Book Excerpt - Coached by Josemaría Escrivá: Lessons in Discipleship

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Coached by Josemaría Escrivá: Lessons in Discipleship.

Caricatures in the spiritual life are easy to draw but not particularly helpful. They, like a street artist's caricatured portrait, purposely distort features to make them appear comical or ridiculous. Perceived exaggerations in the spiritual life lead one to say about another: "All he ever does is pray," or "All she ever does is work." A monster is thus created: the prayer or work monster—unstoppable, implacable, bent on doing one thing only.

On either side of prayer or work you have potential exaggerations. Those prone to one side or the other are liable to straw man their counterpart and tear them down, perhaps using (selectively) Scripture or the words of saints to support themselves. In either case, a partial truth is asserted above the fuller truth. It is always easier to know a small portion of truth really well than to take the time to interest oneself in other, equally valid points of view.

Yes, we all know the Lord's words about vine and branches, and that without him we can do nothing. Thus, prayerful and heartfelt union is demanded of the disciple.

But we know equally well the Lord's teaching about works on display shining before men (and yet remaining a matter of practical indifference to the doer, whose left hand is kept in the dark over his right hand's doings).

Thus is activity blessed and commanded of the disciple.

It is worth noting, as much for lay people as for any consecrated religious reading this book, that religious institutes given to both "contemplation and action" find the tension between the two a source of personal struggle and of community policy debates. For that matter, it might come as a surprise to know that purely contemplative monasteries struggle in comparable ways to balance work with periods of prayer. It makes one stop and ask whether an impossible balancing act is in question, and whether it might not be better just to give in to the caricature and devote oneself entirely to one thing. At least one would be spared having to think and discern each day how to spend one's time. But falling into this trap also "spares" us from seeking God's will, and to excuse ourselves from this discernment is nothing short of death to the soul.

The distortion souls of prayer might create is the tendency to so emphasize times of prayer that they predispose themselves to laziness or immobility. St. Josemaría accounts for this disorder in no. 734 of The Forge:

People have often drawn attention to the danger of deeds performed without any interior life to inspire them; but we should also stress the danger of an interior life-if such a thing is possible— without deeds.

Doing nothing and resenting the call to be busy about the house like Martha because one feels too disconcerted in managing things, dealing with people, and being in complicated situations-this points to a spiritual immaturity that most people pass through as they figure out how prayer and work practically interface.

Not knowing how they dovetail, or how to make them blend together, creates tension and frustration, sometimes leading to an abandonment of one or the other.

Of course, in the iconic example of Martha and Mary, the Lord condemns neither sister, but instead accentuates a spirit that needs to be present in both: Mary's wise and focused spirit needs to operate in Martha as well. Martha should keep working, but with her heart preoccupied, not with anxieties, but with pleasing the Lord.

The inability to be physically busy, working and distraction and sometimes chaos, while remaining recollected-this state of affairs cannot endure if one is to grow spiritually, if one is to maintain both balance and sanity.

No, my children! We cannot lead a double life. We cannot have a split personality, if we want to be Christians. There is only one life, made of flesh and spirit. And it is that life which has to become, in both body and soul, holy and filled with God: we discover the invisible God in the most visible and material things.

There is no other way, my daughters and sons: either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or we shall never find him.

Our finding of the Lord hinges on our ability to do all things in him, with him, and through him. "All things means both prayer and works done together, even if prayer must precede and accompany all that we do in the Lord's name. And even if our prayer is the objectively better thing to do, it cannot restrict itself to set times, but must thoroughly saturate our entire day. Otherwise, how can we pray always, as the Scriptures enjoin us to?