A Journey Through the Spiritual Life (#6)
You will receive the Holy Spirit
No matter where we are on the spiritual journey, it is important to check our compass and make sure we are still on the right path. Jesus told us that the first and greatest commandment is that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”1 This should be our orientation: we pray and seek to grow in the spiritual life not as an accomplishment in itself, but because we love God and want a closer relationship with Him.
Our love for God should be the animating principle of our soul. “Even in the spiritual life, our first thought should be, not our own perfection, progress, and consolation, but always God’s delight, good pleasure, and glory. . . . [H]e who gives himself to God, completely forgetting himself, draws down upon himself the fullness of divine love.”2
What is love? Love is an act of the will, not a feeling. “St. John of the Cross says: ‘It is by an act of the will that the soul is united to God; this act is love.’”3 In that moment where God withdraws his consolations and we no longer “feel” like we love God, we demonstrate our love for Him by firmly resolving to embrace His will and please Him in all things.4
As we do so along the illuminative way, we will start to see growth in virtue and progress in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. We may discern progress in charity by the following indicators: not to be conscious of any mortal sin; not to seek earthly things, pleasures, wealth, honors; to take pleasure in the presence of God, to love to think of Him, adore Him, pray to Him, thank Him, ask His pardon, talk to Him, aspire to Him; to wish to please God more than all those whom one loves; to love one’s neighbor effectively, in spite of the defects that are in him, as they are in us, and to love him because he is a child of God and is beloved by Him.5 We exhibit zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.6
We see those who have passed though the purgative way and entered the illuminative way described by St. Peter in his first letter:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God.7
Even those who have entered the illuminative way have many defects. The soul must go through another purification: the passive purification of the spirit or the Dark Night of the Spirit. It is a mystical death.8
The root of the soul’s higher faculties are still deeply tainted with pride, personal judgment and self-will. “The stains of the old man remain in their spirit like rust that will disappear only under the action of a purifying fire.”9 The egoism that remains “is especially evident when trial strikes us; we are then completely upset and seek help, consolation, and counsel from without, where God is not to be found.”10 These stains have been there a long time and “may become encrusted as they grow old.”11 “If they be not removed by the strong soap and lye of the purgation of this night, the spirit cannot attain to the pureness of the divine union.”12
There is generally a period of calm between the night of the senses and the night of the spirit.13 However, “[b]ecause this night [the Dark Night of the Spirit] comes later, do not think that the first night has to run its course before the second can begin. They continue together, both preparing us through purification for union with God.”14 “The divine light, given in the night of the spirit, causes suffering because of the impurity still existing in the soul.”15 Fortunately, “the periods of purgation are interrupted and interspersed with great favors and consolations which strengthen and animate the soul to return to its trials and make the trials themselves more bearable.”16
The Dark Night of the Spirit can be challenging. The passive purification of the spirit “leaves the understanding in darkness, the will dry, the memory empty, the affections of the soul in the deepest affliction, bitterness and distress.”17 “The sadness of the passive purification of the spirit [however] is accompanied by an ardent desire for God and perfection.”18 “When asked what he found most difficult about the spiritual life the Cure d Ars said it was depression. Anyone who claims to have passed through the Dark Night without having experienced depression has been deceiving themselves.”19
Ultimately, “it is the Holy Spirit who leads a person to perfection with the loving kindness that gradually shows them all that separates them from the union that they desire and supports and sustains them through the purification that is his work, not man’s.”20 “The one thing essential to advancement is that each soul should conform to that which has been given it and should use it well, not remaining in a slothful state.”21 One must adopt “patience and resignation to the will of God.”22 “We must not be troubled by our imperfections, for perfection consists in combating them. Our victory lies, not in not feeling them, but in not consenting to them. To be disturbed by them is not to consent to them.”23
“We must become used to walking fearlessly in the night and triumphing over powerful temptations against faith and hope, just as, during the night of the senses, it was necessary to overcome many temptations against chastity and patience that have their seat in the sensible part of the soul.”24 “The worst fall is to depart from the path of prayer, which is the path of salvation.”25
My spiritual mentor says that in the spiritual life, “you cannot jump the queue.” We have to go through the process and follow the path that God has ordained for us. My process is not your process. Nevertheless, in order to move forward every Christian has to enter the garden of Gethsemane, a place where everything in your life seems to crumble. It is in this place that you have to make the decision to continue to pray, even though you are beaten down and suffering.
We must carry our cross with Jesus to Calvary. Jesus fell three times carrying His cross, but He continued to stand up. He stood up with courage because He knew where He was going. It takes courage to be a Christian. And it takes courage to keeping standing up when you have fallen down. But standing up will get you to heaven.
G.K. Chesterson once wrote that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”26 My prayer for you today is that no matter where you find yourself, that you would take courage and stand up again, that you would renew your love for God and continue to press forward, carrying your cross with Jesus, and that you would not give up on God. I pray that you would persevere in your prayers and commitment to God no matter the cost, and that the Father would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to strengthen and comfort you in your afflictions. I offer all of these prayers for you in the mighty Name of Jesus, the Name above all names. Amen.
O my God, I love Thee with my whole heart, with my whole soul, with all my strength, and above all things, because Thou art infinitely good and infinitely lovable, also for love of Thee, do I love my neighbor as myself.27
Power Tools for Prayer, Chapters 9-10 (Forgiveness and Sacrifice).
The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life: Prelude of Eternal Life (frequently cited in footnotes), Vol. 2, The Necessity of the Passive Purification of the Spirit, and the Prelude of the Unitive Way, pp. 356-66, Description of the Passive Purification of the Spirit, pp. 367-74, The Cause of the Passive Purification of the Spirit, pp. 375-83.
Acts 1:8; Romans 8:22-27; Romans 8:9-17; Galatians 5:16-26; 1 Cor. 12:4-11; 1 Thes. 1:2-10; 1 Cor. 2:10-16; Rom. 5:1-5.
Eric A. Welter is an employment lawyer and trial attorney with a long-time devotion to intercessory prayer. He is a Catholic Christian who has been involved with intercessory and healing prayer ministry for over twenty years. The Abound in Hope Ministry website is https://www.aboundinhope.org/ministry.
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Matthew 22:34-40. Biblical quotations are from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, unless otherwise indicated.
Fr. Gabriel, Divine Intimacy: Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Liturgical Year, No. 256, at 766.
Id., No. 255, at 763.
Id., No. 255, at 763 (“Precisely because the substance of love is in the act of the will that wishes good to God, in order to make our love purer and more intense, Our Lord will often deprive us of all consoling feelings; we will no longer feel that we love God—and this will give us pain—but in reality, we will love Him in the measure that we will with determination what He wills, and want His good pleasure and delight above all things.”).
Garrigou-Lagrange, Vol. 2, The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life: Prelude of Eternal Life, at 191; compare 1 Cor. 13:4-7.
Id. at 213.
Three Ages, at 388.
Id. at 358.
Id. at 361.
Id. at 359.
Id. at 303 n.23.
Three Ages, at 386 (citing John 1:5), 375.
Fr. John G. Arintero, OP, Vol. 2, The Mystical Evolution, at 254 (1951).
Three Ages, at 368.
Primacy of Loving, at 237. Of course, anyone confronted with depression should seek guidance from a wise spiritual director and medical professional or counselor in order to ensure that the cause is not psychological or medical.
Id. at 348.
Mystical Evolution, at 260.
Three Ages, at 372 n.10.
Mystical Evolution, at 120 (citing St. Francis de Sales, The Devout Life, I, ch.5).
Three Ages, at 370.
Mystical Evolution, at 259.
Traditional Act of Charity from The Saint Andrew Daily Missal, at 11 (1945).