|The Three Stages of the Spiritual Life | Spiritual Substance: Page 271 and 272|
The Three Stages of the Spiritual Life
The three stages or ages of the spiritual life are, traditionally, (1) the purgative, (2) the illuminative, and (3) the unitive. Or, (1) the beginner, (2) the proficient, and (3) the perfect. Christ proclaimed: “Be you, therefore, perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) Perfect in charity for “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) Perfect charity is to love God with our whole heart and soul, mind and strength. It is to be perfectly united to God through love as far as possible. In union with God we are able to love our neighbor in true charity—out of love for God and with the love of God according to His will and good order. We are able to love in the right way—sincerely and purely, with humility and integrity.
When one begins to do good and avoid or overcome evil they will be in the purgative way as a beginner in the spiritual life. They are like the Old Testament people who were striving to fulfill God’s will by obeying the Ten Commandments. They may fall into sin but they come back again and continue the journey to holiness more humble and careful than before. They are being “purged” of their sins, freed from the “old man” (the sin within), leaving slavery to the devil and the world behind for greater freedom.
After reaching a certain degree of spiritual maturity in virtue and grace they are brought to a new place by the Holy Spirit. Normally, they experience a painful loss or cross or some other humiliation that prepares them for the gift of divine contemplation. They are “born again” as they die to sin and rise again into the new life of “illumination” through infused contemplation. Now as proficients in the illuminative way of the spiritual life they begin to live the mysteries of Jesus Christ. Over time, His joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries will be revealed as the soul goes through the life of Christ in a mystical manner.
United with Jesus Christ they grow in virtue and grace until they
come to the place of union with God in perfect charity. This occurs when they have been made “poor in spirit” through holy detachment and union with God which is the secret of love. United with Jesus Christ they are now transformed in Him and become “one spirit with Him” according to the words of St. Paul, “Whoever is united to the Lord, is one spirit with Him.” (1 Cor. 6:17) Like wax that melts into the flame they are united to Christ in the Holy Spirit, “The Flame of Love,” a true mystical spiritual union that is, in my opinion, indissoluble. The soul is then freed from impurities as precious metal (gold or silver) is refined in the fire. After the precious metal is melt down in the fire the impurities float to the surface to be removed. The metal is purified when the artisan can see his own image reflected on the surface. Similarly, after the soul is melted down and united to God in “The Living Flame of Love” any remaining impurities float to the surface and are removed. When Jesus Christ can see His own image and likeness in the soul it has been perfectly purified. Like Adam and Eve before the Fall, or even more, like Jesus and Mary (the New Adam and the New Eve) the soul is brought into spiritual innocence. Now in true humility, purity, and love, in the strength and stability of the Holy Spirit, they love God perfectly and completely having reached spiritual maturity which is union with God insofar as life on earth allows.