Catholic spirituality


“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Great spiritual writers often talk about the interior life and of its importance. I may add that we all have an interior life, that conversation with self, in which we examine our own life and reflect upon our past, present and future. This is part of the “examined life,” although our conversation with self can sometimes be unproductive and even harmful.

But the Christian interior life involves a deeper and more important conversation: our conversation or converse with God. And so one of the pillars of the interior life is a deep prayer life. Much has been written about the paramount importance of prayer.

Another pillar of the interior life is a profound purity of conscience, which involves an ongoing watchfulness over self, so that, strictly speaking, one is not content with even one evil thought being allowed to fester and grow in one’s soul. Spiritual writers call this the practice of purity of heart, and they advise us that much good comes from practicing this interior custody over one’s heart. See my post


Another pillar of the interior life is a great contempt for self. Even though this practice of self-contempt seems almost  degrading it is, nevertheless, constantly mentioned in the great spiritual literature. For example, The Imitation of Christ constantly stresses this principle (“A man who truly knows himself realizes his own worthlessness.”). Faber says that “self-abasement is the genius of a creature,” and he quotes Saint Angela of Foligno as having said, “I tell you with an entire certainty that the soul can have no better science than that of its own nothingness.”  Really, aren’t these words too much for the modern mentality? And yet we must do something with them, as they are a corollary to the great harm pride can do to our spiritual progress. So we must learn to keep self down! “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3).

Our fourth pillar of the spiritual life is a great love for Jesus Christ. Faber asks: “Can there be a pleasure in life so great as loving Jesus and serving him for love.” During “the whole course of our spiritual lives,” says the great Father Lallemant, we “must devote ourselves more and more to the knowledge and love of our Lord without which we can never attain to any solid spirituality.” Thus, a close application of our lives to Jesus is necessary, often entering the “Heart of Jesus” by “recollection to contemplate the Word Himself and His Most Sacred Humanity….” (Father Lallemant). I might add that meditating on the mysteries of Jesus’ life is highly conducive to this purpose. Making acts of virtue with the interior intention of imitating Jesus nurtures the growth of our spiritual life and our love for Jesus..

CONCLUSION: Four important marks of the interior life are:

      1. A great love of prayer,

      2. Great purity of conscience,

      3. Great contempt of self, or at least keeping self down, and,

      4. A great love of and application of our lives to Jesus Christ.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: These four points are mentioned by Father Lallemant in his classic work, The Spiritual Doctrine, pages 82-86, in the specific context of Jesuit spiritual formation for priests in the seminary. It is Father Faber who says, “keep self down,” and Father Garrigou-LaGrange talks about the conversation with self giving way to a deeper conversation with God. I do believe Father Grou talks about the “application” of our lives to Jesus Christ; he also mentions not being content with one evil thought.

P.S. Clearly there are other pillars of the spiritual life, like devotion to Mary and docility to the Holy Spirit, to name two.

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