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The Spiritual Life

Some Notes

 

Every perfection and every virtue
proceeds from charity,
and charity is nourished by humility.
—St. Catherine of Siena

 

 

The spiritual life, like human life, is developmental.  We go through various stages or ages of development as we grow in grace and levels of love to reach Christian maturity—the full and whole union of the soul with God.  When we reach spiritual proficiency and contentment at one level and place, God will usually, though not always, change the circumstances of our life, the exterior manifesting the interior, so that we can continue to stretch and grow to receive even more spiritual graces, gifts and blessings from Him, not to mention the spiritual good that it does for others.  While God does give spiritual resting places along the journey where we can regain our strength and balance, there is no permanent place for the soul to settle or rest in this life, for “he who makes no progress, loses ground,” according to an ancient spiritual maxim, and the time for rest and recovery soon comes to an end.  Then, the exterior or interior change inspired by God within us or brought about by God without us keeps us growing and going forward in the spiritual life.  No matter how this change may come about, we should let go and let God do whatever He wants to with us, not trying to hold on to the past, but going with the flow of Divine Providence.  It will always be for our spiritual well-being and benefit, as well as for the good of others.

Also, the farther we go the faster we grow in the spiritual life.  Our journey to union with God accelerates the closer we are to Him, like a metal skeleton key with two prongs (heart/mind) moving towards the magnetic lock (Loving Wisdom) in the door it was made for (Christ the Lord).  Our soul may not always “feel” this increasing speed and force of attraction to union with God, but at times we will, especially if we do not judge by sensible feelings or strength of emotions but by interior longing and strength of devotion or love for God, that is, by charity—the desire and choice to please Him.  Furthermore, this interior movement towards union with God can be seen in the degree of detachment from exterior things, the willingness to suffer for Him, and abandonment to His will.

Along the road to spiritual perfection (perfect love), we may experience something way beyond us in the spiritual life.  Such was the case with the three Apostles, Peter, James and John, on the mountain of Transfiguration where they had a foretaste and glimpse of future glory, an anticipation of what was to come.  Likewise, we may be brought back by God to an earlier stage of development in order to fill in or redo what was missing or not right.  At these times, it can seem that, either “we have arrived,” or that “we have lost it all,” respectively.  Neither is true.  We will return to our place in the spiritual journey after we finish this additional loop, forward or backward.  What a mystery!  Only God really knows what we need to go through to grow in spiritual freedom and reach fulfillment.  Whether preparing for the future or healing the past, God has a perfect plan for everyone that fits their personal needs and abilities, as also, their future vocation or Christian service.

Here is why it is not wise to compare yourself with others in the spiritual life.  Although the “way” to heaven is the same for all Christians, the life of Jesus Christ (“I am the Way”), each one is led by God along their own particular path. (John 14:6)

God is free to do whatever He wills, as He wills and when He wills, such as working in our soul on more than one level at a time as was the case with the great St. Paul who experienced, in some fashion, all three conversions at the same time.  Yet, generally there is a parallel pattern in the three conversions of the spiritual life.  What was true for the first conversion is also true for the second, only more so and on a deeper level, and so with the third.  The period of time just prior to the conversion, just before a spiritual breakthrough, is usually one of the most difficult and painful periods of life, like a crucifixion before the resurrection.  The “old man” is about to break, the sin within is losing its grip.  Also, the devil knows that we are about to break free of him far more than before, so he tries to stop us from making that last act of self-surrender to God’s will, that last step of humble obedience and virtue, that will open the door to a new spiritual awakening and the infusion of heavenly grace.  “You will strike her heel” can also mean, besides “offspring,” “the last thing” that needs to be done before spiritual freedom comes, such as, rejecting some temptation, forgiving someone, or accepting the cross. (Genesis 3:15)  If we just hang in there long enough, accepting the cross and doing God’s will the best we can, the Lord, Himself, will break through the impasse, the light will shine in the darkness, grace and peace will pour in, and we will be reborn to a higher level of the spiritual life and union with God.  After a time of testing comes a precious spiritual blessing that only God can give, and will give, to those who love Him.  “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has come; but when she has given birth to a child, she remembers the pain no more for joy that a child has been born into the world.  So you also now indeed have sorrow, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one shall take that joy from you.(John 16:21-22)

With each of the three conversions comes a spiritual resurrection.  The Lord lifts up the soul, like a father who lifts up his newborn child, and rejoices.  The soul also rejoices in this spiritual “high” for a time, carried in the arms of the Father, flooded with divine love and graces.  But then comes the time to grow up again and become adjusted to this new level of love, greater grace, and deeper union with God.  So, the Lord sets the soul down on the ground to learn how to think, walk and talk as a Christian in a new relationship with God.  This can be a confusing transition.  It may seem to the soul that she has lost the grace of her conversion, or that she is going backward instead of forward in the spiritual life, because it is not as sweet and easy as it was before.  Yet, it would be a mistake to try to recover that spiritual “high.”  That would only impede their progress or forestall future blessings.  It is now time to go back to work, to stretch and grow, humanly and spiritually.  The soul is just as close to God as before, actually closer, even though she does not “feel” His presence in the same way.  By growing in virtue, in patience and humility, in fortitude and courage, in perseverance, forgiveness and true love, we continue to grow closer to God.  After the soul has stretched and grown, she will level off for steady spiritual progress and, indeed, enjoy the journey.  There is nothing more satisfying or fulfilling than the spiritual life, even if it is a struggle or quite difficult at times.

One final note.  If an individual’s human development has been damaged or stunted in some way, this will hamper, though not exclude, the action of grace in their soul.  They will need to be healed of their mental and emotional wounds in order to experience the fullness of grace in this life or the next.  Until then, it is a handicap that must be accepted, a cross to bear.  At the same time, there can be a plus side to these misfortunes.  Human brokenness can be the occasion of grace if it leads to poverty of spirit, humility of heart, and opens the soul to God more fully.  We all have limitations of one kind or another that, when accepted as part of God’s mysterious plan of salvation for us, can be good for humility, true compassion and the infusion of heavenly grace.  Still, when it comes to those who suffer from severe mental illness or the effects of abuse, we must acknowledge that they may not be completely healed and made whole until Purgatory, God’s final remedy for every malady and disorder.  Purgatory is Divine Mercy, the fire of Divine Love.  Although painful, it is a supernatural surgery that heals and frees the soul of all that is wrong.  It is mystical medicine.  Purgatory is the royal road to heaven and the sinner’s friend.  All who go there will enter the kingdom of heaven, full and whole, perfect and complete, in the end.

 

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