Those of you who are introverts will understand me well when I mention the interior life. We attend to that life quite frequently, often taking refuge away from all the noisy hustle and bustle of an extroverted world. However, for those of us who further try to cultivate a spiritual life, a well nourished interior life can be a double-edged sword. This is made most evident in the parable of the pharisee and tax collector praying in the temple (Lk. 18:9-14).
The prayer of the pharisee is very telling: he begins by invoking God but talks only about himself in comparison to the everyone else around him. “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity (greedy, dishonest, adulterous) or even like this tax collector. I pay tithes on my whole income.” Contrast this to how the tax collector prays: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Now, the interior life often is reduced to a conversation with oneself as does the pharisee. The spiritual life transcends the inner depths of myself to communicate with God, as the tax collector does.
The question is how to take advantage of a rich interior life to live a deep spiritual life in communion with God. “There are many ways to God as there are people,” Pope Benedict once said. However, one of the most renowned methods is that of St. Ignatius. He proposes that one must enter into one’s own interior, shutting out the noise of the world. But this interior dwelling is only a means to an end. One must next work to meditate actively on the truths of the faith in order to obtain the fruit of the meditation which is the elevation of one’s mind and heart to God. One’s interior life is like a garden. Beginning the prayer one must enter one’s garden. For those of you who have gardens, you will know that it is constant work. Weeds sprout, trees need to be trimmed, the plants watered… This is the work of meditating. The purpose of most gardens is to bear fruit. Same with the garden of the interior life. The fruit of meditating is the purpose of the prayer. It is to enjoy that juicy apple or strawberry. This fruit is a miracle: you did not make it grow, but only cultivated it. It is a grace from God.
The pharisee entered into his garden but stood about contemplating how beautiful the garden looks, how much effort he has put into it and how ugly the garden of his next door neighbor is. The tax collector entered into his garden and saw the mess it was. He realized his worthless efforts to keep the weeds out, to prevent a blight, and so he turned to the one who was capable of helping him out, God. The pharisee remained in his interior life, the tax collector turned his into a spiritual life.
Those who have a large inner life should not despair. The pharisee showed just one edge of this gift. The other positive edge is seen in the parable of the lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10). A poor old woman has only ten coins but drops one, losing it. She searches and upturns everything in her house to find this lost coin. In the end she finds it. Not being able to keep this joy to herself she hosts a party for she found her lost coin.
The interior life is one’s inner dwelling, his house. The coin is the riches of this housekeeper. When one has an interior life in which something goes wrong, such as losing its riches, the owner of the house will stop at nothing until it is completely put in order. For example, I find out that someone is slandering me behind my back. The minimum it does is it upsets me. Within myself, there is chaos and anger and hurt at what has happened. I have lost a treasure which is my inner peace. The soul suffers until it is found. Once it is found, it is appreciated all the more, giving joy to the heart.
In prayer, when one’s interior life is disrupted, causing loss of inner peace for example, it is a great occasion to make the transition to the spiritual life. This is precisely what the tax collector in the first parable does. He has lost all his treasure of his interior life in sin and cannot get it back. He goes to the one whom he knows will restore him to life.
How many of us have these opportunities of having our life upset by one thing or another? Yet how many of us take advantage of those grievances to cultivate our spiritual life to bring us in closer union to God? The interior life is the gateway to the spiritual life. It is the greatest means we have to cultivate that life which is worth living, a spiritual life.