A few years ago I read a very insightful article written by Fr. Basil Cole, O.P. Fr. Cole is a seminary professor and he was trying to answer the question: How can one assess whether or not a seminarian or a novice in religious formation is truly growing in the spiritual life? He outlined nine signs that can help, not just seminarians, but all of us to determine whether we are growing in holiness. I encourage you to search out the entire article on line – “Formation of Novices and Seminarians: Nine Signs of Steady Growth” by Fr. Basil Cole, O.P. Here is a much condensed synopsis:
A first sign of growth is whether or not the candidate is God-centered. Does this person live a life with God at the heart of all he or she does and is about? Another way to ask this question is: does this person discover traces of God in other persons (primarily), in other living things, and in other good creations, from the arts to the stars? Does this person have the gift of wonder, the gift of receiving joyfully all God puts in his or her day?
The second sign is related to the infused theological virtue of charity, because the formator has to discover by observation if a candidate takes joy in serving others, especially in small or difficult ways.
The third sign is... Is this person growing in a holy hatred for sin? This does not mean simply hating grave sin, but even lesser sins against the more mundane virtues.
The fourth sign is really a cluster of other signs, and it is likewise not very obvious because delicacy of conscience is only known by the confessor.
A fifth sign is a sense of humility, which means a submission to whatever God desires in the moment, even if it means being unknown and unrecognized.
The sixth sign is fidelity to prayer. Without a certain ease in being alone in silent prayer and in the stillness of a chapel, many graces, favors, and inspirations will either not be granted or will be lost.
The seventh sign is similar to prudence, which uses the principles of morality and applies them to circumstances in a timely way for activating a virtue.
The eighth sign is traditionally called an undivided heart… all of one's loves and desires are to be ordered properly among themselves with an orientation to and caused by the love of God. A person's friends, love of food, music, or sports are to be joined with a love for God. This, then, is the undivided heart: loving God first and all else in him.
The ninth sign of growth in the spiritual life is a love of the Church where one encounters Christ through the sacraments, her ministers as teachers, priests and leaders.
Fr. Cole concludes his article with, “Complete perfection is only found in heaven. In this life, one does the best he or she can, and leaves the rest to God's grace, always more powerful than human weaknesses.” May God bless us all and urge us on in the joys of spiritual growth!
Fr. Dennis Zehren