My friend Doug and I were talking today about pathways of growth in the faith. Does the Church have a way to help folks mature in the faith? We acknowledge that the Sunday Divine Service is vital - the Table of the Lord's Word and His Supper are at the very heart - but they cannot do the whole job, nor were they ever intended to.
Yet they are a good beginning. I remember reading in Neuhaus once that he insisted on this as the starting point: No Sunday without the Divine Service. You may not feel like going. It may be too rainy, too sunny, too cold, too hot. Doesn't matter: let this be the start of discipleship, a habit of weekly hearing of the Word and receiving the Holy Eucharist with no excuses for not being there save for serious illness or death.
Another place where I believe our people need to grow is in giving. First, the tithe (the 10%) which is not ours to manage, but which is the Lord's (given over to the Church and to charity). But beyond that, the grace of giving. We need to learn such a loose hold on money that we constantly give it over to bless others. It returns to us a hundredfold and in countless ways. But it's not enough to know about it: our lives need to become lives of giving. And not just giving the money - though that is always a part - but giving of ourselves to others, especially in serving them in need.
Yet another place that needs attention is our growth in prayer. Here I think our Catechism helps us. To begin with, make yourself say the Morning and Evening Prayers in the Catechism. Never open or close a day without them. Once they are habit, we turn for more help to a wonderful resource like the Treasury to grow in daily prayer - its introduction provides so much help on this that I need only refer to it. It's a blessing indeed.
Control of our body is yet another place for growth. I think of fasting (in whatever capacity you are able), bodily exercise that helps you to rule the body by the mind, and reserving sexual activity solely to the marriage bed.
Learning to seize the opportunities God presents us to "give an account of the hope that is in us" is certainly an area where we can daily grow. God brings us people every day. Can we love them in Him? Serve them in Him? Witness to them of the hope and life that is ours in Christ? Invite them to join us in the Divine Service and let God richly serve up to us His gifts?
Can a Christian grow in such areas? Unquestionably we can. Our growth does not mean that God loves us more or is somehow more pleased with us than before - His love is whole and entire and cannot grow since it is full always. But we can grow in the apprehension of His love, we can grow in allowing His life to be evermore ours. For is not this the life of Christ Himself? To devote ourselves to hearing God's Word, to giving to others, to praying more and more, to controlling our flesh and constantly seeking ways to draw others into God's Family? What is this but growing in Christ Himself?