Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Interior Life: That of the Apostles, and our own


Solemnity of Pentecost, John 15:26-27, 16:12-15
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”
Both before his saving death and again after his resurrection, the Lord Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit upon his Apostles. This promise was fulfilled at the feast of Pentecost.
We all recognize the great importance of Pentecost for the life of the Church, since this day is often called the “Day of the birth of the Church”. Further, one can see that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles gave them that missionary zeal to convert the whole world.
What is perhaps less clear is the importance of Pentecost for the interior life of the Apostles, and what this has to do with our own spiritual growth.

The Three Ages of the Interior Life
Following the best of the Catholic spiritual tradition, ranging from St. Dionysius the Areopagite to St. John of the Cross, maintains that the spiritual life of the believer can be understood to pass through three successive stages of growth, which are called the “three ages” of the interior life.
These three ages are properly understood as a progressive growth in the theological virtue of charity. First, the soul abandons all that destroys charity (i.e. mortal sin), then all that hinders charity (i.e. venial sin), and then even every slight movement and occasion which threatens charity (i.e. every occasion of sin).
The Purgative Way
First, there are the beginners who are in the purgative way. These have made their first conversion, moving from a state of mortal sin into the state of grace. Though they perhaps fall often, the beginners at least desire holiness and strive to avoid mortal sin which wholly kills charity in the soul.
Their own efforts will not be sufficient for these beginners to pass to the next stage of the spiritual life, on account of the exalted nature of the life of grace. Thus, the Lord himself must purify them, and he does this through what St. John of the Cross has called the “Dark Night of the Senses”. In this night, God frees the soul from attachment to worldly things and from self-love.
The Illuminative Way
Second, there are the proficients who are in the intermediate way, which is called the illuminative way or the way of infused contemplation. These have undergone the second conversion, which is the dark night of the senses. They have been purified not merely by their own efforts, but by the passive purifications which the Almighty has given them. The proficients not only avoid mortal sins, they even avoid occasions of venial sins. Their charity is much stronger than that of the beginners, but they yet require further purification to reach the heights of sanctity.
The proficients, in order to reach perfect union with God, must be brought by the Almighty into a second night – The “Dark Night of the Soul”. In this night, God purifies the soul which still has too much self-love and which continues to struggle with a slight spiritual pride.
The Unitive Way
Third, there are the perfect who are in the unitive way. These ones are not “perfect” in the sense that they never commit any (even venial) sin or in that they continually enjoy the beatific vision after the manner of the saints in heaven. However, they are “perfect” insofar as nearly all the impediments to charity have been purified and rooted out from their souls. In these ones, charity has come to a certain perfection – even while they remain wayfarers on earth, there is something of heaven within their soul (and they dwell in the innermost mansion, with God himself).
The Interior Life of the Apostles and our own
At first, this threefold division of the interior life may seem somewhat artificial. Someone might ask, “Where is all this in Scripture?”
The great saints, and especially St. Catherine of Siena, together with the theologians (notably, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange) recognize that the interior life of every Christian must be modeled to a certain extent on that of the Apostles. Reading the Gospels, and also Acts of the Apostles, we can see that the Apostles themselves underwent these three stages of spiritual growth.
Upon their calling, the Apostles experienced the first conversion and became beginners in the purgative way
At the Crucifixion, the Apostles suffered the Dark Night of the Senses which ended with the Resurrection and their entrance into the illuminative way of the proficients
Finally, a further purification was effected at the Ascension which served as a Dark Night of the Soul. At Pentecost, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles came into the unitive way of the perfect.
Spiritual Perfection
We can at times be tempted to think that only the great saints are called to the unitive way of the perfect, that such holiness is beyond us. However, everyone is called to spiritual perfection, and everyone is called to be a saint (though perhaps a hidden one).
It is good to remember that the soul is a living organism (it is a supernatural organism) and, like all things living, it is either growing or dying. Thus, each day, we either grow closer to God or we fall away from him – there can be no standing in place.
Now, our Savior told the Apostles that they had great need of the spiritual union which would be effected in their souls at Pentecost – this is the unitive way. If the Apostles required the purification brought about through the Ascension and the further increase in charity effected at Pentecost, how much more do we require this grace!
Each and every one of us is called to the perfection of the unitive way, but the only means for attaining to this great height is to first lower oneself through humility. Humility! Humility! Only through the patient bearing of humiliations (and through loving not only those who are good to us, but even our enemies) can we climb the spiritual mountain!
If spiritual perfection consists in the perfection of charity, and if there is no greater charity than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, it must be clear that holiness is found in putting our own self-love and self-will to death so as to live more and more for God and for our neighbor.

6 comments:

ColdStanding said...

What should we start praying next? Sure, the Rosary. That is continuous/daily, but is there another cycle of prayer that would be worthwhile at this time?

Or, because we have come to the end of the Lenten season, is it a time to rest?

My hope is for more prayer suggestions.

Father S. said...

It is important to understand how the term "beginner" ought to be understood. St. John of the Cross goes into some detail on this, though I cannot recall in which of his works. This term is not meant as the absolute beginner, but as one who is already familiar with the Christian life. It is not as if all souls naturally find themselves in the Purgative Way simply by being alive. It is not the default position. The essential characteristic of this first age--turning away from grave sin and abandonment to Providence (which is the same as overcoming the will)--necessitates that the soul in the Purgative Way is there by choice and not "spiritual geography," so to speak. In short, this entire process is predicated upon conversion.

I have the blessed privilege of directing a number of souls. Very often, people seek out direction but have no intention of giving up sin. Quite to the contrary, it is as if they are looking for permission to sin, wanting to find some principal spiritual wound or defect that would give them license to sin in their favorite ways. It is very difficult to come to the moment when they (or any of us) can realize that turning away from sin and casting it aside without attachment is essential.

I think that this comes down to the question to submission to the Divine Will. Submission inevitably leads to vulnerability and very often to a great deal of self-consciousness, akin to embarrassment. There comes a time when we need to be able to identify our weaknesses openly and plainly with our director and/or confessor. The choice to step away from sin and be ruled by God is, even then, a hard choice. We often speak of self-mastery, but it is a mastery of a certain type. It is not mastery in the sense that we can, of our own volition, easily stay firm in temptation. It is rather mastery in the sense that we cooperate with grace so that, in the moment of temptation, we take refuge in God's Will. Our vulnerability lies in letting ourselves be defended by God.

I hope that this is clear and not too rambling.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@ColdStanding,
During the summer months, I often recommend spending more time with Sacred Scripture ... especially with some of the books from the Old Testament.
Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings ... that would be a good start (trying for about 30min a day of prayerful reading).

Also, June is the month of the Sacred Heart ... the Litany to the Sacred Heart is very good ... we can use it as a means to consecrate families to the Heart of Jesus!

Do you have any other suggestions? :-)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S,
Yes, you are certainly correct ... "beginners" are those who have already earnestly begun the life of grace.
As I say in the article, they have experienced the "first conversion" and truly strive to avoid mortal sin.
These are not worldly people, but are those who have begun to follow Christ.

Thanks for stressing that fact! +

ColdStanding said...

Sorry, I wish I could contribute, but I have had little exposure to ways of prayer except for the basics. I appreciate your suggestions and hope to get in sync with a cycle of prayer. Being a beginner I am filled with many errors, so what is an obvious course of action for most is not so for me.

I have been working through Michael Casey's
Sacred Reading which has been very helpful in getting me to slow down in my reading. I have started this practice on James. I will have more time in the summer to apply this to a larger work.

Thank you!

Alan R said...

Father Ryan,
Is prayer a gift or is it given to us in our nature in that we are made in the image and likeness of God? I think I am reading to much and getting confused. I think I read recently that there is no increase in charity given in baptisim? Is the growth discussed here our submission to His will or is it an actuall increase in the amount of charity in the soul?
Thank you,
Alan R.

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