Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be

Spiritual Progress: Becoming the Christian You Want to Be

by Thomas D. Williams

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From the NBC consultant on VaticanAffairs comes an inspiring book thatchallenges readers to follow Jesusand discover the rich adventure ofthe Christian faith.Thomas D. Williams draws on thevast knowledge he's gained fromhis own spiritual journey to inspireothers in the pursuit of progress.Through his writing, readers willbegin to:- Understand holiness as the

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From the NBC consultant on VaticanAffairs comes an inspiring book thatchallenges readers to follow Jesusand discover the rich adventure ofthe Christian faith.Thomas D. Williams draws on thevast knowledge he's gained fromhis own spiritual journey to inspireothers in the pursuit of progress.Through his writing, readers willbegin to:- Understand holiness as the truemeaning of life- See prayer not as a duty, but as an opportunityfor conversation with God- Take courage from God's strength- Acknowledge their roles in a storylarger than themselves- Learn never to say no to God- Develop the spiritual disciplines thatwill ignite an adventurous and excitingrelationship with God.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Written by a Catholic priest who is the Vatican analyst for NBC News, this primer on the spiritual life is geared to "beginners in the broadest sense"-those just embarking on a religious path as well as readers in need of a refresher. Williams emphasizes the practical aspects of maintaining and growing in a relationship with God, covering such areas as discerning God's will, prayer and impediments to spiritual work. He illustrates his points with brief excerpts from writers like Jean-Pierre de Caussade and John Henry Newman, but his primary source is scripture, giving the book a broad appeal. Thomas touches on specific Catholic practices, such as the sacraments and the role of Mary and the saints in the spiritual life, but he does so by offering sound, simple definitions that explain rather than defend. Readers who are more advanced in the spiritual life may find his opening chapters elementary, but they are written for those who lack the spiritual formation presupposed by the authors of traditional spiritual manuals. Most helpful to anyone with more experience in the spiritual life will be the chapters on spiritual direction ("Your Own Personal Trainer") and the spiritual program, a structured, written plan outlining ideals, goals, obstacles and means of achieving objectives. (Feb. 13) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Williams, the telegenic analyst on church matters for several networks and now NBC's consultant on Vatican affairs, has written a straightforward guide to Roman Catholic spirituality. Williams distances his work from self-help, devotional reading and spiritual manuals: it is, he says, a "guidebook" that "takes the Christian proposal seriously." While Williams writes with clarity and precision, it is hard to identify his audience. What convinced Catholic would find the Sacraments or the role of Mary to be news? Still, some Catholics may find this a good preparative for seeking the kind of spiritual direction Williams recommends.

Inevitably, many more books cross the Spiritual Living desk than can be accommodated in our review space. Here are a few more notable titles available this spring. You'll note the durable interest in Buddhist ideas, whether fresh takes on ancient masters or new works, as well as a continued recrudescence in Jewish spirituality.

—Graham Christian

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Read an Excerpt

Spiritual Progress

Becoming the Christian You Want to Be
By Thomas D. Williams


Copyright © 2007 Thomas D. Williams
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-446-58054-0

Chapter One



As life goes on, a certain maturing normally takes place. After years of schooling we pack away a reasonable stock of knowledge. Work experience brings practical knowhow. Travels, readings, and conversations afford us a modest bit of culture. And we may even keep our physical health in check with diets, medical visits, and some regular exercise. Yet somehow in this forward wave of personal progress, one element-unfortunately, the most important-often gets left behind. Our spiritual lives often languish at the level where we left them back when Sunday school ended. Socially and professionally we are adults, but spiritually we may still be adolescents. I hope with this modest book to help bridge the gap between our practical, day-to-day lives and our spiritual lives.

Literature on Christian spirituality generally falls into three categories, which we could loosely term self-help, devotional reading, and spiritual manuals. Self-help books, even those with a Christian veneer, often smack of the spiritual narcissism where spirituality is pursued as a means of feeling better about oneself, rather than an earnest search for truth and transcendence. Our posttherapeutic generation is slowly realizing that the road to happiness does not pass through excessive self-absorption. Devotional reading, while very useful to some, can come across as sentimental and cloying, and somehow disconnected from the real problems and doubts of modern men and women. Spiritual manuals often contain hearty spiritual meat drawn from a long tradition of lived Christianity, but their rigorous structure and technical vocabulary can be off-putting to modern readers. Moreover, these manuals often presuppose much prior spiritual formation that today's Christians don't have.

This book aspires to offer something different. First, it takes the Christian proposal seriously, examining gospel teaching and its demands at face value. People who would follow Christ have a right to know what this entails, including both what Christ asks from us and what he promises. This must be done on his terms, not ours. Second, the book translates perennial spiritual concepts into familiar terms. Modern readers are starved for spiritual substance but would like it couched in accessible language that addresses modern problems and speaks to our generation rather that our forbears'. Finally, the book engages readers' critical intelligence, inviting rather than imposing a closer look at the Christian proposal. It seeks to explain not only the whats of the spiritual life, but just as important, the whys and the hows. Today's Christian seeks not only instruction, but also motivation and practical guidance. For example, it is one thing to present a general idea of what Christian prayer is and to reiterate the necessity of prayer, and quite another thing to show the real value and joy of prayer, to offer pointers for overcoming obstacles to prayer, and to give practical advice as to what to do during prayer time.

This work is meant to be a guidebook. A proper guide does not attempt to replace an experience but to accompany and enrich it. A trail guide does not supplant a hike over the mountain but prepares hikers to get the most out of the experience. A guide helps chart a course, explain the terrain, point out pitfalls, and accompany hikers as they confront the unknown. The spiritual life cannot be experienced vicariously but only lived personally, and thus a guide to the spiritual life can only offer hints and suggestions for living it well and recognizing the signs along the way. Reading this book cannot substitute prayer or the practice of virtue, but it can perhaps offer some helpful pointers and motivations to facilitate these activities.

This book is for beginners, but beginners in the broadest sense. It is for rank beginners, for whom the idea of spiritual progress presents a fresh, exciting quest into the unknown. It is for "experienced" beginners, for whom starting over and over again has become something of a profession. It is for humbled beginners, who realize that after much travel they need to retrace their steps and set out anew from square one. It is for curious beginners, who for the first time are considering the spiritual life as something worthy of pursuit. It is even for embarrassed beginners, who realize they should probably be far ahead of where they actually find themselves but simply aren't. In short, it is for anyone willing to take seriously Jesus' words: "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3 RSV). Beginning, and a willingness to begin over and over again, is part and parcel of the Christian life.

For Christians, the spiritual life includes not only prayer, but also every dimension of friendship with God and the day-to-day experience of following Jesus Christ. This book deals with the aims and objectives of the spiritual life, as well as the natural and supernatural means we have at our disposal to reach our goal. It offers practical counsel, not lofty theory. In fact, I have made a concerted effort in these pages to render the spiritual life accessible and intelligible, rather than distant and esoteric.

As readers will quickly realize, this book tackles the spiritual life from a solidly Christian perspective. It unabashedly distances itself from New Age materials and self-help books by examining the Christian proposal at face value. Relying heavily on sacred Scripture, and especially the New Testament, the book lays out the basics of the spiritual life as gleaned from Jesus' life and teachings. I, the author, am a Catholic priest and naturally write from my own experience and tradition. Yet not only Catholics but other Christians as well will quickly discover that the perspective of the book is firmly based on the gospel.

The spiritual life presents an adventure unequaled by any other aspect of human existence. No other project or enterprise, no matter how absorbing or exciting, can match it. For spiritual explorers of every sort, this book aspires to be an introductory guidebook into the marvelous challenge of following Jesus Christ and living the riches of the Christian faith. It is Christ himself who assures us: Do not be afraid! I have conquered the world! (see John 16:33).

This book aspires to offer not only the whats of the spiritual life, but just as important, the whys and hows.


Excerpted from Spiritual Progress by Thomas D. Williams Copyright © 2007 by Thomas D. Williams. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Thomas D. Williams is a Catholic priest and ethicist who teaches at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum and is the Vatican analyst for CBS News. He is the author of numerous books including Can God Be Trusted?, Greater Than You Think, Knowing Right from Wrong, and The World as It Could Be.

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