Our external encounters can have a great affect on our ability to intimately know God. This is because our physical and spiritual experiences are deeply tied to one another. Consider these sensory experiences: the smell of incense leading you deeper into prayer, the pangs of hunger during fasting making you aware of your attachments, or the sound of sacred music moving your heart to greater intimacy with the Lord. Each of these experiences can touch our hearts and souls. The interconnectedness of our body and soul means that purification must involve both. Here are some ways we can we seek purification, making us more ready to serve God, ourselves, and others.
We are all called to imitate Christ and he shows us the importance of disciplining our bodies for interior purification. In Matthew 4, we read, “And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry.” Fasting predisposes us to rely on the Lord by surrendering our physical needs. St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Besides the ordinary effect of fasting in raising the mind, subduing the flesh, confirming goodness, and obtaining a heavenly reward, it is also a great matter to be able to control greediness, and to keep the sensual appetites and the whole body subject to the law of the Spirit.” When one subdues a good like eating for a greater good, we are able to grow in peace, have a sense of accomplishment, and feel closer to God.
Mental prayer is another helpful tool for purification. Entering into prayer and striving to unite our whole self with God allows us to present our interior desires, hopes, and distractions to the Lord and allows Him to speak to us in those places. Praying in this way involves surrender, a purification of our will and our plans. It may even involve laying prostrate—a physical sign of our interior disposition. Christ works in freedom, meaning the more that we choose to dispose ourselves to his movements, the more we allow him to help us grow.
Another way we can be disposed to purification is through exercise. St. John Paul II noted that the lessons of athletics, particularly discipline and sacrifice, are lessons that help us in our daily lives. He even said that “Every Christian is called to become a strong athlete of Christ, that is, a faithful and courageous witness to his Gospel. But to succeed in this, he must persevere in prayer, be trained in virtue and follow the divine Master in everything.” St. John Paul II’s teaching highlighted the fact that exercise builds a habit of persevering amidst difficulty, which helps us persevere for the Lord.
Our bodies are a visible sign of an invisible reality. As humans, we are created in the image and likeness of God in both body and soul. Seeking to cleanse our whole selves predisposes us to be purified by God, embrace his will, and find greater peace.