Self-delusion is always easy, and nowhere is it easier than in our assessment of our own spiritual health. How do we know whether we are healthy or not? How do we know whether we are actually praying or not? Doing God’s will or our own? Living in the Holy Spirit or someone else’s spirit? Acting in charity or self-interest? Growing or stagnating?

Discernment is difficult. We may not simply conclude that things are going forward when we feel good about ourselves and backward when we don’t. Lack of pain, self-assurance, a sense of security and the sense that we are getting ourselves together are not necessarily criteria by which we judge growth and health.  How do we judge whether or not we are spiritually healthy?

I would like to submit here a brief chart. Each column represents a basic tonality that our lives can have:




Inner Freedom








Humble/Connected to others




Self-forgetful/solicitous of others’ needs


Able to play/enjoy



Disdainful of ideals



Healthy sense of humor

Easeful with ideologies

Living with painful complexity

Narrow loyalties



Some element of sparkle

Need to control


Paranoid/constantly sensing threat

Able to live in vulnerability

Caught in rat race/sensing loss of control


Feeling like a minority of one

A sense of God’s presence

Sense of helplessness


Self pity/constant sense of personal injustice



Joy/a sense of gratitude

Looking at this chart, it is evident that one can never, once and for all, achieve restfulness, inner freedom, calmness, patience, self-forgetfulness, and all the rest of the qualities that would have us living fully in God’s spirit. We vacillate between these two columns, but we know when our lives are more colored by one set of qualities than the other. And we shouldn’t play games with ourselves, believing that we are maturing and growing humanly and spiritually when our lives are colored with bitterness, when we lack humor, and when we live somber, unenthusiastic lives that are devoid of gratitude and playfulness. It would do most of us well, I suspect, to approach the sacrament of reconciliation sometimes with the following words: “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.

“I need reconciliation because I am restless, compulsive, hyper, impatient, angry, competitive, bitter, self-preoccupied and narcissistic. I am also pragmatically enslaved, cynical, disdainful of ideals, humorless, too easeful with ideologies and I have narrow loyalties.

“Beyond that, I tend to be unenthusiastic, I have a need to be in control. I am paranoid and sense others as a threat. I am caught in the rat race, I don’t pray enough and feel like I am losing control of my life.

“I generally feel like a minority of one, have a growing sense of helplessness, am too prone to self-pity and constantly feel slighted. Worst of all, there is too little joy in my life. I am too sombre.”

After the priest would have gotten over his shock, you, like the publican in Scripture, would go home justified, actually having prayed.