Both of us have many acquaintances who discover late in their busy lives: "There must be more to it than this." Who feel that Life is asking more of them, although they wrestle with what that might be. At night under the stars with the wind on their faces they sometimes wonder, "Why am I here?"
The road down which people today learn that "Man does not live by bread alone" passes through accumulating plenty of bread. And many, many have. And still feel an emptiness. Bread is not enough.
Both of us who write this have come upon these unsettling moments at different times and in different ways. We both learned to see that our answer to them would have a huge effect on everything in our own lives. That pushed us back, and made us want to think carefully. We knew we had to read, we had to study. Most of all we needed some time and space to reflect and to pray.
Praying is like opening up to a distant but closely felt friend, letting our own thoughts and feelings spill out, and listening in silence. Not as if we expected to hear a voice come back to us. (And we didn't, neither one of us). On the contrary, in the silence we felt what was false in our feelings or thoughts, and what seemed true. Prayer time was purification. Brushing the chaff out from the wheat. The after-effect is a kind of peacefulness, plus a determination to have sharper eyes in the future.
We also knew we had to read the Word of God a little each day. Especially the Four Gospels, later the Epistles, often the Torah, especially the Psalms. To strive for a more complete life, we each found it necessary, each in his own way and at his own time, to imbibe the Four Gospels slowly. One purpose was to allow their rich words and images to steep in our mind, so that we can recall them reflectively and apply them to situations we meet that day or the next.
The other purpose is “to put on Jesus Christ,” to learn how he spoke and acted, to meditate on his manner and his Way, to soak up his thoughts, his silences, his gestures and to draw their meaning into our hearts. We cannot "put on the mind of Christ" without regular and frequent reading of the Gospels. Only by allowing them to transform us from within can they radiate out through us to others, letting the love of Christ spread in us and around us.
Although reading Scripture is the sine qua non, we each found other reservoirs of wisdom to tap from 2000 years of writing by our predecessors in the faith. Their reflections are usually very practical, helping us to apply the essentials of Christian belief to daily living, especially by nourishing our intimacy with God. To name a very few good places to start: Thomas a Kempis' manual on Christian living, The Imitation of Christ; St. Teresa of Avila's reflections on humility and self-knowledge; Thomas Merton's writing on prayer and holiness; and Father de Caussade's Abandonment to Divine Providence. All are great guides of the soul, people who worked their way past spiritual roadblocks and whose insights are still enormously encouraging and instructive today.
Clearly, we will not grow in our Christian walk unless we set aside time to read, meditate, and pray. For many people this involves getting up a little earlier when the day is fresh and its cares are not yet pressing down on us. An early "quiet time," when possible, sets a great tone for the rest of the day and steels us for its stresses.
There are also habits of mind we can adopt which will enable us to draw closer to God. It is helpful to cultivate an awareness of God throughout the day, even when it's hard to feel His presence. We can train ourselves to think of Him by making spontaneous, habitual connections: Saying grace at meals, for instance, or praying for those who might be suffering whenever we hear the siren of an ambulance. At night, we can reflect back on the day to recall how steadily we have been in the presence of God and how we might have done better, perhaps in light of a particular fault each day.
Professing Christianity is more than adherence to a particular set of beliefs; it is a way of life that centers on love for God and for our neighbor. The real work of the Church lies in bringing God's love to men and women everywhere, in every occupation, in every state of soul. Never have the opportunities been greater for ordinary Catholics to make a difference in this way; since Vatican II, lay people have stepped up in dramatic numbers to serve the Church, making use of their many talents, whether in the field of business, education, counseling, or administration. To do this well, however, we must become more complete Catholics by developing a God-seeking interior life. In this way, over time, our hearts' desires will become more closely aligned with His will. It is then that our own personal "revolution of love" (Archbishop Chaput) will ignite.
Michael Novak and William E. Simon , Jr. are co-authors of Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation (Encounter Books, 2011), upon which this article is based.