This morning, I was pondering how I often act out against the Holy Spirit and his healing efforts. I started thinking about how to explain it, and I saw the human immune system. When foreign bodies enter us, our body attack them, and seek to wipe them out. Unfortunately, some people develop auto-immune diseases where the immune system attacks the body. In so doing, an immune system can make us sick instead of healthy.
In a similar way, we can make ourselves spiritually ill if we do not learn to stop working against God. In some respects, we act out against God because we have a belief structure about how God is supposed to interact with us. We often forget that his ways are beyond us, and that his ways are always right. It is easy to become confused and to act against his way, even though the only thing we want in life is to cooperate with him; to become one with him. Consequently, when we attempt to enter into a relationship with the indwelling Holy Spirit, in our confusion about how this should work, we often treat his presence as a virus. When we consume Jesus in the Eucharist, we often inadvertently work against his healing presence within us. Luckily, unlike autoimmune diseases, this resistance to Jesus is something that can be cured. However, we are not often healed of our tendencies over night. It takes effort.
Treatments for spiritual immune disorders are not much different than those for physical illnesses. We need to take our medicine, which can be done through participating in the sacraments. We need to eat healthy, which we can do by feasting on the word of God. We need to rest by sitting silently and in full awareness of God’s presence within us. We need to exercise, which can be done through acts of service and ascetical practices, like fasting from food or other things that give us pleasure.
From my vantage, I think many of us have lost an understanding of the value of ascetical practices. The truth is that ascetical acts are practices in love. In our society, we understand that when we love ourselves the right way, we exercise and eat healthy. In the same way, when we love God and realize that the spiritual life is about being joined to him, then we start to realize that through ascetical practices, we empty ourselves in order to make more room for him. In other words, the negative aspects of human nature often involve selfish tendencies. So, by dying to self, we become more focused on others; we become more loving of others. In effect, asceticism is just a form of living a balanced and healthy life; a life that provides more room for God and others.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing your spiritual immune system. Is it healthy? Does it attack only the bad stuff, or does it attack your spiritual progress? Which aspects of the plan for healthy spiritual living are you following, and where do you need improvement? It is in resting with Jesus? Participating in the sacraments? Reading scripture? Studying the lives of the saints? Practicing acts of love? Going further in your efforts to die to self through acts of asceticism? Once you have completed this task, create a plan for living a healthier spiritual life. Close your time of prayer in praise and thanksgiving of the one who loves you and wants to show you the way to live life to the fullest.