Peace of Soul – Part 2

“They are restless until they rest in thee.” – St. Augustine.

Hello everyone! It has been a while since my last blog. In June I married my beautiful  wife and took a break from writing but am now excited to add Part 2 of the Peace of Soul blog on Venerable Fulton Sheen’s book Peace of Soul.

As followers of Christ we are called to be saints. How does one even begin that process? How does one change for the better? The book Peace of Soul was written by Venerable Fulton Sheen in 1949 and looks at the intersection of psychology and faith as discussed in  Part I of this series.

Today’s blog focuses on the psychology of change. As discussed in Part I, we only find peace of soul when we look to God and His call for us. His call for all of us requires us to change in some way. So how do we grow in virtue? How do we set on the path to become saints, or as St. Maria Escriva defined them: “sinners who keep trying”? There are two approaches to change, one from a psychological perspective and the other from a spiritual one, that allow us to understand the process of finding peace of soul in living out our lives for and with God.

The psychological view has a fancy name called the “transtheoretical model” or the stages of change attributed to Prochaska and DiClemente.  The model breaks down an individual’s cognitive and behavioral process of change and is easily explained through someone trying to quit smoking. These stages include: 1) the pre-contemplative stage: no intention of quitting smoking; 2)  the contemplative stage: weighing the pro’s and cons of smoking; 3) the preparation stage: finding a good program or drug to stop smoking; 4) the action stage: executing the plan or taking the drug to not smoke; and finally 5) the maintenance stage: preventing relapse & failure, not smoking again. These changes in this example are cognitive and behavioral in having to do with the mind and body. But what about the soul? How does a soul change?

Venerable Fulton Sheen switches the focus of change from not just the mind and body, but the soul.  Sheen describes that ultimately a need for change in a soul is often sparked by a crisis. A crisis, as he defines it, is “a moment or a situation..with a dialectic, a pull, duality, or a conflict.” He describes that a crisis is a conflict that involves a level of despair or helplessness in the human heart. These crises and desires for change work together with the five stages of change previously discussed. The transtheoretical stages alone recognize man as mind (cognitive) and body (behavioral), but alongside Sheen’s focus on the soul, we can see a complete view of man as body, mind, AND soul within the process of change. Fulton Sheen outlines these crises of the soul as:

  1. Crisis of morality

A crisis of morality takes place when someone recognizes sins and personal guilt. Unfortunately, in modern times we are told that the only sin is the belief in sin itself. The recognition of personal sin and guilt leads to the ability of conversion. Sin, as an offense against God and goodness, points to specific order, goodness, and God Himself. The person who refuses to recognize sin is not open to changing because they see no need for change at all. In recognizing that we sin against God, often perceived first as guilt, we are able to recognize a need for change, to ask God for change, and begin with grace to make that change. Guilt isn’t the greatest evil. It can be a starting point, as long as we decide not to stay in it but do something about it. The crisis of morality and sin is not an abstract or generalized crisis, but an awareness of a self-induced broken relationship with God.

2. Crisis of the spirit

The spiritual crisis occurs when man realizes that he was made for more than this world. In every soul there is a yearning for perfection. Every soul longs for love and goodness. The soul seeks the infinite but along the way might try to settle for lesser goods as a temporary satisfaction to a much greater desire. When the soul is truly aware of this desire and purpose there is a crisis of wanting to change. This encounter with the Creator is a re-discovery of the purpose of man which sparks change and transformation of good souls into great ones.

3. Crisis of the body or world

This third crisis involves a conflict in the world where the soul again asks “Why am I here?” or “What is my purpose?” A crisis of the body or world is a terrorist attack, a disease or an illness, a loss of a loved one, a risk taken that ends in loss, or some other form of suffering. Many times when loss and suffering are encountered, souls find themselves seeking purpose in life and a desire for change and a better life. It is a reminder in the face of suffering that man was made for more.

So how does one truly change? How do we continually convert our hearts to be saints? We start by recognizing that we are mind, body, and soul. These crises spark a reminder in man of what we are made for and what we are. They are a reminder and a call to change. Separating the body and mind from the soul leaves peace of mind for a time, but ultimately leaves something lacking. By recognizing the need to change one’s soul along with his body and mind, we see the need for mercy. As we find the mercy of God, have patience with ourselves, and begin to transform our hearts, we find peace of soul.

“Our hearts were made for thee.”- St. Augustine

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