you know this, you can stop sin. We never said it was easy but God gave you a free will. Use this free will wisely. It is God's gift to you, so do not trample on His goodness and love.
Sin is a Crown of Thorns. Jesus suffered for our sins, not just for sins committed up to the point He died, but for all time. Sins are also a crown of thorns for us. We suffer the effects of continued sin: poor health, being unforgiving to those who offended us. Through our sins we are getting further and further away from loving God, but He continues to love us. That is a very significant Gift... He continues to love us.
How does one become a friend of God? If you have unforgiveness or other obstacles that prevent you from loving God, go see a priest, in order to talk about your past life. He will welcome you and help you through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And Jesus will help you get back in good graces with His Father. And you know something, the Grace of the Sacrament will help you to persevere to sin no more. All you need is Faith, Love and Charity. Most of all, Love -- Love your brothers and sisters, regardless of their background, religion, life practices, color of their skin, speech inflection, or whether they are fat or slim, male or female, when you find the love of Christ in your heart, treat others in a Christ-like fashion and get on with your life. Turn a page. Turn the corner. Love your brothers and sisters. St. Francis loved even the leper. There are plenty of lepers in this world: the sick, the outcast, prisoners, the lonely, the alienated, sinners, and so on.
Yes, we are related. God created all of us. God the Father is our Father in Heaven. Jesus Christ, His Son, is our Brother, and the Mother of God, Mary, is our Mother. We can ask Mary to help intercede for us in the favor we are asking from God, and she will help. She always helps! Being Franciscans, we have a whole army of Saints and Blessed’s up in Heaven who are all beautiful intercessors. They help us too. We’re one of them. We’re all Franciscans!
If you are living in sin now, and if you want to be able to feel God's love, then do something about it. Take a radical step, step out of your comfort zone, and say "Yes, Lord, I want to be your friend." Then next time you're poised to do something less than honorable, you'll know that you are breaking your word to God... and if you have guts (what some of us call "intestinal fortitude"), if you have guts, you'll discern what has to be done. You've promised to love God, so you will not continue to sin. And while I’m at it, when you professed to be a Secular Franciscan, you also made some promises. They are to be kept. Fraternity meetings are paramount and get first priority in your life.
To love God, we need to start being honest with ourselves. We want to go to Holy Mass more frequently than just on Sundays and Holidays of Obligation. Secular Franciscans are urged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, because it is the official prayer of the Church. When we do this, we please God. It is a happy prayer task and brings one closer to Jesus and closer to that interior life we so desire.
The Interior life is a close friendship with God the Father, with Jesus, with Mary, where we hope to become united with God. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1431: Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
The last sentence alludes to pain and sadness. Conversion of heart is so immensely difficult that to reach this plateau of ending sin, it brings much pain and sadness. I know this to be true. A short while after I began the novitiate of the Monks of Adoration, I came to the clear realization that in order to sin no more, I had to give up my own will. I could no longer use my will to do the things I wanted to do.
Anyway, I got sick, so sick that I was forced to bed. I had nightmares, heard things in the night that scared me half to death. This went on for about three weeks, maybe, and the other brothers were beginning to worry about me. They sat with me; read me stories, prayed with me, etc. I shall never forget it. Then the sickness, still undiagnosed, ended as mysteriously as it began. To this day, I believe that this illness was the affliction of the spirit and the repentance of the heart. This is not to infer that all people will be so affected, but I was.
OK, suffice it to say that Satan will fight you tooth and nail to keep you away from any close friendship with Jesus. But we are stronger than Satan when we renounce all sin! There is no question about that. If you want to have a really deep interior life of prayer, it is necessary to renounce all sin.
Incidentally, when I left the Monks of Adoration to return to private life, to the life of the laity, I made a voluntary private Vow of Obedience and Chastity. I really wanted to. I want to serve Jesus Christ all the days of my life for His glory. The website, to a large degree, is the result of my inner life with Jesus, with the Holy Trinity, because it is through the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit that He tells me what to write so many times.
When we get past this difficult "affliction of spirit" and "repentance of heart", then there will be a time of great peace in your life. But it is then also easy to think that things are going so well that we can let up our guard a little. No we can't. We always have to be vigilant. From that point forward, it gets more difficult but you’ll desire it more, too. The result is a little Heaven on earth.
Fred S. Schaeffer, OFS
February 15, 2014
(First written in May 2004, Canticle; re-edited 2014)