Elements of spiritual formation

Prayer

Archbishop Carlson says that one of the essential elements of a serious spiritual formation process is prayer.

To achieve a deep level of prayer, the archbishop recommends praying consistently through a solid routine. For those new or seeking to renew their prayer lives, a recommended start is praying five minutes in the morning or at the end of the day. Build slowly upon that routine over time.

"Don't start with an hour, because you'll never achieve it," he said.

Silence and discernment are also key elements to a life of prayer. Listening to God's voice requires a commitment and a focused simplicity. This can be achieved by placing ourselves in a quiet place when praying.

The Daily Examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola is one of many templates for starting a prayer routine. The Examen includes a personal dialogue with God, being aware of blessings and offering prayers of thanksgiving, identifying positive and negative moments of our day and listening to what God was trying to communicate through those moments, seeking forgiveness for conflicts and offering prayers for others.

Prayer routines can change, the archbishop said, but no matter where a person is in his or her prayer life, "it will eventually develop into a true, contemplative, personal encounter with the Lord."

Understanding

Studying and understanding our faith also is an important part of spiritual formation.

Learning from other highly engaged Catholics who know their faith well is a good place to start in developing a routine for understanding the faith.

Like prayer, starting small is the best way to establish a routine, said the archbishop. "Like exercise, you can't go from nothing to benching 225 pounds without hurting yourself. In the spiritual life, it's also true."

To study the Scriptures, the archbishop recommends starting with the Gospel of Mark and reading five verses a day for 30 days. After developing a habit, slowly increase the amount you read each day.

Penance

Going to the sacrament of penance at least once a month is another good way to develop a habit of receiving the sacrament on a regular basis, said the archbishop. "Even if you think you haven't done anything wrong, God will give you the grace to know what to say," he said.

The Church has always placed a great importance on penance, but there are different ways of understanding exactly what penance is.

"If you're a couple with a newborn baby, and you're getting up in the middle of the night, that's plenty of penance," he said. "Or as a family, you decide you're going to have a family meal once a week. It's a wonderful practice of discipline. We always think of giving something up, but it can also mean doing something for spiritual reasons." 

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