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Navigating the Interior Life Week 6 of 6

April 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Navigating the Interior Life Week 6 of 6

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Exterior Piety vs. Interior Joy 

Millions stand within just a few feet of the grace necessary to ascend to the heights of heaven in this life (with limitations, of course) and to meet the smile of God face-to-face in the next. Many of these souls attend Mass the-good-portion-pictureweekly, or even daily, and they are engaged in devotions like praying the Rosary, Adoration, and regular Scripture reading. The great tragedy is that so often their religious practice is limited to an external piety, and thereby practiced in ignorance of what Jesus calls us to when He says, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Many go through life without seeking or knowing how to find the great grace of having a loving relationship with Christ in this life that opens the soul in ways far beyond what it could ever imagine. – Navigating the Interior Life p. 121 (Conclusion, paragraph two)

Mere external piety is not only tragic for me as an individual – it is detrimental to the entire Body of Christ in ways that I will never be able to enumerate. I may attend Mass daily, meditate for an hour each morning, pray the Angelus at noon, the Divine Mercy chaplet at three and the rosary every evening.  I may even attend adoration three times a week. But if I habitually lose my temper with my husband and children, what message does that send about my Faith?

Don’t get me wrong. Attending Mass, reading Sacred Scripture and prayer are essential. Each of these activities provides my open heart with a conduit of grace to help me live my Faith. But the key word here is open. I must break those barriers that act as blood clots of sorts, keeping me from receiving all the graces My Lord intends for me.

How do I identify and break those barriers? Burke argues convincingly that good spiritual direction can be a key resource.

And I soooo want to break all those barriers! I don’t want my Faith to be a series of pious practices! I want it to encompass every nook and cranny of my life. I want to acknowledge from the depths of my soul that I am a sinner, and to completely surrender my will to my Savior’s, inhaling deeply with thanksgiving all those graces available to me through my “external” devotions. I want that grace to flow through my veins like living water, filling me with life-giving love…relieving the thirst of everyone I meet…flowing through every thought I have and refreshing those around me with every move I make! I want to live out my Faith with a Love for Christ that manifests itself in everything I do!

This kind of passionate love is what allowed the apostles to grow the Faith from a small Jewish sect in Galilee to the dominant religion in the Roman Empire within a few hundred years. It’s what allowed saints like Francis Xavier and Louis de Montfort to preach and ignite thousands to come to love and devote themselves to Our Lord and Our Lady despite great resistance from pagans and heretics.

True love is CONTAGIOUS! Not only is it good for my own soul, but it’s good for the whole world!

So often we go through the motions of external practices for years, but never see much fruit for all our labors. Our intentions may be good; but in the end, good intentions won’t amount to much.

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen provides a wonderful example of the difference between the fruit born by true piety, and the tragic results of mere external religious practices:

In Yugoslavia some years ago a young boy was serving Mass, and he dropped the cruet. The priest slapped him and said, “Get out and never come back.” He never came back. He became the communist leader of Yugoslavia, Tito. If that priest had ever come to the good Lord in order to review what he had done, there would have been, perhaps, some remission and an altering of the effect.

I can remember when I was a boy serving at the cathedral under Bishop John L. Spalding. I was about seven years of age, and I dropped the wine cruet at the offertory. Now let me tell you that there is no atomic explosion which can equal the intensity of the sound of a cruet falling on a marble floor. I was frightened to death because we altar boys thought he was a stern man. After Mass, he said, “Come here, young man. Where are you going to school when you get big?” To a seven-year-old, big is high school. I said, “Spalding Institute.” That was the high school named after him, a much more diplomatic answer than I thought at the time.

He said, “I said when you get big. Did you ever hear of Louvain?”

I said, “No.”

“Well, you go home and tell your mother that I said that when you got big, you were to go to the University of Louvain, and some day you will be just as I am.”

So I went home and told my mother what he had said, and she said, “Yes, that’s a great university in Europe.” I never once thought of that incident until I had been ordained two years and stepped off a train in Louvain. I said, “Oh, this is where Bishop Spalding told me to go.” It was an event that in some way altered my life as it altered the life of Tito in the opposite way. (Taken from Through the Year with Fulton Sheen: Inspirational Stories for Each Day of the Year)

When people see that we are in love with Jesus Christ, and that our Faith is not not just something we “do” on Sunday, they will want to know the source of our joy. Contrast that with the Christian who attends mass on Sunday, or – even worse – every day, but is ill-tempered, selfish with his time and resources, or partakes in activities on Saturday night that negate the piety he demonstrates on Sunday morning.

Scripture warns us:

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:15-17).

Lord, may I take the advice of this book, seeking and heeding spiritual direction so that I can acquire “self-knowledge in the context of God.” Help me to access my blind spots and to take steps to repair the damage my sinful nature has caused to my relationships. Help me to know who I am and to find the shortest path whereby I can unite myself to You.

Thank you so much for participating in Navigating the Interior Life by Dan Burke – there is one more webinar scheduled to go over any additional questions from the reading.  Please see below for the link.  

CLICK HERE to REGISTER for Webinar Discussion 4/20 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM Central Time U.S.

For Discussion:

1. What does it mean to be Catholic?  Do you tend to get caught up in the external facets of your Faith to the detriment your interior life?  If so, what do you think might help you to re-focus or expand your efforts?

2. Open discussion: Feel free to comment on any topic from this past week's reading.


Reading Assignment:

CLICK HERE to REGISTER for Webinar Discussion 4/20 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM Central Time U.S.

In this webinar we will answer any remaining questions on the readings.



Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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  • abandon56

    Vicki, thank you for the stories that so beautifully illustrate your point about living virtuously. You have reminded me of why I am seeking spiritual direction in the midst of some serious doubts and misgivings. Thank you!!

  • Camila Malta


    Thank you for this post. I just finished the book this morning. It has been such a good resource for me. What I have come to see (while reading this book) is that God wants my heart. He wants a union of will that is intimately joined at the heart, with all its tender affection and unwavering commitment of spouse.

    Here’s the KEY that has unlocked my deepening understanding of this. I have read over and over and over about how the saints relate to God as their bridegroom. Every time I would dismiss that thinking “good for them, how lovely that would be, but it’s not for me, I’m just way too imperfect to even THINK this would be for me.”….. The key as I mentioned is what St. Teresa talks about and Dan so clearly points out in the book page 106. “St. Teresa makes the argument in the Interior Castle that we all need to understand that these deeper levels exist and that they are possible as a fundamental necessity of our own growth.”

    So by the grace of God I’m actually deliberately praying “My Lord and My God, I don’t want to have a relationship with You that is a servile one, or one of duty, or just getting things done; but an intimate, gentle, tender, affectionate one. One that dares to imagine total union with You more intimately, totally and unreservedly than that of human spouses. St. Teresa said I am to believe it is possible, even for me. If she says so, I believe. Show me Lord, lead me into this most intimate realm, where “You are I and I am You”.

    Oh Vicky, what freedom I feel just allowing myself to imagine this even would to be remotely possible me! What a blessing reading this book has been.

    • Jeanette

      Your beautiful post brought tears to my eyes. Thanks to rcspiritual direction, we are privileged to share our journey and encourage others in theirs. God bless you!

    • Your prayer is beautiful! The thought of such an intimate union with God truly is wonderful! Too good to be true! Or should I say,True because He really is too Good!

    • Scott Kallal

      Woohoo! May God continue to bless you on your journey Camila, and may He bring you to the depths of intimacy for which He created you…

      • Becky Ward



      Dear Camila: I came to this reading in the early evening, after two hard days of frustration, anger, and guilt and if this wasnt’ enough, I overslept this morning and missed morning Mass. Yikes! the Devil had a field day with me, but your post and the comments about it has brought a soft peaceful feeling to me for the moment. And a moments is all I need right now. Thank you, and God bless you. Donald

    • Vicki

      Camilla, Thank you so much for sharing your comments! This book certainly has helped me to seek spiritual direction to help me progress in the right direction. Your prayer is beautiful, and one I will be praying as well!

  • Would it be possible to get .pdfs of the charts in the book? I’m using a Kindle, but would really like hard (and more legible) copies of the charts. That way, I could work through the exercises as intended. Thank you!

    • LizEst

      Hi Karen – In order to assist you with this, Dan has sent me the .pdfs. So, if you post your email address, I will forward them to you.

      As you probably know, this site has a mission to serve the faithful poor and those who have taken vows of poverty ( So, in order to help those who seek the type of assistance you seek, and in the spirit of this site’s mission, it would be most kind if you would pray about and consider a donation to help that effort if you are able to do so and do not do so already…keeping in mind that God always repays more than what we give Him (cf Luke 6:38 and Matthew 6:4).

      Thank you in advance for your consideration…and God bless you, Karen. I look forward to sending you the charts.

      • Donation sent, with gratitude. My address is kwillcox at brynmawr dot edu. Thanks for your effort!

        • LizEst

          Karen – I just sent you the worksheets. Please check your mailbox…and thank you so much for your kind donation. God bless you.

  • $2050789

    Beautifully written and stated. We must always do the right thing, no matter any and all of our thoughts, dispositions, and feelings, since by God’s grace, we are given the capacity of our will to act according to His wishes.

  • LizEst

    Great reflection Vicki. It reminded me of something in my own life.

    For a while, I have struggled with a few things that may seem minor to some but loom large because I have been unable to conquer and eliminate them. It means I bring them to confession almost every time I receive the sacrament. In order to overcome these issues, one key thing this book has helped with is that I must put something else, something virtuous in their place. I know this intellectually but had never really done so in a full, conscious and active manner. Voila! Good advice. Problem solved…for the most part.

    I think that is the secret to eliminating sins that become habitual. If we don’t concentrate on putting something good, something virtuous in the place of those sins and weaknesses we are trying to eliminate, we keep doing them because it is too easy and too comfortable to slip into the same patterns. We must exercise and increase our virtue muscle…without slipping into pride!

    It is like the story about the unclean spirit in Matthew 12:43-45: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it…[searches] for rest but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my home from which I came.’ …upon returning, it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. …[it] brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first…” What was missing? Virtue. Please pray for me that the Lord may give me the grace of an increase in virtue in my life. Thank you…and may God bless you.

    • Scott Kallal

      Liz, you totally nailed one of the secrets of the spiritual life. It is not enough just to try to get rid of sins. Our founder Fr. Salvatore has always insisted that yes, we do need to break sinful patterns and habits, but then we must put good in their place. Nature hates a vacuum, and what is true at the natural level is even more true at the supernatural level. God does not call us to nothingness but to the fullness of life. As St. John Bosco says, the 2 rules of Christian morality are: 1) Avoid sin and 2) have as much fun as possible. May God continue to bless you on your journey…

      • LizEst

        Thanks for your kind words Father Scott. The glory belongs to the Lord.

    • Vicki

      Yes, Liz. I think this book does a good job of demonstrating that replacing vice with virtue is key. We must put something positive in the place of the negative or we’ll find an empty void that must be filled. Our habits will turn us right back to our vices to fill it unless we replace them with something else. We’ve long talked about this with our children – trying to help them replace negatives with positives.

      • LizEst

        Good to teach that at an early age! God bless you and yours, Vicki.

  • KD Monarch

    Human relations are messy! If we can just remember to look beyond just the natural, physical person and also see their divine, supernatural nature as well, maybe then we can give them the respect and human dignity we all deserve as being a child of God. Forget about the us and them mentality and embrace the ALL:)

  • Scott Kallal

    Thanks Vicki,

    This week I was blessed to receive spiritual direction and hear exactly what I needed to hear: Ask the Holy Spirit for light about this situation. I was so afraid. Now I again have calm and confidence, that whatever God asks of me will be for my good and the good of His Church, even if initially I found the whole thing quite scary. And who knows, maybe He won’t even ask it of me, but He does ask me to be free to follow wherever He leads. What a grace! To possess this freedom of heart. This week, I experienced the power of spiritual direction in receiving it. Thanks be to God!

    In Him,

    Fr. Scott, AVI

    • LizEst

      God bless you, Father Scott! Your sharing is a good example for all of us here, as well.

  • $1650412

    I think what you highlight here Vicki, is very important- and the beautiful expression of holy desire for a loving relationship with Christ you share is inspiring!
    I am encouraged in Dan’s book by the reinforced reality that developing in the spiritual life is a process of growth, and that God continually works with us to bring us to Himself in a closer union- to overcome our inconstancies and purify our intentions, affections, and attachments. I don’t really understand in my life the complacency that comes with accomplishment or achievement of goals, but I do understand the struggle to be coherent between my hit and miss exterior pious expressions and my negative interior thoughts dispositions etc.that all too often become exterior manifestations of vice -ugh. This book is really a handbook of methods for becoming more fully engaged and intentionally in love with Jesus. We often think of love as an emotional experience, and it has emotional aspects but it is so much more than that, and loving God is something to be sought after, striven toward, trained in, persevered through etc. and ultimately swept away by and absorbed into—- the ultimate adventure. “Navigating..” is proving to be a really great field guide for me in all this!

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