Progressing, getting ahead, moving forward, making strides, taking the lead… We live in a society that has an absolute fascination with the forward direction. It’s a compliment: “He or she a is a forward-thinker.” It’s a dream: “To discover the next great leap forward.” It’s a political campaign. It’s a moral condition: to move backward is basically considered sinful or just plain idiotic.
The question arises? What do we mean when we say forward? What’s the starting point? What’s the final goal? A bigger bank account, bigger car, faster computer, more “friends” on Facebook, louder applause, one more trophy? What type of progress are we willing to work for?
In today’s culture, the idea of interior progress is drastically undervalued; many times it’s considered a waste of time or something from our naive ancestors. Usually, only exterior and more palpable progress is worth anything. The main difference between the two (material and spiritual) is that material progress remains outside of you. It will offer you certain positive sensations, yet it is always colored with a fleeting and inconsistent kind of occurrence. An interior progress, on the other hand, means that it is you who are changed. Some inner gear within your heart has been serviced; some knot untied, some spot of weakness, strengthened, some talent or gift lived out with greater fullness. While less palpable from the outside, this kind of growth is infinitely more satisfying and valuable.
When it comes to our spiritual life, we are incapable of making progress on our own. The necessity of Christ’s grace is experienced at its utmost intensity. In order to enter into his love, we must receive that very same love as a gift from his most generous Heart. This, then, is why any Catholic who has developed a basic level of spiritual sensibility is aware of his or her need of the Eucharistic Sacrament. The encounter there is one that brings about a real change in us. There, the direction “forward” finds its ultimate and most authentic meaning: to become like Christ.
“Material food first changes into the one who eats it, and then, as a consequence, restores to him lost strength and increases his vitality. Spiritual food, on the other hand, changes the person who eats it into itself. Thus the effect proper to this Sacrament is the conversion of a man into Christ, so that he may no longer live, but Christ lives in him; consequently, it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual strength he had lost by his sins and defects, and of increasing the strength of his virtues.” St. Thomas, Commentary on Book IV of the Sentences, d.12, q.2, a.11