Just as there are indications the body has died, there are symptoms of spiritual death as well
“Is he alive or is he dead?”
That’s an important question, isn’t it? How to ascertain whether someone is alive or dead? There are well-established signs. You might check for breathing, check for a pulse, listen for a heartbeat. So far, we’re talking about physical life or death. What about spiritual life or death? More specifically:
If you were spiritually dead, how would you know?
We might consider four signs that one is spiritually dead. They are usually found together and not in isolation.
There is no effort. What do I mean by this? There is an apathetic resignation to the status quo, and no aspiration for a better future. In other words: “My faults are permanent; that’s just the way I am. Virtues are impossible for me; I’m just not that kind of person.” Absence of effort bears a family resemblance to the deadly sin of sloth (acedia), doesn’t it?
No compassion. What do I mean by this? A stone cold heart in the presence of sin and suffering. In the presence of sin, there is no indignation for the rights and dignity of God; there is no grief over the loss of a human soul. In the presence of suffering, there is no empathy for those afflicted, much less is there action on behalf of those who suffer. There is simply a lack of movement of body, mind and heart.
Consider Saint Augustine’s haunting observation about: “Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.” We can conclude that absence of compassion indicates an absence of hope.
No learning. What do I mean by this? A refusal to be taught about God’s holiness and about our sin. When we are in love, we frequently ask the beloved, “Tell me more.” What sane person would not say, “Tell me more!” when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life”? (John 14:6) No learning indicates a lack of humility, that is, an un-readiness to hear the truth about God and the truth about ourselves.
No repentance. Nearly every parish priest will confirm what nearly all of us have seen: Lines to receive Holy Communion are far, far greater than lines to go to Confession. What might a reasonable person infer from that? Surely not that sin has been defeated in our lifetime! No repentance refers to anyone who sins without hesitation, without regret, and without shame. A culture that values self-esteem more than it does contrition is most unlikely to produce many great saints. Like a soul, a culture without repentance has no good fruit or future.
Having written these words, I know that there is the temptation to think about how these four signs of spiritual death might apply to others. We might be tempted to make a list of which signs apply to whichever of our acquaintances we can think of.
Let’s resist that temptation! Instead, let’s look at that list again, and echo the anguished question of the Apostles at the Last Supper: “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)
If these apply to you, it’s time to examine your conscience, plan a reform of life, and then get to confession as soon as possible—before Easter would be ideal. (Helpful hint: Unless you were immaculately conceived, then you are fallen, and one or more of these apply to you—and me—at one time or another!)
Let’s ask Our Lord in prayer to reveal to us where these weeds have taken root in the garden of our souls. Let’s ask for divine aid in uprooting these weeds and replacing them with the contrary virtues. Let’s share with a trusted confidant (a spiritual director, a spouse, or some other spiritually mature person) our plans confirmed in prayer to amend our lives. Let’s share with them identifiable and measurable goals, so that, in charity, they can hold us accountable for the reform we all must undertake.
Consider this: If we refuse to admit that spiritual death has already bitten into us, if we stubbornly refuse to admit that we need to confess, repent and reform, then we will be turning our backs on the graces of Lent and the blessings of Easter. We would be akin to Lazarus refusing to come out of the tomb, because it is just too much work to do so. God preserve us from such scandal!
When I write next, I will conclude our series of Lenten reflections, with an eye towards preparing for Easter. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.