In last week’s column, I was suggesting that we humans under appreciate the impact and power of habits – good and bad. The previous column, paralleling Stephen’ Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” began to explore the habits of the heart for committed Christians. The premise was that we humans are not fundamentally thinking creatures, or believing creatures, but desiring creatures. Thinking and believing are key and essential parts of who we are, but what pushes and pulls us has more to do with what captures our desires, our affections — our hearts. Our identity as persons is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate. It is the heart that needs formation in the Christian life. I then began to list some habits for forming a loving heart. The first three habits were:
Read the Word of God – It is where you meet Jesus and where you can fall in love. In those grey moments when you are wondering what to do, the answer to WWJD (what would Jesus do) is written in the Sacred Scriptures. Cultivate an active prayer life – God cannot effectively change, shape and mold our lives unless we share it with Him in prayer. Set spiritual goals – The well-formed heart asks that we set personal spiritual goals and actively work towards them, making the necessary sacrifices to eventually reach them.
And now for the rest of the column!
Know what God calls you to do – We are all members of the Body of Christ, hopefully doing what we do best. We all seem to have natural dispositions, talents, and skills. St. Paul recognizes this in his letter to the Ephesians when he tells us that, as a community, God’s purpose is to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph 4:12). We need to have the habit of recognizing, cultivating, and encouraging our talents and the talents of others. And not assume that what we know best is the best we have to offer the harvest of the Kingdom of God. There is the self that the world knows and loves – the engineer, the artist, the teacher, the businessperson, the accountant, hospice nurse, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. And there is the person being formed by habits of the heart. The businessman who experienced great success in the technology sector and was know as a “rocket scientist” – and took a deep breath, volunteering to be a mentor at Cristo Rey High School. He begins to wonder, “why didn’t I do this earlier, this is amazing.” We are asked to know what God calls us to do at various points in our life.
Take Responsibility – Because we are all members of the Body of Christ, we are called to take responsibility for our own souls – with the help of the community and priests – but in the end each one of us is responsible. The history of the people of God in the Hebrew Scriptures has recurring them of the people letting someone else “take care of religion” leaving the other to be responsible for holiness. As much bad press as the Pharisees get, they were a movement that stood up and said, “No, holiness is not just for the Temple. We need to live holiness at home, in the fields, in all we do.” It was part of the mendicant movement of the 12th century that included the Franciscans. It was the core initiative of Opus Dei in the 20th century. It is recurring theme. It begins with the well-formed heart and the habit of putting what is good for souls first so that we are prepared to spend our energies on what is most precious to our heart’s desire.
Serve Others – “…The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mt 20:28). It has been said that your heart’s desire is the seedbed of passion and that service is connecting your passion to someone else’s need. When you get home, do a search of “ted talk on service to others.” There is an amazing array of talks and reflections that focus on not just the benefit to others, but how service to other is at the same time a benefit to you. The habit of selfless service to others for their good is the means to develop the understanding that service is a way of life born out of love for Jesus. When asked why we serve, we naturally respond, “I am compelled by the love of Christ.” (cf. 2 Cor 5:14)
Take time to know where your feet are – One of my favorite parables is “The Parable of the Sower”: “A sower went out to sow…Some (seed) fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.” (Mt 13:3-7). A good habit for Christians is to be attentive and to always check your feet. Do you find yourself in shallow soil or among the thorns of life? The everyday includes worry about deadlines, debts, health, family, busyness in work and activities, emergencies, and a whole host of other things that take our attention, our energy, and maybe our heart. A well-formed heart has the habit of ever looking for the “rich soil, [to produce] fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Mt 13:8)
Develop faith-filled habits for a lifetime; habits that become a natural part of our lives. As I wrote last week, nature hates a vacuum. So, we either form Christian habits of the heart or other habits will surely find their own place in our hearts