There are many roads that lead to the Catholic faith. For most converts (or reverts) we’ve been loved into our sacred religion. Be it a grandparent who zealously prayed for us, a girlfriend who accompanied us in Pre-Cana and into Baptism, or a missionary who manifested God’s saving power to us. This is (and should be) by far the greatest means by which we bring people into the Church.
Others experience an intellectual conversion. Think G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Henry Newman for example. Their love for Christ was rooted in study be it philosophical, scriptural, or academic, they found their way into Christ’s family through the via of their minds.
Once brought into the fold of Jesus’ one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, converts (and reverts) manifest His graces into the world by practicing their faith in a myriad of ways. One way in particular has born a great deal of fruit for today’s saints-in-training, namely, the practice of spiritual journaling.
The history of journaling is a topic of great fascination. According to scriveiner.com (a popular writing platform similar to Microsoft Word or Mac Pages), “The modern diary has its origins in fifteenth-century Italy where diaries were used for accounting. Gradually, the focus of diaries shifted from that of recording public life to reflecting on the private one.” And as history turned into the present, famous journalers like Henry David Thoreau, Anne Frank, Mark Twain, and Lewis Carroll would record their heroic lives so that we could reap the benefits of their most personal thoughts, emotions, bullet-list ideas, even their poetry.
The Saints were not exempt from this practice either. On top of listing the events of their lives, holy men and women wrote intimately about their growing relationship with the Lord. Where would our Faith be without St. Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul, Merton’s Seven Story Mountain, St. Faustina Kowalska’s Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, or St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue?
Spiritual journaling, then, is an excellent pathway to sanctity for two reasons:
1) It is contemplative– Writing about your spiritual hills and valleys requires an examination of one’s self interiorly. When coupled with prayerful meditation and silence, the desire to write down what is happening to your soul becomes a contemplative practice.
2) It is active– St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote that Catholics must “first contemplate, then share the fruits of their contemplation.” Spiritual journaling is a means by which we manifest our Faith into fruitful words. While not all of our diaries will be published (or even seen by anyone else), the act is still meritorious. It becomes evangelistic when God decides that your words need to be seen.
St. Gemma Galgani’s diary was so personal that she hoped nobody would ever find it. History tells us that one day, it came up missing, apparently stolen by the devil himself. God clearly didn’t want her words to go unseen because, to this day, Gemma’s Diary is on display in Rome where you can see the burn marks from the devil’s fingers and all!
So, how do you do it? How does one get started with spiritual journaling?
As a writer, I’d reply by saying “I’m so glad you asked!”
As a Catholic, and a pretty poor one at that, I’d reply “Why are you asking me?”
Truthfully, there’s no one way to spiritual journal just as there is no one way to practice your Catholic faith. In reality, there are thousands of ways you can document your spiritual journey through writing. Here are just a few:
- Write out your conversion/reversion story
- Draw your thoughts, add poetry to accompany the drawings
- Copy down quotes of wisdom you’ve garnered through the years
- Write the rules you live by in order to live a happy, Catholic life
- Author short stories (fiction or non)
- Reflect on Bible verses
- Document the daily events of your life
- Create prayer lists
- Write letters to the Saints
- Develop a “How to” booklet dealing with an aspect of the faith people struggle with (How to Pray When Nobody is Looking, How to Defend the Faith, How to Meditate, etc.)
- Write out your sins
- Recall memories from long ago that you wish to remember
- Make a “Catholic Bucket List”
- Write reviews of spiritual books you read
- Plan your funeral Mass
There are so many ways to write about your faith. Chose one (or choose many!) and pray that the holy Spirit fill you with the words that will enliven your spiritual life and, God willing, those of us who will eventually get to read it.
Now, go write!