A recent sermon started with a quote from Blessed John Henry Newman which says that the only sign of life is growth. Now, I do not wish to contradict the great man, I haven't seen the quote and I don't know the context of the quote. However, had any of my younger pupils been in the congregation they may had chirped up that Miss says there are actually seven signs of life. They may have even been brave enough to be able to contradict the statement made at the start of the sermon. Often I will ask then to name things that are definitely not alive but which grow. Some good, if slightly precocious answers that I have had back have been stalactites, potholes and debt. And there is no arguing with any of that.
So the seven signs of life are:
Growth,nutrition,respiration (getting energy from food),excretion, reproduction, sensitivity and movement.
All seven need to take place for something to be classed as a living organism.
I thought it may be a profitable meander to see how these fit into the Spiritual Life.
Here I'd say growth in the spiritual life quite simply depends on a good balance of the other six taking place. So let me take a personal look at the other six:
The spiritual life needs feeding, primarily by the Word; through the Sacraments of the Church, through Scripture, through inspired pious writing and the holy and heroic actions of the saints.
Respiration (getting energy from food)
You can read and watch all you like, but unless it involves some sort of "chemical reaction" within you, you will not profit from it. This is grace. This involves practicing the presence of God. If it isn't happening a sort of "spiritual indigestion" takes place and the spiritual nutrition is totally unsatisfying and possible even wasted. Spiritual aridity, on the other hand, is simply spiritual respiration taking place but without the awareness of the soul that it is having any effect, it is often necessary (for a while) but very disconcerting and even distressing, a bit like taking an anesthetic or a medicine with nasty side effects.
There are waste products in one's spiritual life. There is a time to discard some of the elements of a childish faith to adopt a deeper more mature union with God. I'd possibly argue that (for example) whilst statues and rosaries are vitally important to our faith, sentimental attachment to a particular statue or rosary really ought to be ditched. This doesn't mean we don't care for such objects, especially if they have been blessed, but if they break, we shouldn't cry over them. Sentimentality is necessary, but like roughage, it ought to pass straight through.
If your spiritual life isn't producing fruit in other souls, then it is not as it should be. And if you are not reproducing Christ in your own spiritual life (in what ever small inadequate way) then your spiritual life is not healthy either.
The ability to respond generously to the inspirations of God and to the needs of others is a sure sign of a healthy spiritual life.
A static spiritual life is one that consists of routine that does not impinge on how you behave when doing everything else that you do, is a dead spiritual life. Movement involves a desire to move in a particular direction and also actual movement instigated through grace. The movement should be fluid and confident (faith)and accompanied by a complete distrust of self (and ones own ideas and feelings) as the path gets rockier.
So there you have it....my seven signs of a spiritual life, based on a biology lesson for 11 year olds.
Oh how the mind wanders during sermons, sorry Fr R.